“Doctor, my pet seems very itchy lately” is a common concern of owners when they come to the Chinook Country Veterinary Clinic. Sometimes the cause for the scratching or biting at the skin is obvious and a simple solution is available. However, pruritis (itchy skin) can be quite complex and difficult to manage.
The first step to reaching a proper diagnosis and an effective treatment plan is to get a thorough and accurate history from you, the owner. Owners should come prepared to discuss what symptoms are present, how long they have been present for, if symptoms are constant or intermittent, what exposure to other animals is happening, if any littermates to your pet have similar symptoms, what diet your pet is on and for how long, if any home remedies or previous veterinary treatment has helped or worsened the condition, etc. etc.
Common causes for pets to be itchy:
Parasites: There are lots of “critters” that can cause your pet to be itchy, such as fleas, lice, ticks and mites. A detailed history is needed to investigate potential skin parasites. What is your pet’s level of exposure to other animals? Has there been a recent purchase of a kitten or puppy from a source where there were lots of cats/dogs interacting? Does your pet have frequent stays at a kennel or doggy day care? Has your pet recently been to a groomer? Has there been recent travel or camping experiences to areas where external parasites are more prevalent? Many parasites are visible to the naked eye and the diagnosis is fairly simple. Anytime you see a crawling “bug” on your pet, we recommend you capture it and submit it to the Chinook Country Veterinary Clinic for identification. Mites are too small to be seen and a skin scraping is required to try to find them. Most are easy to find on a scraping with the exception of sarcoptic mites which burrow deep in the skin and are rarely seen on a scraping. The appearance of the skin and the response to therapy is often the route to diagnose this very uncomfortable and contagious condition. Fortunately most external parasites are easily and successfully treated with oral and/or topical therapies.
Infections: Bacterial, yeast and fungal infections can occur on the skin without an apparent underlying cause. Variable levels of itchiness occur from such infections. Minor trauma can inflame the skin and allow the opportunity for overgrowth of normal micro-organisms that cause further inflammation, make your pet scratch the area, creating even more inflammation and a nasty cycle is set up. Microscopic examination of skin cells and culturing of the offending organism may be suggested to aid in the diagnosis and design the correct treatment plan. Clipping overlying hair, cleansing the areas with anti-microbial soap and appropriate anti-microbial medications, either topically or orally are in order. Also important to the treatment of infections is the prevention of self trauma from scratching or biting at the lesion and T-shirts, socks, or Elizabethan collars (cones) are used.
Allergies, allergies, allergies – Unfortunately allergies are quite common in pets, especially dogs. Rather than getting hay fever signs like people, their skin gets inflamed and itchy from allergens that are inhaled, ingested or contacted directly. Allergies can present at paw or body licking, ear infections, swelling around the eyes, hot spots and more.
Part two of this blog will be devoted entirely to allergies so stay tuned!