Common Reasons Why Your Pet Is Scratching

It’s that time of year again, when we are seeing an increasing number of animals suffering from itchy skin conditions.

There are many reasons why we see this more at this time of year (including an increasing number of parasites and higher numbers of pet allergies in the warmer months). Before treatment can be administered, we need to understand the underlying causes.

Ciara Zissman discusses the two most common causes in both cats and dogs.

Parasites

Fleas

Fleas are the most commonly found parasite on your cats and dogs, to the point that the majority of pets will suffer from them at some point in their lives.

Cats and dogs are both equally affected by fleas, however it is actually the cat flea called Ctenocephalides Felis that is most commonly found on both cats and dogs. This flea lives on the surface of their skin and feeds off your cat or dogs blood by biting through the skin.

Signs of Fleas

Dogs that have been affected by fleas will be itchy all over and you may find that this scratching starts all of a sudden. In contrast, cats will scratch less but increase their grooming behaviour (grooming and licking). This is not just with fleas – cats will demonstrate these signs with any type of itchy skin condition.

Another sign to look out for are if your pet’s skin feels scabby and the condition of their coat is looking poor.

Other Common Parasites

In addition to fleas, other common parasites that cause your cat or dog to have itchy skin are mite and lice.

Lice & Mites

Healthy adult pets are less likely to suffer from lice, but mite infestation is seen much more regularly. As with fleas, we often see a higher volume of mite problems in the warmer spring and summer months.

This is due to your pets spending more time outdoors and meeting other animals, as well as parasites becoming more active.

The mite Sarcoptes Scabiei causes the disease Sarcoptic Mange. Unlike other mites, it burrows in to the skin layer, meaning that it can’t be seen by the naked eye. Because of this, we often need to do additional tests to diagnose that mights are the cause of itching.

Similarly to fleas, they cause intense scratching anywhere on the whole body, but you may find some itching specifically focussed on head, ears and limbs.

How To Prevent Parasites

It is much easier to prevent parasites affecting your cat or dog, than it is to cure them once they catch them. There are many monthly treatment options available that can prevent you pet from getting fleas and mites.

We can often use the same products as part of the treatment, but this may need to be topped up with additional treatments such as antibiotics or anti-inflammatory drugs. These are used to reduce secondary infection and inflammation.

Insecticide sprays should also be used around your house to kill the parasites at various stage of their life cycle whilst living off your pet.

Allergies

Just like humans our cats and dogs can be allergic to anything and this often manifests as itchy skin. They are often itchy all over but sometimes the scratching or licking can be isolated to one area such as the feet.

Food

Sometimes it is something in their food which is causing a reaction, animals can be very itchy but it usually isn’t seasonal, so they will be scratching at all times of the year. This can be investigated by a trial of a hypoallergenic diet – these diets contain novel proteins, this is a protein that your pet is unlikely to have eaten before and so is less likely to be allergic to.

Seasonal Allergies

If your cat or dog seems to only become itchy at certain times of year, such as spring and summer, then it is more likely they have an allergy to something in the environment e.g. tree or grass pollen.

In some cases we can identify what is causing the allergy with special skin tests and produce a vaccine to reduce symptoms. In those cases where the allergen can’t be avoided or we can’t identify the cause, then treatment involves using different medications to control the skin inflammation and therefore the itching.

Medication comes in many forms including shampoos, sprays, creams, tablets and injections and the medication used would depend on each individual case.

If you have any concerns that your pet is itchy or you have seen fleas then please contact us to arrange a consultation.