Skin problems make up a large proportion of our caseload at Gordon Vet Hospital. The most common reasons for pets to be brought to us include itchiness (pruritus), ear infections, hair loss (alopecia), rashes, lumps and swellings.
Itchy pets can cause significant physical damage to themselves and can undergo personality changes due to their discomfort. Itchy cats can be hard to detect as they often groom or lick themselves rather than scratch.
It is important to identify the cause(s) of the itch as soon as possible to minimise chronic or secondary changes, which become harder to manage.
For the majority of itchy animals , allergic reactions to fleas (Flea Bite Hypersensitivity), environmental allergens (Atopic Dermatitis ie due to plant pollens, moulds, house-dust mite) or foods (Adverse Food Reactions) are the underlying cause. There can be a combination of these causes. Also secondary skin infections with bacteria or yeast may further complicate and worsen the itch.
A thorough investigation of the cause of a pets itch may include in-house laboratory tests, therapeutic trialling of special diets and flea prevention products, and external laboratory testing.
In-house testing includes skin scrapings (looking for mites), coat brushings (looking for fleas, flea faeces, mites), cotton bud/sticky tape and impression slides (assessing cells and bacteria/yeast) and fluorescent light examination (looking for superficial fungal infection).
A flea therapeutic trial utilising effective fast-acting flea preventative products is an important step in determining if fleas are causing the itch, or overgrooming. It does not take many fleas to incite this allergic reaction, they indeed may be hard to find. Click here for our flea handout.
Similarly food elimination provocation dietary trials are commonly recommended to establish if an adverse food reaction (food allergy) is contributing to the itch. Pets can suddenly develop allergies to foods they have been fed for years.
For those severely itchy animals, and where food allergies, ectoparasites (fleas, mites) and infections have been ruled out, testing for environmental allergens can be undertaken. Allergen specific immunotherapy using specifically manufactured vaccines to desensitise the allergies, can be then be implemented.
Skin allergies in our pets can be frustrating for all concerned. However with patience and perserverance we can determine the causes, implement effective control strategies and substantially improve the pets quality of life.