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When is a scratch more than an itch?

How do you know if your cat or dog is suffering from skin allergies? These warmer months often bring many causes for skin irritation – fleas love this weather, and pollen fills the air. But when is a skin problem actually an allergy?

Some signs in dogs are obvious – itching, scratching, redness – but some may not be. So, look out for:

  • Recurring ear or skin infections
  • Licking excessively at their paws (other than just to clean them)
  • Rubbing their face along furniture or the ground, or with their paws
  • Scooting their bum along the ground – this can occur with full anal glands and occasionally with worms, but also with allergies

Cats are a bit different but may show the following signs:

  • Licking until they cause a red raw lesion
  • Multiple small raw spots
  • Overgrooming causing bald areas, even with no obvious lesions on the skin itself

Twenty percent of dogs with food allergies will have both a skin irritation as well as vomiting and diarrhoea. Dogs that are allergic to a plant or pollen may only itch in the warmer months, when these plants are going to seed and pollen is rife. A dog allergic to something in his diet will tend to itch all year round.

To make things more complex, a good proportion of itchy dogs have multiple triggers for their skin problems.

When it comes to allergic skin disease, the most important messages are:

  • There is no cure, but it can be managed
  • Normally a combination of diet, shampooing and medication will be required
  • Allergic skin disease is lifelong. There will be flare-ups, and management strategies will need to change with the dog as they age

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