As Summer rolls around again this year, you may have noticed that your pet is a little itchier, the skin is a little flaky, or that your pet is moulting like its 'going out of fashion'.
Is your pet waking you up during the night scratching? Shedding hair and pulling it out in clumps? Skin flaking and looking like there is dandruff?
Generally itching can be associated with dietary changes (food allergies), environmental allergens (atopy – which is similar to hayfever in people), flea allergy (hypersensitive to flea bites – so just one bite from a passing flea can cause intense itching), or contact allergies (particular plants such as wandering dew).
Allergies can be seasonal and come by year after year, waxing and waning with weather changes and pollens. How do you know if it needs to be attended to?
Hair loss and reddening of the skin – if there is hair loss and your pet is uncomfortable; waking up in the middle of the night, stopping during walks, chewing and overgrooming, then it is a definite sign that veterinary advice needs to be sought.
If there are other symptoms of allergies – sneezing, ear infections, skin infections
Allergies can compromise the skin's ability to act as a protective barrier and so animals can be more susceptible to infections.
All skin has a population of bacteria and yeast living on it – but when animals begin to scratch and lick at themselves, the trauma they cause to the skin and the warm moist environment the saliva creates – allows the bacteria and yeast to proliferate. The resultant infections (either bacteria or yeast, or both) may make the animal more itchy than the underlying allergy or condition.
What can we do about it?
Generally we will check the skin by taking samples and checking to see if there is an overgrowth of bacteria, inflammatory cells or yeast on the skin itself. If there is an overpopulation of any of these, we will need to get rid of the infection before treating the underlying cause of the infection. Infections will may the skin even more intensely itchy than the underlying cause, and so the cycle continues. To rid the skin of the infection a course of antibiotics may be required, and medicated washes may need to be performed.
If there is no overpopulation of bacteria/yeast/inflammatory cells, then we may think about either dietary changes and 'elimination diets' – which are basically like going back to basics. A 'novel' protein is used – a source that the pet has never been exposed to before (dermatologists will generally recommend kangaroo or rabbit), and a carbohydrate source such as sweet potato or pumpkin. This is so that the receptors in the gastrointestinal tract do not recognise and have an adverse reaction to it. An elimination diet has to be used exclusively (with no treats or other tid-bits) for a minimum of 6 weeks and then new foods can be SLOWLY reintroduced to the equation to see if there is a lapse in signs.
We can also improve the skin barrier by using essential oils (like essential 6) which basically plumps up the epidermal cells in the skin, allowing it to work as a barrier more effectively.
Flea treatment trials (using a topical and oral product fortnightly) may be recommended if it is thought that your pet has a flea allergy. Even if you are diligent with the treatments (monthly) there is still a chance your pet may have the occasional flea biting him or her, and that this sets of an intense itch. Please also remember never to use dog flea products on cats as these can be fatal! Bigger does not always mean better.
Antihistamines can be used as well – these may reduce the itching but not treat the underlying cause so it is important to remember that this may be a 'band-aid' solution!
If your pet has an itch and you are concerned, or if you have any queries, please contact us here at VetHQ for a consultation.