Your pet is scratching…..chewing her skin……biting his feet….losing fur………….FLEAS……..Right? Probably not. Even though fleas (one of several pests that fall under the heading of External Parasites) can cause these symptoms, many pets that visit the veterinarian for the above signs do not have fleas. There is a myriad of various conditions that can cause scratching, chewing, restless nights, skin sores and hair loss other than fleas. Depending on the part of the world you live in the most common cause of these symptoms is often allergy, a condition known as Allergic Dermatitis. Though pets with allergic dermatitis can show a variety of signs such as runny eyes, sneezing, coughing, gastrointestinal signs or ear rubbing, the most common symptom is scratching at various parts of the body or biting at his or her feet. The assumption on the part of the client is, of course, fleas although that is not usually the case.
So how do we go about diagnosis in a Dermatology (skin disease) case? We must first eliminate a variety of causes of this behavior such as:
1. External parasites including fleas, mites and ticks
2. Skin infections such as bacterial, yeast and mycotic (fungus)
3. Possible hormonal problems like thyroid or cortisol abnormatlities.
4. Internal medical problems such as organ problems or intestinal parasites
If this all sounds somewhat involved, it is. What you as the pet owner may see on the surface of your dog or cat can frequently be a reflection of abnormalities in a different system of your pet. Often the most important part of the medical work up is you, the client. Information regarding seasonality, onset and duration of signs, whether any treatment has helped in the past are of extreme value in finding out what is wrong. So successfully treating a scratching dog or cat begins with you…the history taker. Next we will look into more detail at some of the abovementioned conditions.