“Scratch, scratch, scratch. My pet scratches herself all day long.”
I hear this complaint on a regular basis at Bingle Veterinary Hospital. I understand. My border collie, Mimosa, used to scratch throughout the night. It doesn’t take much imagination to feel the discomfort of our scratching pets. We want to help, and most of the time, that means a trip to the veterinarian.
Scratching is symptomatic of a number of ills, all of which need to be considered, from external parasites (fleas, ticks, demodex skin mites, sarcoptic mites) to fungi such as ringworm, to skin infections, including staph. If your pet has none of these, it’s a good bet s/he suffers from allergies. More than ten percent of all scratching pets are affected by allergies, which should be taken seriously. Itching and scratching due to allergic reactions often seem more intense than from other causes and may lead to hair loss and rashes. The resulting irritation often results in skin infections.
The good thing is that your pet’s allergies can be treated. The first step is to determine exactly what your pet is allergic to. This requires a small blood sample, which we send to a laboratory that specializes in allergy testing. When completed, the sensitive laboratory testing identifies the allergens responsible for your pet’s discomfort. Once the substances to which your pet is allergic are identified, we proceed in a couple of ways: It may be easiest and best for your pet to simply avoid these substances. For example, with food allergies, it is fairly easy to avoid feeding your pet those particular foods.
However, it is virtually impossible to keep your pet away from allergens like pollens, molds or dander. In these cases, the veterinarian can prescribe corticosteroids or antihistamines for temporary relief, but prolonged use of corticosteroids can cause severe side effects. Therefore, the most practical and clinically preferred treatment is hypo-sensitization. Simply put, vaccination against the identified allergens. Allergy shots given on a regular basis may take six months to a year to hyposensitize your pet.
But the good news is that in sixty percent of hyposensitized pets the allergens will be controlled without further need of steroids. An additional twenty percent may need further steroid drugs but at a significantly lower dosage. Your pet’s allergies are treatable. She or he can live without the discomfort and health risks associated with allergic reactions and avoid the serious complications of long-term steroid use.
Dr. Robert Vaughan, II