The Itching and Scratching Show – Starring Sydney’s Dogs and Cats

You wouldn’t know it’s summer with all the strange weather but the usual summer itching has begun as you would expect. This mobile vet has seen many itchy dogs and cats all with their own variations on the same theme – they’re all itchy and their owners are very frustrated!

The most common cause in my experience is allergy, but there are other possibilities including parasite infections and other illnesses. There are many different treatments for these guys but the initial workup is aimed at trying to determine what is causing the itch.

If an allergy is determined, then what is causing the allergy and what more specifically is making the itch worse is the next question. You need patience as often trials of different things are required, sometimes working well, sometimes not working so well.

Being a mobile vet coming into your homes is a great advantage because I can see what’s around and how to best manage the environment in your home, giving the best chance at success.

The bottom line in many pets with allergy is that there is no cure, only ways to try to reduce the severity. It is very similar to allergy in people, especially hayfever which as many of you know, can be very frustrating.

The most common question I get from my clients is “My pet has been itching and scratching, can you fix it?”.

Or sometimes people have already been treating with a number of things from previous recommendations and the pet still itches, so I get the question

“I’ve tried everything, and nothing seems to work, can you fix it?”.

Unfortunately this is a bad starting point, because as much as I’d like to be able to “fix it”, the reality is that we can just usually “manage it”. Often, though, with a little tweaking, we can get the itch much better and the pet much more comfortable. It takes perseverance both from you and from me.

Here’s a brief summary of the types of allergies we see in our pets

1/ By far the most common allergy is to airborne allergenic particles such as pollens and other plant material. These usually cause spring/summer itches that tend to quieten down in winter.

2/ The next most common would be to fleas, which is usually set off by the bite of even a single flea. Again this also tends to occur much more in summer but can be a problem all year around as these hardy buggers tend to breed throughout the year.

3/ When allergy symptoms occur more throughout the year, we tend to think of chronic problems such as fleas or dust mites, but also food allergy. Food allergy is a commonly misunderstood problem. Food allergy usually develops when a pet has been on a particular food for a while and develops a sensitivity usually to the protein source.

Determining if a food allergy exists involves doing a “food elimination trial” – this means feeding a single protein source with a carbohydrate (typically shark and potato for example) for around 4-8 weeks. Then if the itch has resolved we re-challenge with a single protein source that has been fed previously to see if the itch recurs, usually within days.

Investigation usually involves a step by step process. The very first thing to do is examine the skin and determine if there are any secondary infections such as bacteria or fungi. These are very common and can in-fact cause more itch than the allergy itself, and if treated properly can often reduce the itch significantly or completely.

At the same time we can start to determine what kind of allergy we are dealing with and manage this accordingly. If we suspect a food allergy exists we always need to rule this out first before embarking on further investigation and treatment. This can be frustrating for owners but also potentially very rewarding because if it is a food allergy there is the potential for cure if we feed the right foods, and no other management may be required.

Once food allergy is ruled out, and infections are controlled we assess how itchy the pet now is and then embark on a longer term management plan. This will involve combinations of anti-histamine trials, special shampoos and conditioners, soothing creams and sprays, dietary supplements such as omega 3/6 fatty acids eg. fish oils, and as a last resort, steroids.

I don’t like using steroids if at all possible due to their longer term side effects, with the patient often requiring bigger and longer doses if they are used too frequently. They can however sometimes be used for short term relief. There are also some more potent immuno-suppressive medications that we can reach for if all else fails. Lastly but not least, flea control is extremely important as flea burdens can greatly exacerbate skin allergies.

So that was a “brief” summary of the ins and outs of skin allergies. As you can see the process can take some time and you certainly need some patience. There are a lot of conditions that luckily we can cure or prevent, but unfortunately skin allergy isn’t the kind of problem that we can give a pill for and fix. I wish it was, as we’d have a lot happier pets and clients!

As a mobile vet I get great satisfaction from coming around and assessing the situation, hopefully with a positive outcome. With a little perseverance we certainly can make our pets a lot more comfortable.

Don’t be afraid to give Vetaround Sydney Mobile Vet Service a call if you want to discuss any of this further and see whether there are things we can do to make your pet more comfortable.

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