These days the most common reason for visits to the vet and the most asked question from pet owners at our store is about itching, licking, scratching and skin problems. In this article I am going to discuss some of the possible causes along with same basics for addressing the most common cause: Allergies.
Evaluating the history of your pet's problem is very important in helping to determine the cause. Though allergies are the most common cause of itching and licking, there are some diseases that need to be ruled out before embarking on the path of allergy treatment.
Following are some important details that will help to diagnose the problem:
Where is the animal the itchiest? Face, base of tail, above the hips, neck, belly, feet.... Watch your companion closely and determine his or her worst areas. Flea Allergies typically cause itching above the hips, the base of the tail, groin and thighs on dogs. Cats usually itch around the neck with flea allergies. Airborne and food allergies commonly cause itching around the face, ears, belly and feet. Scabies (Sarcoptic Mange/mites) typically cause lesions and itching around the ears, elbow, belly and hocks. Demodedectic Mange generally initially appears in young dogs on the face or forelegs. Cheyletiella (mites) are characteristically present on the back or sides.
When did it start? How old was the animal? Mange is more common in younger animals. Puppies and kittens are also more susceptible to flea allergies as they have weaker, less developed immune systems. Older or ill animals are also more susceptible due to a weakened immune system.
Is the problem seasonal or year round? Seasonal itching is more indicative of flea or inhalant allergies or insect bite. In many cases, an animal will initially show signs of seasonal allergies that progress to year round problems.
Which came first, the itching or hairless patches and/or skin lesions? If the itchiness appeared before any skin lesions, then allergies or scabies are more likely to be the culprit. If the skin lesions were seen prior to the itchiness, then demodectic mange, ringworm, or bacterial infection caused by a hormonal imbalance might be the problem. However, most bacterial infections of the skin are secondary to the allergy or other issue causing itchiness.
Have you tried any medications or treatments that helped? Certain causes of itchy skin will respond to steroid treatment better than others. Flea allergies and airborne allergies seem to be more responsive than other causes.
Has it been contagious to any other animals or humans in the household? Sarcoptic mange, Cheyletiella and ringworm can be passed on to other animals or humans.
Once the cause of the itchy skin is determined, treatment can begin. Any secondary bacterial or yeast infections must be treated, however, before much progress can be seen in remediation of the underlying cause of the itchy skin. Hot spots occur from self trauma that results when the pet attempts to relieve a pain or itch by excessive scratching, biting and rubbing. These must be controlled with topical treatments while the animal's immune system is recovering.
However, the majority of itchy skin is caused by allergies. In addition to itchy skin, other allergy symptoms may be present such as chronic ear infections or respiratory symptoms such as coughing or nasal congestion, and ocular discharge. Food allergies may also cause symptoms such as vomiting or diarrhea that can ultimately progress to inflammatory bowel disease. Some holistic veterinarians also believe that seizures, arthritis, asthma and chronic urinary tract infections can be caused or complicated by food allergies.
Itchy skin and allergy symptoms such as paw chewing have also been linked to over vaccination in a large number of cases. Frequently the symptoms will begin within days or weeks of vaccinations. Educate yourself about vaccinations and the risks involved.
Treating Itchy Skin Caused by Allergies: One of the most common causes of itchy skin is fleas and flea allergies. Flea control is an essential step in the treatment plan for any animal with allergies. Any dog or cat with a compromised immune system is more susceptible to fleas and parasites, so plan to treat the home environment a month before flea season begins. The last thing your pet needs when already battling allergies is a flea infestation to make things worse!
If your pet has been itching for awhile, they may have created bare, red patches in places that can become infected, which is why you need to address these areas right away with topical treatments. Look for hot spot relief remedies, like sprays, baths, shampoos, creams, lotions, etc.. Obviously and ideally all natural and preferably herbal based Should more potent topical treatment become necessary, your vet can prescribe topical treatments and shampoos to help curb the itchiness.
