It’s spring, keep an eye out for itchy and scratchy dogs
There is a strange phenomenon that happens at this time of year, which I wanted to draw your attention to.
Just as the beautiful pink oleander flowers start to bloom, dogs start to itch.
It happens every year like clockwork. It took me a few years of living in Bermuda to make the connection but there is no denying it.
The reason for this is multifactorial. Firstly, it’s springtime and there is a timely emergence of our old foe, the flea. Fleas love the warmer, more humid conditions and they emerge from their eggs, pupate into larvae, and then become the adult bloodsuckers that attack our pets, causing a terrible itch.
If your dog has started to itch recently and it has been a few months since you applied any prescription flea control, you can bet your bile duct that fleas are involved. Eighty per cent of all skin conditions in dogs have fleas involved at some level, according to recent research. It is important to treat all the animals in the home for fleas, not just the itchy pet, as they can continue to transfer between pets and continue the life cycle.
But fleas are not the full story for our itchy canines. There are the unlucky pups who have allergies, and these can be much more complex to diagnose and correct than fleas.
I’m sure those readers who suffer from hay fever are going through their annual sniffing and sneezing about now too. As humans, our inhaled allergies tend to surface as a respiratory problem but in dogs it is most definitely a skin issue. Grass allergies tend to present on their paws and bellies, causing redness and irritation. But environmental allergens can affect the whole skin including the ears, tail base and eyes.
To add insult to itching these poor puppies live in allergy central, as Bermuda is abundant in all the beautiful flora and fauna that create the allergens. There is occasional relief from these allergens through the year, but there are certainly peak seasons when their effects are at their worst. The stunning oleander blooms are one of those peak times, which is why I need to stock up on anti-itch medications and soothing shampoos about now.
The itch begins, which leads to scratching, and this causes breaks in the skin where bacteria can breed. This bacterial hotspot is in itself very itchy and so the cycle continues. We need to use a combined treatment of antibacterial and anti-itch medication to break the cycle.
Allergies can also layer on top of each other, which complicates the issue. You can have dogs allergic to grass and also to beef, for instance. Diagnosing exactly what they are allergic to takes time, patience and careful history taking. The age and breed of the animal can also affect allergies.
So my take home message is this: if your pet is itching, make sure you have ruled out fleas. If the simple fix does not work, it is time to think about the more complicated causes such as allergies. Speak with your vet and get to the bottom of this irritating itchy symptom.
Lucy Richardson graduated from Edinburgh University in 2005. She started CedarTree Vets in August 2012 with her husband Mark. They live at the practice with their two children, Ray and Stella, and their dog, two cats and two guinea pigs. Dr Lucy is also the FEI national head veterinarian for Bermuda
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