Itchy, scratchy pets

With the warmer weather invariably comes the summer itches, brought on by skin allergies and the increasing number of external parasites that prefer warmer conditions. Dogs start to nibble their feet, shake their ears or just scratch excessively and cats will also scratch or over-groom themselves sometimes to the point of baldness.
It can be distressing for us pet owners to see Fido or Felix constantly licking or chewing themselves or to wake to the sound of a leg thumping repeatedly on the floor as a paw obsessively rakes an itchy bit of skin.

The classic “hot spot” is an area of skin infection where a pet has made the skin so raw from self-trauma to the point of creating a weeping, oozing mess of discomfort. Anything that sore obviously requires veterinary attention but there are things we can do as pet owners to try to reduce the symptoms or need for vet visits.
The first thing to do is to look at external parasite control, and by that we usually mean flea treatments. Dogs and cats with itchy skin should be on the most effective monthly flea control available. Even just one flea bite is enough to set some pets off in a vicious scratching cycle and some flea treatments are either too weak or slow to work to prevent a flea bite. Some pets are very allergic to flea saliva and it is this allergic reaction rather than the physical bite that causes all the problems. There are new flea tablets available that can kill fleas within minutes of administering and these are the best way to eliminate fleas as a potential trigger.
Try a hypoallergenic diet. Food allergies are not that common but a diet trial is a relatively cheap and easy thing to do at home. Pick a strict hypoallergenic diet like Purina HA, Hills z/d or Royal Canin Hypoallergenic and try feeding this for 4-6 weeks, remember no other treats or supplements while you are feeding the diet. Food allergies are hard to diagnose but the easiest to cure, a strict food trial is the only way to eliminate food triggers.
Supplement with omega fatty acids. Extra omega oils can improve skin and coat health and reduce the need for stronger medication. A healthy skin barrier will reduce some of the symptoms of dermatitis.
Anti-histamines can help. Talk to your vet if these are appropriate but they can provide a low level of anti-inflammatory relief and are relatively safe.
Medicated shampoos. Regular washing with a soothing or antiseptic shampoo will help to wash off contact irritants and soothe itchy skin. There are a large number of medicated washes available for skin problems that can significantly reduce the symptoms of dry, itchy skin.
Allergy testing. Ultimately if a pet has a chronic itch that keeps recurring sometimes the answer is to do either a skin patch test or blood test to try to work out what pollen or grass or dust mite is setting the skin off. If the offending allergen can be diagnosed it is even possible to be desensitised to it by having a vaccine made up.
Finally if all else fails we are lucky that there are an increasing number of very effective anti-inflammatory medications that will settle itchy skin down. There are several newer treatments and drugs that are well tolerated and very effective in calming itchy skin.
If you are worried about your pet ‘s skin then don’t let them scratch in silence! Go to your vet and discuss what is the best flea treatment, food, shampoo or medication for your pets problem.