Johannesburg, 8 March23: A dog rolling over to have his tummy scratched has been the most iconic image of a family pet for decades. As pet owners, we love nothing more than to give our faithful companions a good rub behind the ears, under the chin and on the belly. The joy and tail-thumping that usually accompanies this treat can light up the entire household.
Dogs also scratch themselves all the time, rolling over to reach their spine or finding exactly the right spot behind their ear. However, with more and more animals suffering from pruritis, or itchy skin, veterinarians are urging pet owners to pay special attention to whether their dogs are enjoying the occasional scratch for pleasure, or more often because they are suffering from an itchy skin condition.
“There are many causes of itching,” says Dr Tarryn Dent, Business Unit Lead: Companion Animals, at Zoetis South Africa (Zoetis), a global animal health company. “However, the symptoms are relatively easy to spot if you know what you are looking for. These include red and itchy skin, increased scratching, chewing – particularly around the base of the tail and paws – itchy ears and recurring ear infections and constant licking.”
Living with extreme itchiness can significantly impact a pet’s quality of life as well as that of its owners. Zoetis is therefore raising awareness around itching and the causes and symptoms pet owners should be aware of through the launch of a free digital portal, itchypet.co.za
“Itchiness is one of the most common complaints of owners who bring their dog to a veterinary clinic,” says Dent. “Diagnosing and treating the cause of the itch can often significantly improve a pet’s quality of life and the overall happiness of a household.”
When does a dog’s itching start affecting their quality of life?
All dogs love a good scratch. However, pet owners should start paying attention if normal scratching becomes excessive licking, chewing, biting, or scratching; excessive rolling, rubbing, or scooting; and paw chewing. This behaviour will generally lead to hair loss, recurrent ear problems, skin lesions such as sores, pimples, and crusts, redness of the skin, body odour, and oily, greasy, or scaly skin.
The side effects of an unrelenting itch-scratch-itch cycle can result in additional skin irritation and damage, which can lead to secondary infections. This is because when the skin barrier function is damaged, any further exposure to allergens can stimulate an immune response.
“Itchy and inflamed skin can result in complications, such as bacterial and yeast skin infections,” says Dent. “The skin becomes red, swollen, hot, and inflamed, and the dog may experience hair loss, body odour, and increased pain from continued self-mutilation. This causes disruptions in sleep and because the pet is so uncomfortable, a decrease in interactions and playfulness. Ultimately, the whole family is impacted.”
Addressing the underlying cause
The good news for all pet owners is that itching can be treated with the right diagnosis.
‘Canine itch’ can be caused by several factors, including infections (bacterial, yeast); external parasites (fleas, mites, lice, ticks); and allergies (fleas, food, contact or environmental allergens such as pollens, moulds or house-dust mites).
The four most common allergies are fleas and flea allergy dermatitis, contact allergy dermatitis food allergies, and atopic dermatitis (an allergic skin disease associated with environmental allergens).
“After a diagnosis is made, a veterinarian will provide guidance on the most appropriate course of action,” says Dent. “The goal is to treat the root cause of the itching and improve the patient’s overall quality of life.”
Zoetis is encouraging pet owners to visit itchypet.co.za to start educating themselves around how to spot if their pets are suffering from mild to severe itchiness and if they suspect their fur baby is uncomfortable, to book an appointment with their veterinarian as soon as possible.
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A leading multi-national animal health company, Zoetis builds on more than 65 years of experience in animal health to research, develop, manufacture and commercialise medicines, vaccines and diagnostic products. Zoetis understands the deep connection between people and their pet and provides veterinarians with the resources needed to provide the highest quality of care and support, help improve the quality and extend the life of cats, dogs and horses and make it easier for owners to contribute towards the health and wellness of their companion animals. Zoetis produces vaccines, anti-infectives, parasiticides, dermatology products, animal health diagnostic and other pharmaceuticals.
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