ITCH is one of the top ten reasons why clients bring their dogs to the vet. There are multiple causes for itch, stemming from multiple types of parasites, to allergies and also secondary infections. Here are some recommendations and potential steps in managing the itch in most dogs. Although cats can have skin sensitivity and allergies, most often we seen conditions described here in dogs.

Parasite hypersensitivity is the most common reasons dogs itch. Types of parasites include lice, chiggers, ticks, and most commonly, the flea. It is very important that all pets in the household are on consistent flea control, and many flea products contain agents to protect against other potential parasites. Fleas like to live in the carpeting, underneath couch cushions, under decks, and wood piles; anywhere that is dark and moist. Be sure to discuss with your veterinarian about a flea control product prior to applying to your pet, so that safety is ensured and you select the right product for your pet.

Environmental allergy is the next most common in pets. This allergy is manageable, but rarely curable and consists of allergies to pollens, molds and house dust mites. Occasionally, these allergies can respond to over-the-counter antihistamines; however, you must check with your veterinarian for the appropriate dose and formulation prior to administration, as some formulations are not good for dogs. Oral cold water marine fish oils can also be beneficial overall for the skin in therapeutic amounts. However, the only targeted therapy for environmental allergies is allergen-specific immunotherapy. This involves performing an intradermal skin test of the pet to determine what he/she may be allergic to. This is followed by formulating an injection or oral solution consisting of the pollen/mold extracts of what the pet is allergic to in the environment, and desensitizing the pet with those extracts. Side effects are minimal short term and absent long term.  Medications, other than antihistamines, may also be used for allergies but would be prescribed by a veterinarian.

Food allergy affects about 10% of the canine population. The only scientifically proven way to diagnose a food allergy is with a novel protein diet trial. This can be a homecooked diet, consisting of a single protein and carbohydrate that the pet has not be exposed to, or a prescription diet. The diet is fed for a minimum of 8 weeks, followed by a diet challenge. If the patient becomes itchy within 2 weeks of challenging the diet with the old food, then he/she is food allergic.

It is always important that secondary bacterial and/or yeast infections are evaluated for in any allergic or itchy pet. These infections come secondary to the change in the skin environment with the allergy "flare" and can be further exacerbated by the patient scratching his/her skin.

Allergies can be frustrating and confusing as many pets have a combination of allergies that all need to be managed. Appropriate diagnostics and therapy, as well as a strong veterinary-client-patient relationship is paramount to successful management of allergies in pets.

For additional information contact Katherine Doerr, DVM, DACVD; Dermatology for Animals. Aptos: 831-531-0090/Campbell: 408-871-3800

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Guest Blog Post by Katherine Doerr, DVM; Dermatology for Animals