Sunday, October 23, 2016

Five things to help every Itchy Pet.

There are vets who love to see itchy pets, and there are vets like me, who feel (and live) the pain of an itchy pet.

Piper, my itchy, beautiful dog, has multiple allergies, and is extremely itchy if we slack off in her management plan.
My dog Piper!

What many pet owners do not realise, but many vets do, is that the list of causes of itchy pets would fill multiple A4 pages in small font.  When a pet owner takes their pet to the vet because they are itchy, many expect a quick fix, and are surprised when the "fix" that is dispensed to them stops helping as soon as they stop or reduce the medication.

If you take me, as a pet owner, as an example, Piper has severe allergies to certain foods, parasites, grasses and pollens.  The one thing she isn't showing a reaction to is Wandering Dew (thank goodness) as this is the one of the few plants I seem to grow well in my backyard.

If you listen to pet owners of itchy pets on the beach, they will tell you stories of getting the "itch injection" from the vet, or the use of a "XYZ" shampoo from the pet shop, or adding "ABC" oil into their food, or even changing their food entirely to "Abracadabra magic mince".

When I went to the most recent Dog Show in Sydney, there were many stalls selling oils to rub on, or salves to apply which would solve all of these problems too.

The problem lies is - those who are saying that are probably right - for them -  those solutions probably did work for their pet. I would never, in a million years, discount something that actually helped an individual pet.

BUT... I would be, and am, extremely critical, of saying that any particular medication would help every single pet out there.


As a vet, I could never make that claim.

As the owner of a pet with allergies, I would never believe anyone who would say they could cure my pet of her allergies or offer a therapy that would make a 100% guarantee.

If you could do that, then get a cure for asthma or food allergies in all children - once you have done that, then I might listen to what you have to offer for my pet.

However, that doesn't stop me from sharing some strategies that will help every pet that is itchy - irrespective of the cause. It may not stop them from itching totally, but it will certainly make a difference for your pet.

I am sharing five things you can do to help every itchy pet before you bring them to a vet for their itchy skin.

 Your vet will love you if you even do the top three before you come in.

1. Flea, tick and parasite control.

You don't see a flea? That is good, but fleas can still be causing a reaction in your pet, either through the multiple bites of one flea or through the fleas being effectively groomed out by your pet's itchiness.

You don't see the lice?  Well, most times neither do we, but we would still treat for this very common cause.

You don't see the mites?  Well, unless you have microscopic vision, you probably wouldn't see these, as I need a microscope to see them  too.  There are some mites (such as sarcoptes mites) where (according to my textbook), I need to do 30 skin scrapes before I could say it is not a problem.   As for me, I prefer to treat on suspicion of it instead!

What can we do to help you narrow it down? 

We often do skin scrapes to look for mites (deep if we think we have demodex - especially if your pet is young, or superficial scrapes if the signs are suggestive of sarcoptes).

What can you do?  

Trust your vet to help narrow it down.

What would we recommend (in general)

For Fleas/Ticks/Demodex mites - we suggest Nexguard each 3 weeks or Bravecto three monthly until the skin looks normal and then back to the usual recommended frequency for dogs only.(note this may be  different to the labelled dose, please speak with your vet if you have any concerns about this recommendation).

For Lice - Advantage applied each two weeks for 3 doses for both dogs and cats.  We did this for our cat Dash, when her skin biopsies suggested she had a lice problem.

For Sarcoptes mites - Use Revolution (first choice) or Advocate (second choice) each two weeks for 3 doses for both cats and dogs. If this does not work, there are other medications that we can use (once we confirm the diagnosis).

2. Washing the bedding

Pet's bedding (or our own if that is where they sleep) harbours bacteria, yeasts and flea eggs/larvae.

Washing bedding in hot water with antifungal shampoo (we use Malaseb made by Dermcare in our situation, but you could also use PAW Mediderm shampoo instead).

Then hang it out in the sun  to dry.

All of this needs to be done twice a week.

Reducing these in your pet's bedding will add to the overall reduction of re-exposure to yeasts, bacteria and flea eggs. 

3. Food, glorious food.  Keep a food diary.

If you kept a food diary for yourself, you would get a shock on how much you actually ate.  Well, a food diary for yourself is really for weight loss.

A food diary for your pet is identifying the potential protein sources that could be the cause of their allergy.

For your pet, honesty is always going to be the best policy.

You might find the allergen yourself when you realise that your pet gets worse the day after they eat that special treat you buy them.

Many food trials fail because a pet still gets access to the morning piece of toast, or the afternoon cookie, whilst they are on the expensive food allergy diet.

What are the common food allergy culprits?  Chicken, fish, soy, rice, beef, lamb.

It isn't as simple as changing brands of foods - if your pet is allergic to chicken, and you change from one chicken based food to another, you have not changed anything.  It is also not an issue of quality either, although the better quality foods are, well, better for your pet anyway.

With Piper, we had to learn the lesson that simple or novel protein diets are helpful.  We feed her Royal Canin Anallergenic, supplemented with Prime 100 novel protein rolls (she loves the Crocodile and Tapioca) for variety.

Food trials take 6-8 weeks at a minimum - that is a long time to be strict with what your pet can eat, but if you have a food allergic dog like us, it is worth it.

4. Essential fatty acids -

Fish oil (EPA/DHA) in high doses can help in up to 30% of pets.  If you are lucky, your pet is one of these.

The dose rate is still under scrutiny - no one really knows the best dose rate, but the usual starting one is 50 mg/kg of EPA/DHA combined. 

For example, if your fish oil tablet is 1000 mg but only 60% of that is EPA/DHA, then you really have 600 mg of effective fish oil. if your pet weighs 10 kg, then 10 X 50  is 500 mg.  So, to round things up, you would give one of these capsules once a day.

5. Wipe them down and condition them well.

Never underestimate the benefit of a quick wash down with water from the hose after a trip to the beach, or wiping a pet down with a clean damp tea towel after a frolic in the grassy park.

These actions are able to physically remove pollens and other allergens from your pet's coat. 

Dry skin is a common cause of itchiness, especially in young puppies with overenthusiastic owners washing them weekly. Moisturisers vary in their effectiveness, but we use QV bath oil in Piper, but our options also include Alpha Keri Oil rinses and Colloidal Oatmeal based conditioners.

We spray Piper down daily (well, at least we are supposed to).  Granted, we also use a prescription spray too on her bad "flare up" days.

Five things your vet can do?

We can do lots to help pets, but it often takes more than one visit.  Often the first visit is to get an overview of the problem, to deal with the existing infections that we have, and to come up with an initial plan.   We do this through a series of easy but important tests, such as skin scrapings, skin cytology and fungal cultures.

The follow up visits with us are designed to come up with a longer term plan - on either how to diagnose the underlying problem, or how to manage the one we know we have a bit better. 

I am Dr Liz, the mad vet from Bellambi.