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Itch this, scratch that


SYMPTOM  Scratching is a symptom of many different conditions, not just fleas.

The vet's view
Conal Finnerty

“John! That dog is scratching again!” These are the words that John hears a lot these days. He doesn’t know what’s worse, the poor dog’s skin irritation or the pain he has in his ears. Either way, he knows they both have to stop. Knowing what’s causing his own irritation, John sets out to discover what is causing Rover’s constant itching with a trip to his vet.
Many volumes have been written on the subject of itching and scratching in dogs and other animals, simply because there are so many possible causes and combinations of causes – some simple to diagnose, others not so.
The old adage is that if Rover is scratching he must have fleas. And true enough, dogs and cats will often scratch due to common-or-garden external parasitic infections, such as fleas or mange mites, and these are usually the first things that come to mind. However, treating these pests may well not result in a successful outcome for the pet – or John!
Other potential causes include parasitic, bacterial or fungal infections; metabolic disorders; immune-mediated conditions; endocrine disorders; food intolerances; environmental allergens; and stress.
Although the old phrase ‘common things are common’ can apply in some cases, nowadays we are increasingly seeing more and more complex cases of skin irritation in domestic animals brought to our clinics. More and more of these cases need a proper strategic clinical work-up to get to a proper definitive diagnosis, and this can sometimes take time and a number of different tests.
Indeed, seeing lots of cases of skin irritation in dogs and cats that have poorly defined causative agents at work, which can in some cases result in a diagnosis of atopy (the genetic tendency to develop allergic diseases) or atopic dermatitis, which could result from a broad range of environmental allergens that can be difficult to isolate.
A growing area of concern to us vets is the whole area of food intolerances, which can include cereal, certain protein and dairy allergens and other triggers.
More complex – and thankfully less common – reasons for itchy-scratchy syndrome are metabolic diseases, immune-mediated diseases and behavioural issues.
If your pet has a persistent itch and/or scratch or is excessively licking and/or biting at its skin or coat, it should be properly investigated in order to get to the correct diagnosis.
And if you still need motivation to bring your pet to the vet, remember this: Some things that cause itching and scratching in domestic pets can also infect humans, especially nowadays, when so many of our beloved pets share our homes and beds.

 Veterinarian Conal Finnerty MRCVS practises at the Skeldale Vet Clinic in Ballinrobe and Belmullet. Follow the clinic on Facebook, or call 094 9541980 or 087 9185350 to make an appointment.