August is National Itchy Pet Awareness Month. More than 20% of all patients seen at a veterinary hospital come in due to problems with their skin. Even pets with ear infections could be hiding an allergy that could lead to more generalized skin problems. Thomas F. Dock, Director of Communications/Public Information Office, Noah’s Animal Hospitals joined us today with tips to help them.
1. One of the most important things to do about itchy pets is to determine the root cause. One of the most common causes of itching in pets is actually fleas. Fleas can be a year-round issue in most of the country and experts recommend using flea preventive products every month.
2. Other causes of itching in pets include fungal or bacterial infections, food allergies, and atopy (or environmental allergies). Since the skin is limited in the ways it can react to these stimuli, it is often difficult to differentiate them without a veterinary exam and/or diagnostic testing.
3. Pets with skin infections, parasites, or allergies will often spend a lot of time scratching at their ears, licking their feet, or even chewing on various areas of their body. This can actually lead to more problems as they damage their own skin and it definitely can become an obstacle to the human-animal bond!
4. Historically, owners and veterinarians opted to use medications, such as steroids and antihistamines, to control the pet’s excessive scratching, chewing, and licking. Unfortunately, these medications did little to address any underlying issues and could cause more severe long-term effects.Steroids, for example, when used long term can cause problems with the pet’s endocrine system
5. Antihistamines, especially over the counter varieties, are designed for people, not pets and often can be ineffective, especially if the pet is already over their itch threshold.
6. Now, thanks to advances in monoclonal antibodies and in products to inhibit specific proteins involved in the itch cycle, we can bring more relief to pets. But, first, a visit to your veterinarian is needed!!
7. As mentioned above, it’s important to determine the source of the pet’s itchiness and provide appropriate treatment. This could include flea preventives, antibiotics for skin infections, antifungals, single source protein food trials, or even more advanced immunotherapy for environmental allergies.
8. While diagnostics are being run or while you are dealing with an overwhelming flea infestation, products such as Apoquel or Cytopoint can help give your pet some relief and aid in the healing process. These products work by inhibiting specific small proteins (called cytokines) that are involved in the itch cycle.
Pet owners can learn more and take a quiz about their pet’s itchiness by visiting this website. This site has also posted a helpful “Itch Tracker” to help you better determine the severity of your pet’s condition.