In my mind one of the most important allergy remedies can be your pet’s diet. It is amazing how many pet owners see a dramatic improvement with a change in diet alone. Sometimes this is all what’s needed. With the correct and a good diet you may not even need any further supplements. Allergies are accumulative in the animal's system, even if your pet tends to have seasonal allergies. Food may be adding to the overall load on the system. Transitioning to a more appropriate diet, preferably raw or properly balanced and correct supplemented home prepared food can make a big difference even for pets with seasonal allergies by improving the overall immune system and health of the animal.
While we talk about home cooking for your pet it is necessary to briefly address some supplementation since raw meat by itself is not a complete meal for your pet. The first dietary supplement to consider for an animal with itchy skin are so called essential fatty acids, also known as EFA’s. Fish oil is considered the best source for cats and dogs since the fatty acid chains are readily usable by the animal's system without any conversion process, which is necessary for the utilization of plant sourced essential fatty acids such as flax. EFA’s help reduce inflammation and nourish the skin and coat. They can also be beneficial in assisting the healing process of the digestive system. For older animals, EFAs can help alleviate arthritis symptoms as well.
Allergies are essentially the immune system gone awry. The body starts to attack itself in response to what it perceives as foreign invaders. Supplements to help modulate the immune system are very helpful in treating allergies.
Detoxification/Elimination Support and Healing the Gastrointestinal System: The gastrointestinal system is the first line of defense in an animal's immune system. When a dog or cat has allergies, the gastrointestinal system is usually irritated and inflamed. A leaky gut is the result of this chronic irritation, allowing particles to pass into the blood stream that are too large for the system to manage, this triggers the immune response that manifests as allergies. Antibiotics contribute to the problem by killing the healthy bacteria that aid digestion and maintain a healthy gastrointestinal system. Healing the gut is crucial to the success of allergy treatment.
At a minimum, digestive enzymes and probiotics should be added to each meal to aid in the breakdown of food particles, support the restoration of beneficial gut flora and the healing of the digestive tract.
L-Glutamine is an amino acid essential to the proper function of the gastrointestinal tract. Supplementing the L-Glutamine supports the healing process of the gut and the restoration of healthy gut flora. Look for products designed as a comprehensive intestinal support supplement for dogs and cats, which combines L-glutamine with amino acids, enzymes and probiotics.
Supporting the animal's organs that filter and eliminate waste is another important step when addressing allergies. Liver, kidneys, gastrointestinal system and lymphatic systems are working hard to eliminate the waste produced by the inflammatory process present in allergic reactions, as well as any toxins from medications, the environment and foods. Using natural cleaners around the house and eliminating pesticide and chemical fertilizer use in the yard can go a long way in helping to reduce the load on your pet's system. High quality, preferably organic diets will also reduce the burden of toxin elimination.
Detoxification is essential for any animal that has been treated with multiple courses of medications such as steroids, antibiotics or antihistamines. Steroids, especially, are taxing on the animal's liver. The length of time these supplements may be necessary varies with the severity of the problem and how the individual animal responds. Natural supplements, herbs and remedies are not like prescription medications, they may vary in effectiveness from one animal to the next, and in many instances take time to reach full effectiveness, which could mean weeks or more.
Herbs and supplements designed to relieve the itchy skin and support skin health are another step in your treatment program for chronic allergies. This can help relieve the stress caused by the discomfort, which is supportive of immune function and healing. In addition, reducing the itch helps in the reduction of secondary infections and allows the skin to heal.
Natural treatments do take more time, patience, persistence and effort than a treatment with chemicals and steroids. The long term health and well being of your companion, however, will be far better served by treating the animal's whole system and the underlying cause of the itch, not just the symptoms. Pets can become quite distressed by the itching and can benefit from the addition of stress relieving herbs, supplements, flower essences or homeopathic remedies.
Be persistent in treating the itchiness topically while you are addressing the underlying causes through diet and supplements. This will greatly benefit your pet's ability to heal while at the same time it is reducing stress as well. Secondary infections caused by relentless scratching, licking or biting complicate and slow the healing process.