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Itchy Animals, Pet Allergies

20th July 2015

It's a new week and this week we will look at itchy animals, the causes, and how to manage them. Itchy animals are really common and most have a seasonal pattern though some are year rounders. It's awful for them, frustrating and irritating for you and can end up a misery for all involved.

Allergies, like hayfever in people cannot be cured, but can be managed in most cases to a satisfactory outcome. It can be a disease of ebbs and flows, ups and downs but when you are getting irritated with how much your pet is scratching and licking, think of how irritated they're feeling!!

There are four main types of allergy:

  1. Contact allergies
  2. Atopic allergies
  3. Flea allergies
  4. Food allergies

We will look at each of these this week with an aim to understand the process and how to implement management.


Usually has a distribution that can be traced to actually contacting the allergen such as grass. Often presents as rashing in the groin, armpits, on the belly and backs of the legs. Rare in cats.
Management includes avoiding allergens, rashy shirts (yes) or even just a t-shirt to limit contact. Regular washing to remove allergens from the skin. Omega oils for healthy skin and immune function. And sometimes corticosteroids to control flare-ups.


An allergy to an environmental allergen such as pollen. Instead of hayfever, they get skin disease. Often irritated all over, within the ears and around the anus. Cats will often show fur mowing without inflamed skin.

Treatment is difficult, management is achievable with medications such as immune suppressing drugs like cyclosporine (Atopica), and less recommended, corticosteroids. Regular bathing and maintenance of skin and coat health is important as well as treating any secondary infections from scratching.


Chewing and hair loss around the rump and backs of the thighs. May or may not see fleas.
Treatment includes religious 28 day flea control programs (not a calendar month, 28 days) and environmental flea control. A short course of corticosteroids is often needed to settle initially until the flea population is under control.


Often presents as intense irritation around the head, and often involving the insides of the ears. Diarrhoea and/or vomiting not always present.

Management includes exclusive diet trials with a hydrolysed diet such as Royal Canin Anallergen, or Hills z/d as these days with all the gourmet diets out there it's difficult to find a novel protein source. Diet trials need 4-6wks to assess success. Corticosteroids are often useless on these allergies.

It's important to remember that most dogs will present for allergies the first time somewhere between 2-7 years of age, although they can present sooner, or later than this as well. 

It's also common to find that animals may have more than one type of allergy (if they're sensitive to one thing, it's highly possible they're sensitive to others too) so cross-over between clinical signs can be seen as well.

So while it's not always easy to immediately diagnose your dogs' allergy remember we are just as interested in relieving his itch as you are, but sometimes dermatology is a case of trial and error to rule in or out different diagnoses.