Environmental allergens can cause skin problems
Summer is the season for fun – trips to the beach, running in the park, barbeques and holidays. It is also the season for itchy pets.
Skin conditions are one of the most common issues that sees pets brought into the vet clinic. They are also one of the most frustrating issues for both pets and owners as getting to the bottom of the cause of the skin complaint can occasionally be time consuming and sometimes unrewarding.
The most common causes of itchiness (which can present as chewing, scratching, licking, rolling or rubbing) are underlying allergies. Allergies cause inflammation which makes the pet itchy. Damage to the skin from scratching leads to further inflammation and secondary infections, which in turn makes the skin itchier, causing more scratching/licking/damage. We end up in an itch-scratch cycle. The more you scratch the more you itch…
Allergies in animals tend to fall into four main groups
• Insect bite hypersensitivity – a genuine allergic reaction to the saliva injected under the skin when an insect bites. 95% of these cases are caused by fleas (Flea Allergic Dermatitis – FAD). It only takes one flea in allergic animals to set them off on the itch-scratch cycle.
• Contact allergy – an allergic reaction to something that the pet has touched – most commonly plants but can occasionally be bedding, carpet or other items. It very commonly shows up on the belly, paws and under the chin.
• Food allergy – an allergic reaction to a protein in the pets diet. It is different to a sensitivity which generally causes gastrointestinal signs. This reaction causes generalised itchiness, paw licking, ear inflammation.
• Atopy – this is an inhaling allergy to pollens, dust mites etc in the air. It is often a generalised itchiness that looks very similar to what we see in food allergies. Atopy can be seasonal or last all year.
It is important to for the vet to rule out other causes of itchiness before we look at allergies – mite, bacterial and yeast infections need to be checked for and brought under control.
There are many, many medications, shampoos, topical treatments, foods and management strategies that can be used when trying to deal with an allergic skin condition. Sometimes all we can hope for is an improvement rather than a cure, sometimes it takes a while to find out the best option for you and your pet. Sometimes you might even get referred to a Specialist Veterinary Dermatologist. Rest assured we will work with you to give your pet comfort and relief from the terrible itches and scratches!