Improving the lives of itchy pets - Part One

“If you are looking for a quick itch fix, this blog is NOT for you – that’s because, there isn’t one!”

A very large percentage of pet owners will have had a problem with their pet itching.

The spectrum of severity for itch and allergies in pets could not be wider. Some of you find some red areas in spring and summer which bother your pet for a few weeks and then you forget about it until next year. Sadly some of you have pets that are prone to itch, skin infections and even self mutilation all year round.

Today I would like to discuss the complexity of an itchy dog or cat. So often we see pet owners become frustrated and exhausted by their pet’s itch and this is understandable – a severely or even mildly allergic pet is very time consuming and costly to manage! Even after you have spent a lot of time and money – they still may itch to some degree! On top of that, if you get a little behind in their management, just for a few days, they could go back to square one! How annoying?!

To try to reduce this frustration, this blog is about understanding allergies and itching and why they are indeed so annoying! If you are looking for the quick itch fix, this blog is not for you – that’s because there isn’t one!


First a few facts and definitions:

What is an allergic pet? – An allergic pet is not a normal pet and will never be a normal pet. This is because their immune system is wired to react inappropriately to allergens. Also, their skin is often “thinner” than a normal pet – so it allows allergens into the body easily so it can show them off to the confused immune system waiting just below the skin!

What is an allergen? – To help you understand my further discussion it is important to know what this word means. An allergen is something that triggers an ALLERGIC animal to react abnormally.

Grass can be an allergen for grass allergic dogs. Food can be an allergen for food allergic dogs. Fleas can be an allergen for flea allergic dogs. The list goes on and on! Did I mention dust mites? My most detested allergen as they are everywhere!

So – for some people, their pet is only allergic to fleas – ok this seems easy, treat the fleas. However, how allergic is the pet to fleas? What kind of reaction does the pet have to ONE…SINGLE...FLEA…BITE. For most pets – none. It may take 20 flea bites for them to itch for 5 minutes. However, for some pets (maybe yours) it will take ONE, just ONE flea bite for the pets to be itchy all over its body for days! Then the red, traumatized, hot skin enriches the growth of the normal bacteria (usually Staphylococcus) living on the skin and causes a secondary infection (also VERY itchy in itself). This secondary infection might be a couple of small pimples right up to a large hot spot (big coating of pus in a large area). What’s more is the pet didn’t have to go anywhere to find this nasty Staph infection – every pet, healthy and allergic, carry a thick coating of Staph on their skin always! So – all we started with was one flea, now we have days of red hot itchy skin and a raging Staph infection. Now if this pet is on flea treatment “most of the time” then there is no way that any owner, vet or detective will ever witness the presence of this one rogue flea! How confused and frustrated are we now!

Now… let’s have some more fun. What if you dog is also allergic to grass! So we got rid of the fleas (even that one pesky one), and we are itchy again, this is no surprise because we reacted to the flea – so we will probably react to other things. Ok, trip to the vet. Vet notices we are itchy on paws and on the tummy – most likely a contact/grass allergy, go home and rip up all your grass and this will solve the problem, oh an don’t go to the park anymore, sorry. Ok, this is not practical! So now we have to throw some medication into the mix to keep our lifestyle. How much medication? Tablets, lotion or potion? What are the side effects? Hmm, yes allergies are complex!

Ok now for food allergies. The most poorly understood allergy of them all and luckily not as common. Please save yourself the trouble of trying every different food in the pet shop and hoping one will not contain the allergen your pet is allergic to – not going to happen! However I’m sure your pet will enjoy trying all the different brands of pet food, also the home cooking you resort to as well! When it comes to true food allergy in pets, there are a lot of similarities to humans with peanut allergies (luckily without the anaphylaxis though!) People with a peanut allergy will have a huge reaction to traces, yes tiny tiny traces of peanuts. This is why they can’t eat foods that have even been made in the same factory that peanuts have ever set foot in. Well with pets, the allergen is not peanuts but a particular protein from their diet. The reaction is different to a peanut reaction – its usually itchy skin and ears. The key similarity is the SENSITIVITY that these pets have to the protein. This is important to understand as the tiniest trace of the protein they are allergic to will set them off completely – itchy for days from just a spec of the problem protein.

So for this reason, if conducting a food trial to diagnose food allergy – you must use a food manufactured in a factory specific for food allergies so that it can be guaranteed that there are no traces of allergens. There are only three companies that meet this standard. Royal Canin with their “Anallergenic” range, Hills with their “z/d” range and Prime 100 with their novel protein food such as crocodile and tapioca. For maximum success of a food trial, you must perform this under the guidance of your vet as this is a very specific process that must be perfected to help your pet!

Stay tuned for part two of this blog in November. In this blog I will be talking about some general itch management strategies that will REDUCE your pets symptoms, yet unfortunately, won’t be able to transform them from an allergic dog to a normal dog, nor remove all the fleas and grass from the world!