What You Need to Know about Allergies & Itchy Pets

Itchy dogs (and, to a lesser extent, cats) are a real problem for our clients at this time of year. It happens every Spring and keeps us busy providing treatment and advice. Although there are several factors which come into play, the main cause of the itchiness is allergies of one form or another.The itchiness caused by allergies can drive pets absolutely bonkers and can be a major form of distress. As such, we’d like to give you a few tips on how to deal with the problem as follows:

The main causes are parasites, plants,and secondary infections.

  • Dogs and cats are often allergic to pollens, dust mites, grasses and other plants
    • If any of you suffer from hay fever, you know exactly how this feels
  • Parasites often cause an intense skin reaction in pets
    • Fleas are the most common cause but there are several types of mite that affect both dogs and cats
    • Dust mites are a common cause of allergies in pets as well as in people (yes, this is a tiny mite that lives by feeding off common household dust!)
  • Some pets react badly to certain bacteria or yeast organisms
    • Ear infections are common and usually involve yeast which is very itchy – think of athlete’s foot, for example
    • Moist bacterial dermatitis happens in dogs that spend time in or around water or that have naturally deep skin folds as, for example, in Bulldogs and Sharpeis.

Scratching/itching actually makes the problem worse.

  • Trauma from scratching causes a release of histamines
    • Histamine changes the distribution of blood supply and results in that really reddened appearance in inflamed skin
  • Scratching/itching damages the skin surface and increases the chance of infection
    • Both bacterial and yeast are present on the surface of normal skin (ours too) but manage to gain a ‘toehold’ in damaged skin
    • The secondary infection makes things even itchier – the ‘itch-scratch cycle’

Rapid treatment really helps in minimising the problem with allergies.

  • By treating allergies early , we can avoid the secondary damage
    • The sooner you stop the scratching, the less chance of further inflammation and infection
  • The quicker you do something about this, the less distressed your pet will be

Things you can do at home include treating parasites and using shampoos (on dogs, at least).

  • Rule out parasite problems by using products such as Bravecto or Advocate
    • Ask us what’s the best thing in your situation
    • This may vary between dog and cat
  • Shampoos help mild cases and can be done as often as twice weekly
    • We recommend certain shampoos that actually reduce the inflammation in skin
    • If you’re washing your dog that often, we’d recommend using conditioner each time to prevent the skin from drying out
    • If you’re washing your cat that often, you’re braver than me!!
    • We have a fantastic hydrobath installed at the hospital and this can make life much easier for you.

If the itching persists, you need to come and see us.

  • First things first, we need to find the source of the problem
  • We see a lot of skin cases at this time of year and so we’re quite used to treating allergies
  • In many cases, we may need to run some tests to work out the problem
  • Secondary infections need to be treated with antimicrobials and anti-inflammatories

Some pets are allergic to certain foods and strictly-controlled diet is a very effective method of control

  • Food trials are essential to identify true food allergies
    • This process involves using elimination diets to that prevent access to food allergens and run over the course of several weeks
  • Even in other allergies, specific diets can help to reduce the itchiness in pets
  • Although owners can sometimes create their own diets (with advice), this can be hard to sustain
    • In most cases, we advise specific commercial diets that we know work effectively

Generally, allergies are a life-long problem and so control, rather than cure, is the goal

  • In some pets, this means seasonal treatment (usually worst in Spring)
  • More severe cases require year-round treatment
  • Desensitisation ‘vaccinations’ can greatly reduce the severity
    • This involves doing some skin testing and requires referral to a specialist ‘dermatologist’
    • Vaccines are created based on the results of the skin tests and given over a number of weeks.
    • Roughly 70% of pets experience some degree of improvement in symptoms
    • Although some pets become essentially free of symptoms, most still need some treatment, although much less than before.

As already mentioned, there’s a lot we can do to help alleviate the discomfort caused by allergies. The bottom line, though, is that you need to bring in your furry friend as soon as you see the tell-tale signs of shaking, scratching, rubbing or licking.

We’ll go out of our way to look after you so, don’t delay, give us a call and ask our fantastic receptionists to make a booking on 8522 3500. Even better, go online to book an appointment directly.

Picture of Anne Crouch

Anne Crouch

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Gawler Animal Hospital

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Offering a wide range of pet-care options from vaccinations up to complex medical and surgical treatments.

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