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posted: 4/25/2013 12:04 PM

Biting, chewing and scratching — oh my!

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  • Elmo

      Elmo
    Courtesy of The Buddy Foundation

  • Lady

      Lady
    Courtesy of The Buddy Foundation

 
By The Buddy Foundation

When our pets are itchy it can drive us crazy, not to mention how it affects our cats (and dogs).

Skin issues are the number one medical reason cats and dogs go to the vet. There are many causes so diagnosis is not always easy. The following is a list of primary reasons our pets itch:

Fleas: These insects can drive a pet crazy. If your pet is allergic to them, it only takes a few bites to start the itch-and-scratch cycle. In pets there's an exaggerated response by the immune system to components in flea saliva, which results in substances being released that make the pet itch. The pet scratches and this causes the skin to become more inflamed, which in turn, makes it susceptible to infection. These secondary skin infections are in and of themselves itchy.

Food allergies: Food allergies can affect pets of any age and can spontaneously occur without a change in diet. Unfortunately, there's no blood or skin test that's adequate to diagnose food allergies, so you have to do a trial with a special diet. Your veterinarian is the best person to talk to about this allergy- not the local pet store.

Environmental allergies: Another common cause of itch is atopy or atopic dermatitis, which is related to inhaled allergens in the environment. Pollen, molds and house dust are a few of the many things that dogs and cats can be allergic to. A diagnosis of atopy can only be made after all other causes (allergic, infectious, or other diseases) have been ruled out or treated.

Mites: In addition to fleas, there are other external parasites that can cause an itch. Several different types of parasitic mites can cause significant skin disease, or mange, in dogs and cats, as well as intense pruritus (medical term for itchy). To find these mites, the veterinarian must perform multiple skin scrapes, and, in cats, fecal exams because of their grooming behavior.

There is also a mite known as cheyletiella that can infect dogs and cats. The slang term for this mite is "walking dandruff," because the mites look like little white specks moving as they crawl about the pet.

Ringworm: Ringworm can be another source of itchy skin. It is spread by contact with infected animals and by touching items (such as bedding, brushes, and rugs,) that the infected animal has had contact with. Ringworm causes patchy areas of hair loss with scaling and generally little inflammation or redness. Ringworm requires a fungal culture from plucked hair taken from the edge of a skin lesion. It is important to treat ringworm because the fungus can easily transmit to people and other pets. Depending on the extent of the skin lesions. Treatment may consist of topical therapy and antifungal drugs. Since fungal spores can persist in the home environment for a long time, your veterinarian will explain the recommend disinfection strategies.

Therefore, the majority of itchy skin problems generally don't pose a serious health risk to your pet. Unfortunately, there are some more serious conditions that cause itching, i.e. fungal infections. Resistant bacterial skin infections such as staphylococcus, immune-medicates skin diseases such a cutaneous lupus, and even skin cancers. In these cases, additional testing, including blood work and a skin biopsy and culture, is needed to aid in diagnosis and treatment.

When your pet starts itching, don't panic, most of the time your veterinarian can diagnose the cause and determine the treatment in a relatively short amount of time.

Featured cats

Elmo was brought to Buddy after being found wandering the streets in Long Grove. He is a beautiful orange and/white domestic short hair who just loves to be petted. Elmo gets along with other cats.

Lady is a gorgeous black and white long hair tuxedo cat. Lady is a front paw declaw and would make a wonderful addition to any family. She loves people and loves her toys.

• Contact The Buddy Foundation at (847) 290-5806; visit the shelter at 65 W. Seegers Road, Arlington Heights; or find them online at thebuddyfoundation.org.

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