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By Cindy Exelby, D.V.M.

In the past many practitioners thought that a pet with itchy skin meant symptomatic treatment with steroid injections or pills. Though that is “quick fix”, we now know there are many dangerous, long-term side effects from using them indiscriminately. With a better understanding of the underlying causes of scratching or licking in the pet, we can manage the long-term condition more safely.

Allergy season is upon us; many of you are already experiencing the symptoms of sneezing, congestion, red eyes, etc. Pets also experience allergy symptoms, but in a different way. Allergic dermatitis is a condition that includes itching and hair loss, rubbing face and eyes, overaggressive licking of paws and pulling out hair. The same pollens and house dust that cause allergies and asthma in people al cause allergic dermatitis in dogs and cts. Certain foods also can cause allergies. It can be very difficult to distinguish between the many allergens.

If your pet is experiencing dry skin, you might consider trying the newer leave-on conditioners that your veterinarian will have. They are easily diluted with water and can be sprayed on daily as a moisturizer. Another aid in flaky dandruff is essential fatty acids added to the diet. Talk to your veterinarian about the proper dosage for your pet, and also the proper duration. Most research advocates their use for a minimum of six weeks before judging their success or failure. Bathing is another important element as is the type of product used and the frequency. Hydrating the skin by bathing actually give temporary relief to an itchy pet. And there are new shampoos now that help retain that moisturizing effect.

Although we do not have as much of a problem with fleas and ticks in the arid Southwest as do other regions of the United States, these pests are still present, and are the number one allergen causing a pet to itch. Products such as Frontline make flea and tick control easier because they only need once-a-month topical application.

Dermatological problems can be very frustrating and costly, because there is usually not an easy solution. A combination of products and a responsible pet owner are essential to at least keep that itchy pet under control.

Cindy Exelby is a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine
at Rodeo Plaza Animal Clinic in Santa Fe.

Note: This article first appeared in the Spring/Summer 1999 issue.

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