Worried about your Pet Scratching? Here’s some advice from Our Vet Catherine Watson

Itching & Allergies

Coping with an itchy pet can be an extremely frustrating experience  and can test the patience of both pet and human. Persistent scratching and chewing can also result in open wounds to the skin, pain, not to mention sleepless nights. The following information is intended to help provide pet owners with a basic understanding of the most common underlying causes of itching and allergies in small animals.

What are the most common causes of Chronic Itching?

Itching can involve not only scratching but also chewing, licking, excessive grooming and rubbing. The two most common causes of itching are external parasites and allergies. The most common example of itchy external parasites is fleas.

What are Allergies?

Allergies are a common cause of skin and ear conditions in dogs, they seem to be less common in cats. People with allergies usually have “hay fever” (watery eyes, runny nose and sneezing) or asthma. However, dogs with allergies usually have red and itchy skin, hair loss, or recurring skin or ear infections. Cats are often noticed to be going bald due to excessive grooming

So what are the major types of Allergies?

1) Flea Allergy

Flea allergic dermatitis is the most common skin disease in cats & dogs. For the flea allergic patient, 100% flea control is essential for remaining symptom-free. “But I never see fleas on my pet.” You may not see them, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t there! Flea allergy is caused by the flea’s saliva, and it only takes a few bites to cause a problem. Also, an itchy dog often scratches so much that adult fleas are hard to find because they are removed from the body. Cats groom themselves so much they often end up with lumpy skin and bald ‘racing stripes’ along their backs.

2) Food Allergy

Some pets develop hypersensitivities to foods. Various food proteins, carbohydrates, or even preservatives or dyes can all be potential food allergens. There is currently no accurate blood or skin test to determine if your pet has a food allergy. The best method of diagnosing a food allergy is by placing your pet on a carefully selected prescription or homemade hypoallergenic diet for several weeks, which is called a food trial. The aim is to have a diet containing only ingredients your pet has never eaten before. If the allergy signs resolve, a food challenge is performed by feeding the former diet and watching for a return of the itching. If this occurs, a diagnosis of food allergy is confirmed.

 3)Atopic Dermatitis

Atopic dermatitis (AD) is an inherited predisposition to developing skin problems from exposure to a variety of commonplace and otherwise harmless substances including the pollens of weeds, grasses and trees, as well as house dust mites and mold spores. A true diagnosis of AD is made based on the results of intradermal skin testing or by in vitro blood testing. Evaluating the results of these tests helps us compile a list of allergens for a “vaccine” to decrease the pet’s sensitivity.

Secondary Infections

Allergies are often the underlying cause of recurring skin and/or ear infections. Bacterial and yeast infections, though secondary to the allergy, can increase your pet’s level of itching. Long-term treatment with antibiotics and anti-yeast medications is commonly required, along with medicated bathing programs, moisturisers and omega 3 supplementation.

Can Allergies be cured?

Unfortunately, there is no cure for allergy and it is usually a life-long problem. We seek to control allergies and improve the quality of life for both you and your pet. We will formulate the best program of management that suits all involved with your pet’s care.

Can the Itching be treated without the expense of Diagnostic testing?

 Yes. There are many anti-allergy medications to reduce itching, along with changes to diet and lifestyles that can help. These medications/changes do not cure allergies but can help decrease the symptoms. However, without addressing the underlying cause of the allergy, the itching will return when the medication is stopped. Long-term use of some anti-allergy medications, such as steroids, can result in many health problems. Working with your veterinarian to diagnose the underlying cause of the allergy and itching may reduce the need for medications or enable your veterinarian to use more specific and targeted allergy treatments.

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