Excessive licking, chewing, and scratching can make a pets life miserable month after month, year after year. Coping with an itchy pet can be a very frustrating experience for a pet owner.
There tend to be two common causes of itching in a dog or cat; they are external parasites or allergies.
In people, allergies tend to cause watery eyes sneezing and a runny nose. However, in dogs allergies rarely affect the respiratory system. Instead, they usually have red itchy skin, possible hair loss and recurrent skin and or ear infections. The cat may develop allergic bronchitis (asthma) due to their allergies.
Allergies tend to be broken into three main categories.
- Flea allergies – Flea allergic dermatitis is the most common skin disease in pets. You may not see the fleas, but it does not mean they are not present. Flea allergies are caused when the flea is feeding, and the saliva is injected into the skin, it only takes a few bites to cause a problem. In our homes, fleas may survive in low numbers for long periods of time. Many veterinarians will recommend flea control year-round if they suspect an allergy.
- The second most common type of allergy is a hypersensitivity to the pet’s food. Currently, there is no accurate test to determine what food a pet is sensitive to. The only method to diagnose a food allergy is to carefully select a hypoallergenic diet and feed for several weeks exclusively. It is known as a food trial.
- The third type of allergy is called atopic dermatitis. It affects the skin and ears. It is due to an inflammatory response to harmless substances in the environment, such as plants, dust or other environmental agents.
Allergies are often the underlying cause of recurrent skin and ear infections. When a pet has an allergy and is not treated they become suspectable to secondary bacterial, and yeast infections, which can increase the pet’s level of itching. Unfortunately, there is no cure for an allergy, and it usually is a life long problem. We try to control allergies and improve the quality of life for both you and your pet. We will formulate the best program to manage this problem.
There are numerous medications available now to reduce itching, in your pet. These medications do not cure allergies, but they can help decrease their symptoms. However, without addressing the underlying cause of the allergy, the itching will return when medications are stopped. Long term use of some medications may result in health problems. Working with a 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 target allergy treatments.
Written by: Dr. Peter Mackenzie DVM