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The Itchy Pet: Fleas or Allergies?


March 29, 2010 by wcobserver

Dr. Linda Ford

The itchy pet can be a touchy subject.  Over the years dogs and cats have gone from being outdoor ornaments, guard animals, herding dogs and mouse traps to indoor sleeping partners, baby sitters and general companions. Today, many consider them to be family members. Many of you may be, like me, old enough to remember Fido hanging out in the yard, full of ticks and fleas, and noticing only an occasional scratch behind the ear before he rolled back over and continued his nap.  Now days, Fefe is in the house, on the lap, in the bed, maybe one or two fleas and scratching like crazy.

There is a theory out there, kind of like the one where kids have more allergies because they stay inside more and aren’t exposed to the natural environment like we were as kids. I’ve heard that if a dog or cat does not come into contact with fleas as a puppy or kitten that they are more likely to develop “flea allergy”. I don’t really see anything that comes close to proving that theory.  Maybe we just didn’t notice those animals scratching as much when they were outside all the time. There were an awful lot of mangy looking dogs running around, though.

So, for whatever the reason, there do seem to be a lot of pets with allergies these days. About a third of the cases I see in my practice are related to skin, ears, and hair coat.

Not all are allergy related but a lot of them are. About 85% of the allergies I see are flea allergy. Get rid of ALL the fleas and the symptoms go away. Flea allergy causes itching, hair loss, yeast and bacterial infections and ear infections. And the dogs stink to high heavens. The cats seem to get little bumps around their necks and sometimes the whole body. The rest of the allergies are either to foods or environmental allergens like pollens and grasses. External parasites such as mange mites, ear mites, ring worm and lice also cause itching, scale, infection and hair loss.

If you are being driven crazy with your pet itching and scratching, there are a few simple things you can do to figure out why. First, you have to rule out fleas. People come in with their itchy pets and swear they have no fleas. If it were legal, I would get them to bet me money on that and then show them that one flea they missed. You can use a flea comb to look for fleas or give them a bath and if you see a reddish tint to the bath water, that’s flea dirt or digested blood from the host—your pet.

If you are absolutely sure there are no fleas or other obvious parasite problems like ticks or mange, then it could be an allergy to something else. You can try changing pet foods to something the pet has not had before. If your dog food has corn and beef, switch to lamb and rice or a food that has no corn or beef.  If they’re allergic to pollens and grasses the best thing I’ve found to help with that is simply bathing. You need to bathe twice a week with an antifungal, antibacterial pet shampoo and blow the pet dry. You have to blow dry them or yeast will grow next to the skin and the yeast is what stinks so bad.

This is mainly for dogs, but if your cat doesn’t mind a bath, that’s OK too. But don’t use a medicated shampoo on cats since they lick their fur constantly and the medication could harm them. If your cat has chewed its hair out you need to give him some hairball medicine. They swallow a lot more hair if their coat is thin and a stomach full of hair will cause vomiting.

I hope these suggestions will help relieve your itching, scratching pet and help you get a good night’s sleep.



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