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Itchy, Scratchy Pets

Itchy, Scratchy Pets

Summer brings sunshine, swimming and fun with your pets. But it can also bring allergies. Nothing is more irritating for you and your pet that having the itchy-scratchies. We have compiled a guide regarding skin irritations to help guide you to a solution for your pet.

Step 1 – Have your pet checked out by the vet.

There are many skin conditions that have hair loss, rash, infections or itching as symptoms. Thus, it is important for the vet to do a full check up and certain skin tests to diagnose what the underlying problem is. Getting a diagnosis will save you time and money because you’ll get to the bottom of the problem much quicker.

Step 2 – Discovering the cause of the itch.

The four main causes of itchy skin are ringworm, bacterial infections, mange and allergies. The vet will also look for any underlying health problems that may be related to the skin problem. Depending on what the vet finds, he/she may recommend further tests before starting treatment.

Step 3 – Using the right treatment

  1. Ringworm: depending on how much of the body is affected the vet will prescribe an ointment, shampoo or tablets for your pet. He will also provide a disinfectant to wash your home and the animal’s bedding to get rid of the fungal spores that cause ringworm. It may take a few weeks of diligent treatment to clear up the problem completely. If your pet is very itchy, the vet will also prescribe some medication to take away the itch until the ringworm is cured.
  2. Bacterial infections: these are treated using a combination of antibiotics and shampoos or disinfectant washes. Your pet will be treated for 2-8 weeks depending on the extent of the infection. It is essential to follow the vet’s instructions exactly to prevent antibiotic resistance which will worsen your pet’s condition.
  3. Mange: the mainstay of mange treatment is an anti-parasitic medication which comes in a monthly or three monthly form. Your vet may also prescribe antibiotics and anti-itch medication if the mange is particularly severe. Some forms of mange are contagious to other pets and to humans. Your vet will discuss this and give advice on how to prevent it spreading to the rest of the household.
  4. Allergies: out of all the causes of itchy skin, allergies are the most complex and will be discussed in more detail below.

Step 4 – Getting to the root of allergies

Fleas, food allergies and environmental allergies (also known as atopy) are the three main categories of allergies. For the vet to get to the bottom of the problem they will take an extensive history.


A holistic flea treatment strategy will be explained and implemented to get rid of fleas. In cats you might not see the fleas because cats groom themselves often and they will remove the evidence of fleas. But it is important to make sure your pet is flea-free before starting any other treatment.

Food allergies

Food allergies are relatively common and are often seen if your pet is itchy most of the year. Depending on what food your pet has been on previously your vet will recommend a diet trial. Normally, a hydrolysed diet is trialled for 6-8 weeks. Hydrolysed diets have the food particles broken up into microscopic pieces so that the body cannot be allergic to them. It is essential to not let your pet eat ANYTHING except what the vet prescribes. Depending on your pet’s response the vet may try another diet at the end of the food trial.

Environmental allergies

These are the most common causes of allergies, particularly if your pet’s itchiness is seasonal. Unfortunately it can be the most difficult to manage. Examples of environmental allergens are dust mites, pollen, fungal spores in soil, perfumes and many more. Your vet will recommend a combination of treatments including shampoos, omega 3 fatty acid supplements as well as medication.

In many cases, cortisone is used to control the itch, at least in the short term. But cortisone can have side effects in many patients and if they need high doses for long periods your vet may recommend other treatments. Cyclosporine (Atopica) is a fantastic drug for environmental allergies for long term use. In some cases, allergy testing and hyposensitisation injections may be recommended. This changes the body’s response to the allergens.

Step 5 – follow ups

Treating itchy animals does take time and dedication. Thus, it is very important to follow your vet’s recommendations and bring your pet for follow ups. Each pet is different and will need a tailor-made plan depending on how he responds. We encourage you to work in partnership with your vet. If you find that one thing is not working, don’t give up or go to another vet. Come for a follow up so that we can adjust the plan. Together we can keep your pet itch-free!

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