It is springtime in North America, and the pets are getting itchy! Over the last weeks, my inbox has been inundated with questions such as this one:
I have a 12-year-old Chihuahua that is constantly
scratching. I have tried giving her a bath about
every 2 – 3 weeks, but that hasn’t helped. What
else can I do to help her stop scratching? She
doesn’t have fleas and I haven’t seen anything
else on her. Sometimes she scratches till she is
almost bleeding. Could this simply be dry skin?
Please help. She is miserable.
When pets get itchy, allergies are the culprit nine times out of ten. And so, to those of you who have been writing in wondering why your pet is suddenly scratching or licking incessantly, my answer is that he or she probably suffers from allergies.
In a recent post, I touched upon some of the treatments for allergies. But, since so many pets are suffering from itching these days, let’s talk about allergies a little more.
There are three basic things that cause allergies in cats and dogs. Fleas are the number one culprit. Environmental allergens, such as pollen, mold spores, detergents, and dander are also common causes of itching in pets. Finally, proteins in foods can cause allergic reactions.
It is possible to run blood tests or skin tests that help to determine what, precisely, your pet is allergic to. They are pricey, but often worthwhile.
However, consider this. When I run blood allergy tests on my patients, I receive results reported in units that indicate the strength of the pet’s allergy to each offending item. The higher the number, the worse the allergy. A typical panel of results might look like this:
Ragweed pollen 373
Dust mites 254
Beef protein 339
Flea saliva 29,456
Every pet I have ever met who has allergies is allergic to fleas. And they are usually more allergic to fleas than to everything else combined. And, fleas are more active in the springtime.
So, what should you do if your pet is itching and you don’t want to run a bunch of tests? Go with the odds, and accept that fleas are probably the cuplrit. Apply a high quality flea preventative.
It does not matter if your pet does not “have fleas”. If your pet is allergic to fleas, then a single bite is all it takes to trigger itching and scratching. Consider this. I currently have three very itchy mosquito bites on my left arm. I do not “have” mosquitoes. But I know perfectly well that they are causing me to itch.
Unless you live in an area where there absolutely are no fleas, then the first thing to consider for an itchy pet is a flea preventative.
For the record, I am aware of only two places on Earth that are completely flea free: Denver, Colorado, and Mt. Everest base camp, Nepal. And, with global climate change occurring, there’s a good chance that fleas now exist in these places, too.
After applying a high-quality flea preventative, it may take several weeks or even months for the itching to go away. If it does not, or if your pet is really miserable, then go to the vet to look into some of the allergy tests and treatments that I mentioned in my previous entry.