With the onset of the warmer weather, there is often a steady increase in the number of patients who are presented to veterinary clinics with itchy skin.
These pets are often miserable, have trouble sleeping and spend a good part of their day noisily licking, scratching and biting at themselves. This can be disruptive for the whole family! Often, itchy pets will scratch or overgroom so obsessively that they create wounds on their skin that further add to their discomfort.
So, what can be done to help your itchy pet?
The most common causes of itchiness in pets are allergens from four broad categories; Insects (Fleas, mites, flies, mosquitoes etc), Food (usually protein based), Plants (pollens from grasses and trees, ground covers, etc.), and Contact allergens (certain plastics, fabrics etc.). However, pets can also present with itchiness that is secondary to an underlying disease process. Skin infections can also cause itchiness. Very rarely, the scratching and licking is actually a behavioral problem. (Think OCD!)
Your vet will begin with a thorough history and physical examination. Next it is important to make sure that your pet is on a very strict parasite control program. Parasites are the most common cause of itchiness in domestic pets. A single flea bite can cause a pet to be itchy for quite a prolonged period of time which explains why we don’t necessarily need to see fleas on our pets to be suspicious of a so-called flea bite allergy. Similarly, fox mites can be transmitted in fox scat; your dog doesn’t necessarily need to come into contact with a fox to get mange.
Excessive scratching can result in a secondary skin infection and these further contribute to itchiness. So, your vet will also address any secondary bacterial or fungal infections at the time of implementing a parasite control program. If there is no relief and your pet is still itchy once infections have cleared and parasites have been ruled out, an elimination diet will then be recommended to determine if there is a dietary component to the itchiness. (Interestingly, gluten is rarely responsible, with chicken or red meat more likely to be implicated).
Allergy testing is also available and is often the only way to definitively identify the inciting allergens. At the present time, the only reliable way to diagnose allergies (pollen, dust, etc.) in dogs and cats is through intradermal allergy testing, commonly called skin testing. This process can lead to the production of vaccines that can offer a degree of relief to some patients, but it is a costly process.
If the underlying reason for your pet’s itchiness cannot be identified and eliminated, medical management can help achieve effective relief from itchiness in many cases.
Medical management involves varying combinations of, corticosteroids, antihistamines, fatty acids, skin barrier protectants, shampoos, diet and other medications that temper the body’s response to allergens. Your veterinarian will tailor a long-term management plan for your pet, as well as a treatment protocol for dealing with any flare ups that may occur.
If you have an itchy pet, your vet can work with you to improve your pet’s level of comfort and give your four legged family member much needed relief from the unsettling and all-consuming need to scratch!
Happy pets; happy family!
This information has been brought to you by the
Lucas Veterinary Clinic
9 Merz Street
PH: 5303 9000