Spring has arrived, and with it comes allergy season—which leaves many people with runny noses and pets with itchy skin. Allergies are one of several reasons pets may become itchy, with parasites and skin infections other main culprits. Our Neighborhood Veterinary Centers of LaMarque team can treat itchy pets effectively, but first, we must find the underlying cause. Here, we discuss possible causes of your pet’s itchy skin and how our team can help your pet find relief.
Allergies in pets
Allergies are the most common reason why pets itch because, rather than causing sneezing and a runny nose, allergies cause inflammation in your pet’s skin and ears. Pets can be allergic to insect bites, flea bites, pollens, molds, grasses, other pets, dust mites, or food. Seasonal allergies are common, with flare-ups usually occurring in the spring or fall when different allergens are in the air. Food allergies are uncommon, contrary to popular belief. To compound matters, most pets with one allergy develop other allergies, which complicates their diagnosis. Allergy signs include itchy skin and ears, chronic or recurrent skin or ear infections, hair loss, skin redness, and skin pigment or thickening over time.
Parasites in pets
Fleas are the most common parasites in pets, and will live on their skin and bite to feed on their blood. Many pets with fleas, and some with no active infestation but a stray bite here or there, can develop a condition called flea allergy dermatitis (FAD), which leads to intense itching, scratching, and hair loss, and sometimes self-mutilation from the scratching.
The mange mite, Sarcoptes, is another parasite that can infect humans, dogs, and cats, and is contagious between and among species—in humans, this infection is called scabies. Sarcoptes mites burrow deep into the skin, causing intense itching in a localized or generalized area. Immunosuppressed pets are at higher risk for contracting this parasite.
Skin infections in pets
Bacteria, yeast, and ringworm can colonize your pet’s skin, leading to an itchy, bumpy, rashy infection. Skin infection is more likely when the skin’s typical barriers and immune functions are compromised during allergies, and in pets on immunosuppressive medications and with endocrine disorders. Pets with allergies who do not respond well to treatment likely have skin infections that also need treatment.
Itchy pet skin diagnosis
Your pet’s itchy skin condition can usually be diagnosed in a single office visit using specific examination techniques and diagnostic tests. Along with a complete physical examination and parasite check, our team may perform the following tests during the initial skin problem visit:
- Skin scraping — This test scrapes deep into the skin to look for parasites, such as Sarcoptes mites.
- Skin cytology — This test examines superficial skin cells in the affected area for bacteria, yeast, and inflammatory cells.
- Fungal culture — This test looks for ringworm species in a hair sample placed in special media.
- Bacterial culture — A bacterial culture is usually reserved to identify the responsible bacteria in unresponsive skin infections, but may be performed sooner in some cases.
- Biopsy — A skin biopsy may be performed in pets whose skin has an unusual appearance or who aren’t responding well to typical therapies. This test can help diagnose certain skin cancers and autoimmune disorders that occasionally cause itchy skin. Skin biopsies may be performed using local anesthetic.
Our team can also perform allergy testing on your pet’s blood to find specific environmental allergens and develop a more targeted treatment plan. We may also refer your pet to a dermatologist if their case is hard to diagnose or requires expert help.
Itchy pet skin treatments
Our team will use your pet’s diagnostic data to determine the best treatment to quell their itch. Treatment will depend on the underlying cause and may include:
- Anti-itch, anti-inflammatory, and immunomodulatory medications — Medications such as atopica, prednisone, Apoquel, and Cytopoint treat allergic skin inflammations.
- Oral antibiotics or antifungals — These are used to treat bacterial or fungal skin infections.
- Medicated shampoos — Shampoos are left on for 5 to 10 minutes so their active ingredients can soak into the skin and directly soothe itch, inflammation, and infection.
- Parasite preventives — Itchy pets are always treated with a monthly, long-acting parasite preventive to ensure fleas and ticks are not contributing to their itch.
- Skin or ear topicals — Creams, ointments, gels, mousses, and sprays can soothe itchy skin between baths or can treat chronic ear infections or inflammation.
- Allergy immunotherapy — Allergy “shots” desensitize your pet to their specific allergens, as determined by blood or skin testing.
- Food trial — Pets with suspected food allergies may need a special, prescription diet.
When your pet starts to itch, contact your southeast Texas veterinary medical experts—the Neighborhood Veterinary Centers of LaMarque team. Schedule an appointment for your pet for a skin examination or to discuss the best parasite control regimen for your pet’s needs.
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