Itchy animals that are missing hair and have changes to the surface of their skin generally have more than one problem. This can make it challenging to identify and plan a course of medical treatment, and can also be very frustrating for the dog or cat.
Animals can become itchy for several reasons. Allergies to grasses, flowers, etc., are very common with the arrival of spring. Fleas and their bites can make pets severely uncomfortable for days to weeks to months. Some food components can cause itchiness. And some individual pets are genetically predisposed to skin issues and have a weakened skin immune response called atopy.
Anytime a canine or feline is licking and chewing, regardless of the reason, the self-inflicted trauma to the skin will cause other issues. Disruption of the skin barrier allows for bacteria that normally live on the surface of the skin to now create an infection. The repeated licking also results in inflammation. Moisture from the licking can allow for the growth of fungus. Chemicals can be released with licking that trigger more licking and it becomes a self-sustaining cycle. Soon there can be hair loss, redness, scabs, bumps, etc.
The good news for animals and pet owners is that there are several recent advances to treat skin problems that are much safer and easier to give to your pet. Often, multiple treatments will be used together to help treat your buddy’s skin issues. Testing such as cytology, culture or biopsy may be recommended. Some issues can be cured; others are just kept temporarily controlled and can recur.
For allergies, there is the Cytopoint injection or Apoquel tablet. These products stop itching very quickly and effectively without using steroids.
Oral flea control products like NexGard and Bravecto act very quickly to kill fleas, and because they are eaten, medicated shampoos do not interfere with them. Pet owners don’t need to worry about a topical product on their companion that can be touched by small children or licked off by another pet. Even if you don’t see a flea, fleas are never killed in our area, and are often part of a skin problem.
Antibiotics are often recommended. They may be chosen based on testing. For patients who don’t take medication well, injectable Convenia is a great option. This treatment lasts for two weeks and you don’t need to worry about missing a dose. Antifungal therapy may also be recommended.
Topical treatments such as shampoos, wipes, mousses and/or sprays can be extremely helpful in treating skin issues. They can help repair the skin barrier. They can remove dirt and debris. And they can also help with killing bacteria and fungi.
A dietary trial may also be recommended. This will be selected based on the history of what you have fed your buddy. It may just be a change in protein or novel protein diet. It may be a very limited ingredient diet. There is a big difference in the quality and care that is taken with prescription diets that are available through your veterinarian as compared to what is available over the counter at the pet store.
I recommend all pet owners seek veterinary care at the first sign of a skin issue in their companion. These problems can easily worsen very quickly. The sooner care is started, the sooner the dog or cat will be more comfortable. Your companion’s practitioner is the best person to help to provide relief right away.
Dr. Julie Damron is the medical director at Stockton Veterinary Emergency and Specialty Center. She is also the founder of Loving Tails, an organization that provides vaccines and care for pets of the homeless. Contact her at email@example.com.