Itchy scratchy - is your pet affected?
With the warmer weather many pets will start to itch and scratch and two of the commonest causes are fleas and allergies.
Fleas need little introduction to most pet owners! During the winter months, fleas usually only breed indoors, however, as the weather warms up, the problem becomes far more serious as fleas can also breed outside in parks and gardens. Dormant flea eggs from last year will rapidly hatch out into adult fleas which will hop onto your passing pet, bringing dozens of these tiny pests back into your home.
Adult fleas feed on your pet’s blood, causing a range of symptoms including itchy skin, infections, rashes and hair loss. Fleas will also bite humans as well! Fleas will hop off our pets and make their home in pet beds, carpets and soft furnishings where the flea life-cycle is completed.
Adult female fleas can lay up to 50 eggs per day and these fall off your pet onto carpets, bedding and outside areas. Whilst the eggs can remain dormant for many months, in the warmer weather they will rapidly hatch out and develop (via larval stages) into adult fleas. With a life-cycle of about a month, flea numbers can rise dramatically in the summer.
Allergies are another problem seen commonly in spring and summer. Allergies are immune reactions where an animal responds abnormally to a common substance called allergens.
Inhaled allergens are a major cause of problems in humans and pets at this time of year. Every type of plant and tree produces pollen and the surge in pollen levels can lead to inhaled allergies.
When outdoors, pets and humans inhale dozens of pollens, but the allergic symptoms are often very different. Whilst humans get ‘hay fever’, affected pets tend to show skin symptoms. Dogs may show generalised itchiness, but more commonly may show localised signs of paw chewing, face rubbing and itchy ears. Pets come into contact with allergens in three different ways:
- Inhaled eg pollens
- Ingested eg food allergies
- Contact eg flea bite allergy where pets develop an allergy to flea saliva
If your pet is showing signs of skin problems you should make an appointment to see your vet for a check-up. They can then check for fleas and other parasites and advise on preventative products. Diagnosis of allergies is trickier, but blood tests and skin testing can help to identify allergens. Modern treatments can be very effective in making pets less itchy.
Chris Devlin BVSc MRCVS is a Vet and Partner at Hillside Veterinary Centre in Corfe Mullen. w: www.hillsidevets.co.uk.