11 May Common skin conditions in pets
Fleas and flea allergy dermatitis
Fleas are a year round problem in Australia but can be worse during the summer months. Many dogs and cats have an allergy to flea saliva and just one flea bite can cause severe itchiness, hair loss and irritation. Most of the flea life cycle – the eggs and larval stages – live in the environment (ie. your backyard, carpet and pets bedding!), it is only the adult fleas that you will see on your pet. So it is important to not only treat your pets with a preventative product but also to eliminate flea eggs and larvae from the surrounding environment. Our staff can give advice regarding this, or contacting a pest control company can be helpful if your flea situation is very bad.
For dogs, we recommend BRAVECTO, a safe and effective tasty chew that protects against fleas and paralysis ticks for 3 months. For cats, we recommend ACTIVYL, a monthly spot-on product for flea control, or FRONTLINE spray if your cat is also at risk of paralysis ticks.
Allergies in dogs and cats can be broadly divided into three types: atopy (airborne allergies), contact allergies and food allergies.
Atopy is the most common form and is similar to hay fever in people. Dogs and cats can be allergic to almost anything – pollens, dust mites, tobacco smoke, fungal spores…the list is long. Symptoms include hair loss, itching, red and irritated skin and secondary skin and/or ear infections. If atopy is suspected, we can perform a blood test to work out exactly what your pet is allergic to and then treat them with ‘desensitisation’, where tiny amounts of the allergens are given via injections to gradually build up your pets resistance. Prescription medication can also help to give relief from itching and other allergy symptoms, and doesn’t have the side effects associated with steroid (cortisone) treatment, which is the older way of treating allergies.
Contact allergies, as the name suggests, happen when the animal comes into direct contact with the allergic substance which is often a grass or plant. Typically, the feet, muzzle and under the belly are affected. Medicated washes and creams can often help with contact allergy, to stop the itchiness, which can be severe.
Food allergies can occur in dogs and cats of any age. Despite the recent popularity of ‘grain-free’ diets for pets, true food allergies are more commonly caused by proteins or dairy, with beef, chicken, lamb and fish being the most common offenders in dogs. Dogs and cats are often allergic to more than one thing. We will often recommend a diet trial with a hypoallergenic food for 8-12 weeks after which the pet is ‘challenged’ with one particular food at a time to discover what sets off the allergic reaction.
Hot spots are the common name for acute moist dermatitis. They are areas of inflamed and infected skin that can appear very quickly, especially in hot and wet weather. Dogs with thick coats are most prone to developing hot spots. They can start from something as simple as a small scratch or wound or can be caused by scratching, or from flea allergy dermatitis. Hot spots can become very big very quickly and need prompt vet attention to clip away the hair around the affected area, clean the hot spot and prescribe appropriate medication.
Other external parasites
Besides fleas, other parasites that can cause skin disease in dogs and cats include mites like scabies or demodex mites, or fungal infections such as ringworm. Some of these infections can be contagious to people too. External parasites more commonly affect puppies and kittens, older animals or animals with compromised immunity. Sometimes they can also be a sign of another underlying skin disease such as allergies.