Vet Services Hawkes Bay Ltd

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What's the itch?

What's the itch?


What's the itch 
Bridgette Karetai

I am allergic. My skin’s inflamed and itchy. Take me to my vet!

We can help you to work out what is causing the itching – is it fleas, contact allergies, food, airborne allergies, hormonal issue effecting the skin, bacterial or fungal infection? Subtle differences may be diagnostic.

What do allergies in pets look like?

The following signs may indicate allergies

  • red, itchy skin which can become smelly and greasy,
  • ears that are smelly and painful (head held sideways, shaking head, brown waxy discharge and sometimes pus from ears too!)
  • licking at feet,
  • chewing toenails,
  • scooting along the floor on their bottom
  • watery inflamed eyes
  • sometimes vomiting and diarrhoea

Skin that has been inflamed for a long time can become thickened, wrinkly, crusty and pigmented too.

Is it FLEAS?

Of course, the first thing to think about with an itchy pet is flea control, and with so many effective products now on the market eg Bravecto and Nexguard chews, Advantage and Bravecto Spot On and Seresto collars to name a few,  the days of stinky and less effective flea washes, rinses and powders are long gone.  Some of our dogs and cats can actually develop an allergic response to the flea saliva, so rather be itchy from each individual itchy bite, they have a more widespread allergic inflammatory response which creates extreme itching, hair loss and scabs along the lower back and around the tail base.  Fleas and flea dirt can be simple to find with a flea (or headlice) comb – drop the hair onto a wet paper towel and if you see little brown specks begin to dissolve into little blood stains this indicates fleas have been having a feed on your pet (and maybe you also!)

But what if your pet is itchy and smelly, and you have already used some effective flea product?  Unfortunately, they can develop allergies to as many things as we can – something they eat, something they breathe in, or something that touches their skin.

My pet’s coat is not what it used to be!

Allergies may start as a subtle ear infection (especially suspicious if you have recurring ear infections), greasy feel to coat, licking at toes (yes their Malassezia infection is equivalent to your tinea infection, and we know how frustratingly itchy that can be!), licking, chewing or scratching at body, scabs, bleeding and hair loss.

How can I control the allergy??

Unfortunately, antihistamines are not as effective in your pets as they are in humans, but don’t despair because we have plenty of other ways to help your pet feel more comfortable. 

You and your vet need to form a partnership in controlling the allergic inflammatory response – this is likely to be a long term, ongoing treatment plan which prevents your pets skin from becoming inflamed and therefore prevents these secondary infections.  Your vet will be able to diagnose what types of organisms are causing the secondary infections by taking some samples to look at under the microscope. Any secondary infection (bacterial or fungal) with be dealt with using a course of antibiotic and/or antifungal tablets, and we often use prescription medicated shampoos too. 

Long term control plan will require you to be vigilant and may need tweaking intermittently if your pet’s itchiness/redness returns.  Because there will be different types and quantities of allergens effecting your pet at different times of the year, this control of allergic response can be via tablets or monthly injections, prescription food can be enormously helpful and we also use specific shampoos to give your pets skin an extra barrier against the pollens and grasses.  Sometimes rinsing your pet’s feet and coat after a walk through long grass or when a lot of pollen is present can cut down the amount touching the skin and therefore decreased allergic reaction.

What other options do we have for control??

Some of the medications that we use for suppressing the over reacting immune system, may have some side effects with long term use.  This will be discussed with you when choosing the best treatment options for your pet.

In NZ we are able to refer your pet to a veterinary skin specialist for intradermal skin testing (test multiple different allergens and find out what your pet is actually reacting to) and then create a desensitisation program – in approx. 75% of pets, their symptoms are improved by 50% or more.

We also have Serum Allergen Testing available – these are blood tests which are sent to the USA to test multiple allergens and again tailor make a desensitising program for your pet. This method of testing is less specific than the intradermal tests.

When considering these options, it is important to remember that this is still a lifelong management process and not a cure unfortunately.

So if your pet is itchy, talk to your vet about creating a plan to get their coat and skin health back to its former glory.


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