Living on the east coast of Australia, a lot of us are familiar with this question. Does your dog keep you up at night constantly scratching or gnawing at his paws? Does your cat over groom herself and lick until bald patches appear on her belly? Itching is a very common symptom that we see our patients suffering from every day. My summary starts to scratch the surface on the most common reason your pet may itch..... 'Allergies'.

Your pet can be allergic to things, just like us or our kids. Some of the common allergies are:

1. Flea allergy dermatitis or flea bite hypersensitivity- This is by far the most common cause of itchiness in both dogs and cats. It is actually the saliva from the flea that triggers an allergic reaction in the pet. Our pets are particularly sensitive to the tiny amount of saliva deposited by the flea with each bite. This is why we often don't even see the single flea who is causing the issue! They are great hiders and spend the majority of their lifecycle in the environment and not on your dog or cat. They jump on to get a few good bites in and then jump off to lay their eggs around your home. Signs include hair loss and itching particularly over the lower back and tail base. Treatment should be tailored to suit your pet and include extensive environmental control (deep cleaning of carpets, pest control, flea bombs etc but always make sure the safety of your pet is ensured).

Grass Allergies are very common2. Contact allergy - Just as the name suggests contact allergy requires contact between your pet and the allergen. This means your pet has to walk over or lay on the plant, grass or flooring that it is allergic to. The most common causes of contact allergies in Australia would have to be to Moses in a Cradle or Wandering Jew which often form part of our garden beds and sidewalks as they are hardy plants for our climate. Signs include redness and intense itchiness in the bald areas of your pet (their underside, lower belly, inner hind legs, and paws). There is no cure for this other than removing the source. So if you have these plants in your garden and your dog is itchy.. get digging!

3. Food allergy - Some foods can ignite an allergic reaction in some patients. Why is it that one dog can have very different food under the sun and another has to have a strict diet of tapioca and salmon? In some dogs and cats, they may have disruption to the mucosal lining of their intestines which allows antigens of some foods to pass through and stimulate the immune system to set up an allergic reaction. This can then cause itchiness even without gastrointestinal signs such as diarrhea. Certain foods can include beef, chicken, pork, and wheat. You cannot test for which foods they are allergic to on a blood test and instead they have to have a food trial which can go for up to 10 weeks that eliminates each potential suspect food. 

4. Atopic dermatitis - This is a fancy name for a complex issue. 

Breeds predisposed to atopic dermatitis includes our favourite Staffy's and West Highland Terriers.This is an inherent abnormality with the patients own immune system that causes your pet to be highly allergic to many environmental factors just like hay fever in us. Pollens, dust and certain other airborne antigens can trigger severe reactions in certain pets. Breeds predisposed to this include our favourite Staffy's and West Highland Terriers. It is thought that there is also a breakdown in the skin barrier function of patients suffering this condition. If we think of the skin as a brick wall and all the skin cells make up the face of it and in between is the mortar or fat/oily secretions in our scenario. If that wall lacks integrity then certain allergens can enter the skin and set up reactions involving the itch receptors and bingo your dog is itching all day and night. So along with this, we often see secondary infections which can further potentiate the itch and continue the cycle. The itch usually involves the feet, face, ears, and groin and they will lose hair because of it. Treatment involves skin allergy testing to determine which allergens they are allergic to and the desensitising them to the culprit through the use of specialised vaccines. These cases are often given medications to dampen down the immune response to that allergen but only by skin testing will you know what the source of the problem is. 

There are other causes of itchiness such as mosquitoes, yeast, bacterial overgrowth, autoimmune disorders and even some tumours that we see as veterinarians, however, the list above are the most common sources.

No matter what the cause, the use of quality skin products on your pet is vital. The Dr Zoo range offers all-natural treatments that will work to help rebuild that skin barrier, provide relief from redness and help maintain a healthy coat. The skin is just another organ that we have to look after so be sure to give your pet the best!