This is the time of year when I see a lot of itchy pets, dogs in particular. There are a number of environmental factors in late summer and fall that affect the skin and cause itching.
Seasonal allergies are the most common contributor to itch. This time of year there are pollens and molds that are airborne. Dogs and cats that are prone to allergies have a less efficient skin barrier so these tiny allergens can penetrate the skin and set up an inflammatory response. Common regions of the body affected are usually the areas with less fur – armpits, groin, ears, and face.
Biting insects also play a role. Dogs and cats become allergic to the saliva of bugs like mosquitoes and fleas, so there could be as little as one bite causing a reaction. Flea sensitivity usually causes itchiness right at the base of the tail. Fleas have had all summer to build up their numbers outside, and October is the month I see the highest number of pets affected by fleas. They will go on right until November, so it is essential to keep up your flea prevention program until then. Make sure you pick a product that kills fleas before they bite.
We are lucky in Orillia to have access to wooded trails and two lake shores. Vegetation and foliage are at their peak by now, as is the algae and seaweeds at the water’s edge. This means more plant material to be exposed to as well as just the mechanical effect of mature grasses and bushes on the feet and underside of your dog. The resultant scratches and micro abrasions add to the skin’s irritation.
Itchy pets are driven to scratch, chew, rub and lick at their skin. All this self trauma worsens the irritation and allows for bacteria and yeast to infiltrate the upper layers of skin. Then we get skin infections, ear infections, and sometimes hot spots that add to the itch. The skin reacts by producing more oils (increased smell), thickening and flaking, and forming dark pigment spots.
The treatment strategy involves:
addressing the skin infections with medication.
relieving the excess oil and flakes with shampoos.
treating the ears with topical ointments.
allergen avoidance such as keeping your pet mostly indoors on high pollen days and only walking on manicured sidewalks and paths.
using various combinations of anti inflammatories and antihistamines to tackle the allergic response.
in some cases, dermatological referral for skin testing. With those results, allergy serums can be made specifically for your pet’s needs.
One of the newest approaches to managing skin disease is to focus on nutrition. We’ve known for a while that omega 3 fatty acids help with inflammatory conditions. There are other nutrients that have been shown to enhance the integrity of the skin, and this research has been used to create a new Skin Care food for our patients.
Each patient is an individual, and needs to have a custom designed management plan. Sometimes it is a simple fix, such as clearing up an infection or treating for fleas. Seasonally allergic patients usually have their itch return yearly, so the goal is to get safeguards in place to be prepared when the weather changes. Being itchy is a symptom, not a disease itself, and I will help you get to the root of the problem and that ultimately spells relief for your pet.