Starting from Scratch

What Makes Pets Itch?

Excessive scratching is a common condition with dogs and a frustrating problem for their owners.dogrolling Many dogs scratch, chew and rub themselves so much there skin becomes bald, red, inflamed and painful. If this is the problem faced by your pet, follow the process below to diagnose and treat the problem.

What to do if your pet is really miserable

The logical, stepwise process below should help to diagnose the reason your pet is scratching, but it will take some time to do this. This delay may not be in your pet’s interest.

So, if  your pet is miserable and in discomfort or if it has red, inflamed or obviously infected skin, or if you are in any doubt about how serious your pet’s skin infection is, you should waste no more time. Please see your veterinarian immediately.

Firstly Flick the Flea

Fleas are the commonest cause of itching. There are two problems caused by fleas.

One is a flea irritation, caused by excessive numbers of fleas.  With a flea irritation, the fleas will be easily seen crawling through your pet’s coat.

The other is a flea allergy, where you only need a small number of fleas to cause a big problem. With just one ferocious Aussie Flea, an allergic pet can be scratching for most of the day and you won’t even know the flea is there.

So, the first step is to use perfect flea control for at least one month. While the monthly ‘spot on the neck’ preparations are wonderful for routine flea control, to confirm a diagnosis of a flea irritation or perhaps a flea allergy dermatitis, my suggestion is to use Permoxin Insecticidal Spray daily for two weeks. If the condition is solved with this approach, then fleas are the problem. Follow with a good flea control preparation such as Permoxin every seven days or one of the monthly ‘spot on the neck’ preparations such as Advocate, Frontline Plus , Revolution or similar products.

Now Bash the Bacteria and other Bugs

Infections are more often a cause of itchy skin than many owners realise.  Bacteria, yeasts and fungi give rise to nasty skin complaints.  When these bugs are present in a dog’s skin, the result is often the development of reddened moist skin, excessive scale, odour and the coat often has a greasy feel.

There are very good therapeutic shampoos that are available to help control these problems. Seek the advice of your veterinarian but my suggestion for your itchy pooch is to try the shampoo Malaseb. Wash your dog in this shampoo twice weekly for two weeks in accordance with the directions.

Should an infection be the cause, an improvement should be seen in this time. However, some infections also require antibiotic medications by mouth and for this you will have to see your veterinarian.

Is it Mange?

Mange is a term often misused by pet owners to describe any itchy skin condition and especially fleabite allergic dermatitis. However true mange is a condition caused by a mite that irritates the skin and causes hair loss. The Demodex mite or, more rarely, the Sarcoptes mite, can cause major skin disease which includes hair loss, especially around the face, and the development of secondary infections.

Mange will be difficult for you to diagnose at home. Your veterinarian will do a skin scraping and if the mites are seen, they are usually (but not always) the cause. A variety of medications can be used to treat mange.

Allergy Malady

If you have dutifully ploughed through all of the above and your pet is still scratching then I am sure you feel like pulling your own hair out!

If you are at this point, then your pet may well have an allergy.

Allergic skin disease in pets is a nightmare. By far the commonest allergy is Flea Bite Allergic Dermatitis but this should have been eliminated in the first step. Pets can be allergic to numerous things including the bites of insects other than fleas, to pollens, plants, moulds, house dust, to the food they are eating.

If the itching is seasonal, for instance in spring and in summer, it is more likely to be an allergy to pollens or to grasses. Wandering Dew and Paspalum are two of many plants that dogs are sensitive or allergic to. If the itching seems to be more intense on the underside of the dog – the part that rubs against plants – then sensitivities like this are more likely.

If this does not fit the picture, then a food allergy could be the next condition to eliminate. This will take some effort and your veterinarian will need to assist you. The goal is to feed a diet that contains protein and carbohydrate sources that your dog has never had before. Venison, rabbit, duck or kangaroo meats are often used as the protein source and rice or potato is often used as the carbohydrate source.

If the scratching still persists, then your pet should be checked for allergies by skin testing or by blood tests. Allergies are treated with anti-inflammatory medications and sometimes with desensitising injections and by removing the source of the allergen if possible. Many pets with allergic skin disease get some relief when a soothing shampoo, such as oatmeal shampoo, is used.

With skin diseases in pets you are often chasing your own tail trying to find the ‘cure’.  If this all sounds too difficult, your veterinarian will be happy to help.

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Dr Cam Day

Dr Cam Day

Vet Behavioralist

Dr Cam Day is a Veterinarian consulting full-time in pet behaviour in South-East Queensland, Australia.