Pets scratch themselves because their skin is irritated. This irritation is almost always from allergies. By far, the most common two allergies dogs and cats suffer from are allergies to flea bites and allergies to particles they inhale, especially in spring and summertime.
About Flea Allergies
Let's look at flea allergies first, as this is the most common type of pet allergy. Keeping up with flea control is critical to protect pets from flea allergy dermatitis. Starting treatment early is the best way to keep the problem under control. Just because a diagnosis of flea allergy is made does not mean that the pet is infested with fleas yet. Flea allergies tend to be very strong, and a dog or cat can become very itchy even after being bitten by a single flea.
The pattern of itchiness is typically the back of the neck and the base of the tail for both cats and dogs. If pets have a flea infestation, they will be itchy everywhere because of the fleas themselves and the reaction to the bites. A serum test or skin test will confirm a diagnosis of flea allergy. In many climates, year round flea prevention is necessary. In areas with hard freezes that last through the winter months, prevention may be stopped and started again when the thaw begins (get advice from your veterinarian).
It is easy to control flea allergy dermatitis by using a product like a medicated shampoo, one of the popular topical treatments, a monthly oral flea control medicine or even all natural flea controls that avoid the use of chemicals which may further irritate sensitive pets. In any case, when choosing a flea control product for your pet, always start with your veterinarian’s recommendation.
About Inhaled Allergies
The other common pet allergy, inhaled allergens of many different types, will cause your pet to be very itchy and often have watery eyes or sneeze frequently. These allergies are often seasonal, but can be year round in the case, for example, of dust mites, food storage mites, and carpet fibers. Just as with humans, many inhaled allergies are seasonal, especially with molds and pollens.
Other offenders that can also be seasonal are the chemicals we use in our own yards and gardens. Even though we all read the labels to make sure the products are safe for use around our pets, some animals may be too sensitive to tolerate even small amounts of garden sprays. Seasonal allergies are best diagnosed by serum or skin tests. They can be managed with allergy shots or oral medications, just like for people with seasonal allergies. Allergy medication alone usually doesn't eliminate all the symptoms of seasonal allergies, but it helps. Vacuuming your carpets frequently and keeping windows closed can reduce the levels of allergens in your home. Some pet owners even buy expensive air filtration systems to rid their home of allergens.
Some people think of food when trying to find the cause of pet allergies. It's actually the least likely cause, with veterinarians reporting food as the cause of skin allergies only about 5% of the time. If your vet has ruled out the likely causes of fleas or seasonal allergens, then consider that dogs can develop allergies to other insects, specific people, perfumes or soaps, cats, or even other dogs. Remember, allergies generally only occur after repeated exposure to the allergen. If your dog or cat has a new allergy, it is probably a reaction to something they have been exposed to for a long time.
Knowledge is Power
Whatever treatment you decide, it is important to know first what is causing your pet's allergies. This will help you and your veterinarian decide how best to combat the problem and find some lasting relief for your pet.