Sunday, May 26, 2019

Determining Why Pets Scratch

by Brad Roach

One of the most intriguing differences between animals and people is that for pets, most allergies manifest as skin disease. The target organ for allergies in pets is the skin, while for people it is mainly the respiratory system. This is due to the distribution of mast cells that contain histamine and other inflammatory substances. When presented with allergens, these cells leak these substances, causing inflammation. It is a daunting task to get to the bottom of what allergy predominates, but the skin distribution and some new testing techniques may give clues.

Food allergies in pets usually manifest as chronic ear infections, as well as some facial and rectal itching. A pet doesn’t have to eat a new food to show symptoms, which are most recognizable in the winter when other allergens are minimized. Even grain-free foods can be allergenic if the pet is sensitized to the protein, and antibiotics, anti-inflammatory medication and steroids can trigger this sensitization. There are new tests that use saliva samples to find the worst offenders in a pet at any point in time. This doesn’t mean that they will be allergic forever, but gut-healing measures must be considered, along with changing the diet and treating the skin.

Flea bite hypersensitivity is a more obvious source of itch, and it only takes a little bit of antigen of flea saliva to start the process. Diligent pet parents that use flea treatment medication on their animals might not realize that the flea must first bite the pet in order for the medication to actually kill the flea. Most anti-flea medications do not actually contain a repellant. Consistency is key; monthly anti-flea products need to be used every three weeks at the beginning of treatment. Even indoor pets are at risk, especially when exposed to a pet that goes outside. A diagnosis can be determined by treating the pet’s environment with flea control, and through blood testing. Flea-control products are often necessary for sensitive pets, and there are some natural alternatives available.

Lastly, the most difficult allergic condition is called atopy, which has breed preference and may have symptoms of foot licking, severe hair loss and ear infections. This one is referred to as the inhalant allergy and contains such allergens as trees, grasses, molds, house dust mites, storage mites and more. We now understand that there is actually transcutaneous (across the skin) exposure, which makes it important to use shampoos and topical treatments. There are many ways to test for this, including skin and blood testing. Some pets can now be treated with oral medicine, versus injectable hyposensitization shots. This new convenience, along with the decreasing price, has made this one of the most viable options in treating this frustrating disease.

An integrative approach is best when trying to control pet scratching. There might be some animals that need conventional medications to get comfortable while the diagnosis is made through pattern distribution, trial foods and instigation of flea control. Nutritional therapy includes not only the right food, but also vitamin supplements and herbal medications. Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine contends that food has properties to warm or cool, and that acupuncture and herbs have the same ability. Each pet is treated individually, and factors such as pulse, temperature and personality are considered. Conventional products include topicals that can help with the initial treatment, such as shampoos, leave-on cream rinses and sprays, which may also include essential oils. These skin problems can be challenging for animal health professionals to deal with, and it is important to get guidance from a veterinarian to give pets relief.

Brad Roach is a doctor of veterinary medicine at The Natural Vet, located at Wellington Parke Animal Clinic, 3001 Tinker Diagonal St., Del City. For more information, call 405-605-6675 or visit