One of the most common causes of scratching is fleas. Even if you don’t see them, I would advise that you treat your pet with a flea product. If the scratching continues, then allergies are the most likely cause and this may be difficult to manage. Causes may include diet or environmental allergens. Trying to identify the cause and long-term management will require the help of a veterinarian. Sarcoptic mange can be considered in a younger dog.
Scratching is not a clinical sign associated with skin cancer. There are many different types of skin cancer and they normally present with masses in the skin and sometimes ulceration and discolouration.
Food allergies that reflect in the skin typically present with scratching. To diagnose food allergies, a trial diet for a period of eight to 12 weeks is recommended. The trial diet can either be a diet consisting of a hydrolysed protein source, or a novel protein source diet. A novel protein diet is a protein source that the pet has not been exposed to before. For example, if the diet the pet is on contains chicken, then consider changing to a diet containing only duck or ostrich as the protein source.
Dry skin or dandruff may also be diet associated. Consider feeding a better quality diet or adding omega 3 and 6 fatty acids to the diet.
There are specific veterinary shampoos designed to help treat dry skin. Medicated shampoos, such as oatmeal-based shampoo, can help to relieve scratching. Using human shampoos may contribute to dry skin in animals.
Symptomatic relief for scratching can be obtained by using cortisone. This is fine in the short term, but may have detrimental consequences in the long-term, and usage needs to be controlled by a veterinarian. Antihistamines may help, but are not very effective. A supplement of omega 3 and 6 fatty acids can also be helpful for the scratching pet.
Text: Dr Alain Carter, veterinarian
The full article, as well as other veterinary advice, appears in the March 2015 issue of AnimalTalk