Skin Allergies In Pets
Irritated or itchy skin, officially referred to as ‘pruritus’ can be caused by a variety of factors and is one of the most common problems vets see.
We talk about a skin allergy or allergic dermatitis when a pet’s immune system is triggered by an allergen.
These allergens are harmless to most animals but a pet with allergies will have an extreme reaction to them. Some pets suffer all year round while others are only itchy at certain times of the year.
Typical allergens include flea saliva (from flea bites), house dust mites, pollens, trees, grasses, mould spores, bacteria, food and medication. Atopy or atopic dermatitis is the name for allergies caused by environmental allergens.
More about skin allergies in pets
Itchy skin can look different in different pets.
Dogs tend to scratch excessively which results in patches of red, irritated skin, fur loss and scabs. Some dogs might chew and lick their feet excessively or rub their faces on the carpet because their ears or lips are itchy. It is quite common to see recurrent ear problems in dogs with skin allergies and sometimes this is the only sign we see.
Cats also scratch and lick but are often more secretive about this and signs of a skin allergy can look a little different to dogs. You might notice symmetrical hair loss, areas with lots of little scabs, red moist skin with wet matted fur or even just an ulcer on their upper lip.
If your pet shows regular signs of itchiness and chews at their back, towards the base of their tail, it could be a sign of a fleas. This is one of the most common causes itchy skin and can be easily avoided by rigorous flea control. We recommend cats and dogs are protected all year round against fleas.
If you seee any of the above signs it’s best to get in touch with your vet who can investigate the cause of the problem further and provide itch relief for your pet.
In order to treat your pet’s itchy skin, your vet will need to determine the cause of the itch first. Identifying the cause can take time.
While tests are carried out, there are a number of itch relieving medications your vet can prescribe to keep your pet comfortable in the meantime.
The first thing your vet will need to rule out is infectious causes which include:
- Ectoparasites such as fleas and mites
- Bacterial infections
- Fungal infections
In order to check for these infectious causes your vet may carry out tests such as skin scrapes, hair plucks and swabs.
Treatments for infectious causes include parasiticides, antibiotics and antifungals. Often medicated shampoos, creams and sprays are recommended.
If the itching has not resolved at this stage some more investigations will determine other possible causes such as flea allergy dermatitis or a food allergy.
While fleas can cause itchy skin in all cats and dogs (and humans!), some pets are particularly sensitive to the flea’s saliva. This is called flea allergic dermatitis and pets affected might need additional treatments to control the condition.
Food allergies or intolerances can be tested for by carrying out a dietary exclusion trial. This involves feeding your pet an alternative diet for a period of 6-8 weeks. The choice of food is very important and your vet will advise you on the most appropriate diet to use.
If the itch remains once the possibility of flea allergic dermatitis or a food allergy has been excluded, your vet may diagnose atopic dermatitis. This is caused by environmental allergens such as pollen and house dust. Atopic dermatitis is a life-long condition and requires life-long treatment. In order to manage this condition, a combination of treatments are usually required. Your vet will develop a treatment plan specific to your pet.
- Identifying the cause of itchy skin can take time but itch relief can be provided whilst investigations take place.
- In the case of skin allergies, treatment is likely to be more about long-term management and prevention rather than finding a cure. Many pets will need long-term anti-itch medication.
- Ensure all pets in your home are treated for parasites all year round. Many treatments can be ineffective and it's best to consult your vet who can advise the best treatment.
- If your pet has fleas don't forget to treat your house too.
- Ask your vet about skin supplements which can help reduce itchy skin.
- For dogs that are sensitive to pollen and other outdoor irritants don't walk your dog through tall grasses or meadows, particularly during spring and autumn when pollen counts are higher. Try to also tailor your daily walks to times when the pollen count is lowest pollen count peaks are normally between 5am and 10am.
- Every time your dog has been outside, wipe their feet with a damp towel. which can help prevent pollen and other irritants being brought into the home.
- Always follow your vet's recommendation about recheck appointments.