“Itchy skin” is one of the most common problems of dogs and cats. While there are many causes, it is always an inflammatory response to some stimulus. Once the inflammation starts, the skin is susceptible to secondary bacterial and yeast infections that make things a lot worse. Many pets with Itchy skin spend years on and off a rollercoaster of antibiotics, antifungals and steroids in an attempt to control the condition. These medications can help but can also have short term and long term adverse effects. The best strategy is to eliminate the cause. Unfortunately, this is easier said than done. Allergies to fleas, food ingredients, and inhaled allergens such as pollens are the most common causes. Fortunately, one cause we can usually eliminate is fleas.
The widely available products Frontline and Advantage are very effective in flea prevention and eradication if used properly and consistently. While other “spot on” products exist, I find they are usually not very effective and are certainly more toxic to mammals. Collars, sprays, and powders are not very helpful, and most other methods are equally ineffective. I have also found the oral flea preventatives Comfortis and Trifexis to be the most reliable of all the products currently available. Many people try Natural products such as garlic, brewer’s yeast, rare earth, and more. I find these products to be ineffective. The Pets these products “work” on are usually not encountering fleas, or they are naturally resistant individuals.
One major cause of itchy skin is inhaled dermatitis. Like “hay fever” in humans, common allergic dermatitis is caused by the immune system’s adverse reaction to allergens such as pollen, molds, grasses and dust (to name a few). The best solution is to remove the allergen from your pet’s environment. Since this is often impossible we need to control or limit the body’s response to the insult. Proper diet and supplements can help the body respond naturally and help modulate the immune system. Keeping the digestive tract healthy with probiotics, live enzymes, and proper omega essential fatty acids, as well as vitamin supplements and micronutrients, can sharply reduce the bodies overwrought allergic response.
Most pets are allergic to several things. Once inflammation starts, it multiplies throughout the body causing many changes in all systems. The skin undergoes structural changes which reduce its ability to serve as an effective barrier against bacteria and yeast that normally live on its surface. Infections develop which make the problem much worse. We must treat these infections before we can address the underlying allergy. Diet therapy and Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine can often help in the control of allergies. Feeding a wholesome healthy diet that is not heavily processed is an essential part of treating allergies in cats and dogs. Regular bathing with medicated shampoos are another powerful therapy. Allergy testing and desensitization injections can also be very helpful. In fact this holds the most promise for long term relief with the fewest potential side effects. Designing an individually integrated program that treats your pets entire body at the most basic level is the gateway to relief.
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Some pets have widespread allergies to fleas, grasses, dust, and food ingredients all combined. It can be very difficult to give these pets relief. As with all allergies, finding and eliminating the cause is the ideal plan of action. This can be extremely difficult in many cases. Treatment is often like “peeling an onion” the outermost layers of the problem must be addressed methodically and it can take a long time to get to the central problem. Food allergies are difficult to diagnose. Often it requires one or more diet changes and assessment of the response. Does the pet get better on the new diet? If so, then we need to reintroduce the old diet to confirm it was indeed the food and not some other factor such as a change in seasons that stopped the itch.
The Bottom Line
Most pets eat some kind of dry food kibble. Kibble is highly processed and there are lots of fillers and additives that are used to physically make the kibble nugget. These are not included in the ingredients list and are often a problem for pets. Simply changing from one kibble to another will not help pets that can’t tolerate these processed foods. The protein and carbohydrate source in the food are often the main problem. Many commercially available pet foods contain multiple protein and carbohydrate sources. This makes it difficult to isolate the source of the allergy.
Cats have a relatively high intolerance for grains. They are not part of the natural feline diet and should not be fed to cats. Allergies occur when the body mounts an immune response to a substance it encounters. The body can only have an allergic response to something it has encountered before. This is why novel protein diets the pet has never eaten before are preferred for diet trials. A diet trial must be undertaken with strict protocols to be diagnostic. Randomly changing diets and hoping for the new one to help is generally a waste of time and money. Your veterinarian is your best tool for diagnosing and controlling food allergies and itchy skin in general.