It’s a refrain veterinarians hear often from pet owners: “My dog won’t stop scratching; it’s driving me nuts”.

The most common cause of itching, skin infections, and ear infections in both dogs and cats are fleas, allergies to fleas, and environmental allergies – dust mites, pollen, and grasses. Both flea allergies and environmental allergies are much more common in pets than food allergies but flea, environmental, and food allergies can all have similar symptoms.

Allergies cause great discomfort to your pets, often leaving them with bald, bleeding patches and raised bumps or blisters on the skin. Food allergies can result in diarrhoea and vomiting.

Flea allergies usually present as redness and scratching of the tail, rump, neck and back area. If your pet is itching, treat for fleas first because even if you can’t see the fleas, they’re probably there. Flea mites are microscopically small and present all year round so constant protection is needed. Your EberVet Vetshop has a range of flea remedies for dogs and cats, including chews, spot-ons, collars and powders. 

Ask the Vetshop team for advice on the best flea treatment for your pet as all are not equal. And remember to tell them if your pet is pregnant, lactating or is still a puppy or kitten, as pets in these life stages must be treated differently. Never, ever give your cat the flea remedy meant for your dog; it is toxic to your cat and he or she could die.

Several days after flea treatment, reassess your pet. If the scratching continues, see your vet immediately. Never leave an allergy untreated, hoping it will just go away. The more your pet scratches, the more susceptible he/she becomes to secondary bacterial skin infections where bacteria attack the raw, exposed skin. This becomes itchier and more painful and this vicious cycle will ultimately lead to a severe skin infection commonly known as ‘hot spots’, which can be difficult to treat.

Other common allergies

  • Pets can be allergic to their food. This usually presents as redness and itching around the mouth, face and between the paws. Your vet will work with you in determining whether or not your pet has a food allergy. Patience and perseverance are required.
  • Weird as it sounds, some dogs are allergic to grass; also pollens, mould spores and dust mites. Although sometimes the symptoms of allergies include allergic rhinitis or bronchitis, in most dogs, inhalant allergy manifests with itchy skin (pruritus). Due to these clinical signs, the condition is also called inhalant allergic dermatitis. The dog may rub its face, lick its feet and scratch under its arms.
  • Cats with too much or too little of certain hormones are prone to skin problems. Hormonal imbalances rarely cause itching but may point to more serious underlying problems that need to be identified and treated.

Treatment options

Veterinary treatment options may include medication like cortisone, antihistamines and antibiotics and, of course, flea control. If food allergy is suspected, your vet may recommend changing our pet’s diet.

It’s also important to feed your pet a food that can help regenerate damaged skin; food with high levels of essential fatty acids. Treatment shampoos and oils may also ease the itch. Ask your EberVet Vetshop for recommendations.

Allergies can be frustrating for you and your pet and there is rarely a total cure, but the symptoms can be managed to give your pet a good quality of life.

Veterinarian Dr Hilldidge Beer is CEO of EberVet Petcare Group and EberVet Vetshops

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