We are that time of year again where we are starting to see lots of animals with itchy skin conditions.
For several reasons this symptom may be more prevalent at this time of year and there are many different causes to consider before we can treat your pet successfully. Ciara Zissman discusses the two most common causes in both cats and dogs.
The most commonly found parasite on cats and dogs is the flea. It is so common that most pets will be infested at some point in their lives!
Although cats and dogs are equally affected, it is the cat flea called Ctenocephalides Felis that is found most commonly on both species. The flea lives on the skin surface and feeds off blood after biting through the skin.
Most affected dogs will be itchy all over and you may find that the scratching starts quite suddenly, whereas cats tend to show less scratching behaviour but more licking and grooming – this applies to all causes of itchy skin in cats.
You may also find that your pet’s skin feels scabby and the coat condition looks poor.
Other Common Parasites
Other parasites that may cause itchy skin include mites and lice.
Lice & Mites
Lice are generally uncommon in healthy adult pets, however mite infestation is seen regularly. Just like fleas we often see more problems with mites during the spring and summer as the parasites become more active, our animals are also spending more time meeting others and more time outdoors.
Sarcoptic Mange is the disease caused by the mite Sarcoptes Scabiei. Instead of living on the skin it burrows into the skin layer, so can’t be seen with the naked eye. For this reason we often need to do some further tests to diagnose mites as the cause of itching. As with fleas they cause intense scratching that can be anywhere on the body but is often focused on the head, ears and limbs.
Prevention of parasites is always much easier than cure – there are several different monthly treatments that can prevent infection with fleas and mites.
For treatment the same products can often be used, but we may also need other treatments on top such as antibiotics or anti-inflammatory medications to reduce secondary infection and inflammation.
To treat fleas it is also very important that an insecticide spray is used in the house to kill the other life stages of the parasite that live happily off the animal.
Just like humans our cats and dogs can be allergic to anything and this often manifests as itchy skin. They are often itchy all over but sometimes the scratching or licking can be isolated to one area such as the feet.
Sometimes it is something in their food which is causing a reaction, animals can be very itchy but it usually isn’t seasonal, so they will be scratching at all times of the year. This can be investigated by a trial of a hypoallergenic diet – these diets contain novel proteins, this is a protein that your pet is unlikely to have eaten before and so is less likely to be allergic to.
If your cat or dog seems to only become itchy at certain times of year, such as spring and summer, then it is more likely they have an allergy to something in the environment e.g. tree or grass pollen.
In some cases we can identify what is causing the allergy with special skin tests and produce a vaccine to reduce symptoms. In those cases where the allergen can’t be avoided or we can’t identify the cause, then treatment involves using different medications to control the skin inflammation and therefore the itching.
Medication comes in many forms including shampoos, sprays, creams, tablets and injections and the medication used would depend on each individual case.
If you have any concerns that your pet is itchy or you have seen fleas then please contact us to arrange a consultation.