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Common Causes Of Scratching

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In our latest Ask the Vet series, many of you had questions about scratching and skin problems. In this feature we will try to cover most of the questions asked.
There is a wide range of causes of pruritus (scratching) in dogs and cats with skin and coat trouble. If your pet is scratching all the time it is important to find out what is causing the itch. While there are many common causes of scratching, it can take quite a bit of work to figure out the culprit. Let’s take a look at some of the causes.

Allergic Skin Diseases

Flea allergy is the most common allergic skin disease in the United States. Pets with flea allergy tend to scratch their back ends leading to lesions on the rump, hind legs, tail and belly. Since it takes just one flea to make the pet react, the presence of fleas on the pet may be minimal to absent. The key to treating Flea Allergy is to get rid of the fleas.
Atopy is a reaction to airborne allergens such as pollens, house dust, house dust mites and molds. Pets with atopy tend to scratch their ears and face and tend to chew and lick at their feet. The condition is often worse during summer months when pollen and mold levels are increased.
Food allergy is a reaction to one or more ingredients in their food. These pets tend to scratch in the same places as those with atopy. Feeding the same food to a dog or cat year after year is exactly why allergies develop, especially allergies to meat proteins. If an animal eats the same thing again and again, its system begins to reject those ingredients, because its body has been overexposed to them. A varied diet, just as with people, leads to optimal health in dogs and cats. Pet owners should pay attention to the first three ingredients on a bag of pet food to make sure it consists mostly of quality meat proteins, and not just grain fillers.

Parasitic Skin Diseases

Scabies is an intensely pruritic skin condition caused by the sarcoptic mange mite. Lesions are seen on the ears, elbows and hocks (ankles). Recommended treatment for cats is to clip all long hair and then bathe the cat with a gentle cleansing shampoo. After the shampoo, a 2 to 3% lime sulfur dip is applied to the entire surface of the cat. For dogs clip the long hair, bathe him with a benzoyl peroxide shampoo to cleanse the skin, and then apply an organophosphate dip.
Demodectic mange is caused by the demodex mite. This is usually a disease of young dogs and causes dramatic hair loss and dermatitis. This disease is often not pruritic, but can lead to a secondary bacterial infection of the skin (pyoderma), which may be itchy. Antibiotics are given for a minimum of three weeks and usually longer. They need to be given for two weeks after there is no evidence of a skin infection. Bathing weekly with a benzoyl peroxide shampoo is an important part of treating generalized demodecosis, also.
Cheyletiellosis is an itchy skin condition caused by the cheyletiella mite. Lesions are usually most dramatic along the top of the back. These mites are sometimes visible to the naked eye as small, moving, white specks, hence the name "walking dandruff mite". Common treatment is weekly dipping with either lime sulfur or pyrethrin for 6 - 8 weeks. Long haired cats may need to be clipped. There exist several types of Cheyletiellosis treatments for dogs and Ivermectin, Lime sulphur, Selamectin and Amitraz are among the most popular ones.
Ear mites cause itching of the ears in pets and can sometimes cause itching elsewhere on the body. Removing of the black, crusty exudate must be done from the ear canal before any medication will work. By gently flushing the ear canal using an ear bulb. The ears are then rinsed with warm, clear water and dried. If you do not feel comfortable doing this please consult your veterinarian.
Lice are small insects that are easily seen with the naked eye that can cause pruritus. Frontline which has been approved for the treatment and control of lice in dogs and cats.

Hot Spots

Hot spots, medically known as “Acute Moist Dermatitis”, is a troublesome skin condition in certain longhair breeds of dogs. Round, moist ulcerated areas are created in the skin by the dog’s licking, chewing, or scratching. Flea bites, flea allergy, and burs in the coat are common causes of hot spots. Therapy is directed at removing the underlying cause, breaking the itch/scratch, itch/scratch cycle, and effectively drying up the ulcerated area. Small hot spots may be treated at home with preparations that are drying and soothing to the skin. Products which contain camphor or menthol have these effects. Vinegar is a mild astringent which also will dry the affected areas. Large areas, however, are best to be treated by your veterinarian.
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