When your pets are constantly scratching it is unsettling for the whole family. Unfortunately, most skin conditions take time to sort out completely. Nevertheless, there are some very good medications, which can provide almost instant relief from the scratch.
The underlying cause may take longer to fully establish. Scratching in pets is often caused by a triad: external parasites (e.g. fleas, mites and ticks), external allergens (e.g. pollens and grasses) and food allergies (normally a developed allergy to a specific meat protein such as beef, lamb or chicken). All three may contribute to pass the “itch” threshold and scratching results.
External parasites are the easiest to remove from the equation and regular, routine modern flea treatments are a good first treatment choice, even when owners don’t believe fleas are an issue. Modern tablet flea products have little true competition, they work very well. External allergens prove very elusive to diagnose, and contact type allergens tend to affect areas of the skin along the belly and inside the legs. There are some good medicated shampoos, which can provide welcome temporary relief. Food allergies, while often suspected and blamed, can be the most difficult to diagnose correctly. Introducing alternative, novel new meat sources may be useful. Unfortunately, most pets get food from a variety of sources, not only their owners, and treats are often an integral component of the family-pet relationship. Novel protein diets only work when they are the only thing being eaten.
With skin conditions, care is required to make correct interpretations and not jump to incorrect conclusions. Clients are often sure that their pets or their home environment does not have fleas, yet a regular flea treatment helps to remove the scratching. Similarly, some clients are sure that there are certain foods which aggravate the skin conditions, but when they move home and change their living environments their pet’s skin gets better, even though their diet remains the same.
Considering the triad of external parasites, external allergens and food allergies is a good way to approach skin conditions. Most skin conditions result from the animal’s own immune system responding inappropriately to something foreign. Steroids are frequently used to “calm the immune system down” and there are new “immune modulator” medications which have similar effects, without interfering with an animal’s own steroid production.
Stephen McAulay, CEO and head vet, Wellsford Vet Clinic