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The itchy & scratchy show

Sniffling. Sneezing. Coughing. It’s a tricky time of year with spring and warmer weather around the corner, pollen in the air and allergies in full force. However, what most of us don’t realise is that we’re not the only ones who struggle with allergies – your pet is at risk too.

When establishing your own allergy-fighting plan, it’s important to remember your pets too, explains Dr Guy Fyvie, nutritional advisor for Hill’s Pet Nutrition. “Environmental allergens pose an invisible but constant nuisance to many dogs and cats.” More than 50% of dog allergies are caused by the world around them – pollens, mould spores and house dust mites can be found everywhere and in any season. “The good news is that there are a number of small, simple changes you can introduce to help eliminate or reduce the signs and irritation of your pets’ allergies.”

Dr Fyvie says that if you think your pet is suffering from allergies there are certain pet behaviours you can look out for. “If you notice your dog scratching, itching, licking or rubbing more than normal, then there could be an underlying skin condition.” When it comes to cats, however, picking up signs of a skin condition can be a bit trickier. If you’re a cat parent, you’ll know the effort your cat takes to keep clean, plus cats are masters of disguise. Environmental allergies in dogs and cats are mostly seen as changes in the skin, unlike humans who tend to develop ‘head symptoms,’ such as a runny nose and watery eyes.

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Some of the most common symptoms of skin problems – not necessarily always allergy specific – in both dogs and cats (you’ll need to separate your cat’s well-groomed fur to find these) include:

  • Itching, scratching, licking or rubbing (this is the first sign, that sometimes goes unnoticed)
  • Paw licking
  • Flaky or scaly patches
  • Red patches, spots or pimples
  • Scabs, crusts or thickened skin
  • Hair loss
  • Bad skin odour

Dr Fyvie recommends taking the following steps to help minimise your pet’s allergies:

Consult your vet – The first thing you should consider if you suspect a skin problem in your pet is to visit your vet. They can help determine the cause of skin irritation and assist you in choosing the best course of remedy. If required, your vet may recommend further tests to identify the exact reason for your pet’s skin condition.

Wash your pet’s beds and blankets – Wash their beds and blankets every second week in a washing machine on the hottest programme, just be sure that it won’t damage them. If they don’t fit into your washing machine, a thorough hand wash will work just as well. Make sure the beds are properly dried before your pet uses them. If you live in a drought-affected area rather vacuum your pets’ beds twice a week. Ensure their sleeping area is as dust-free as possible

Bath your dog in cold water – For acute cases, this is recommended three times a week.  It will help to calm itchy irritated skin and can reduce allergens (pollen etc) in the coat.  While plain water is often just fine if you are washing your dog, make sure you are using the right products. “There are a few pet-friendly hypoallergenic and gentle medicated shampoos available from your vet. Make use of these or if you use a parlour make sure they are using the right soaps for your dog. You can also purchase dog grooming wipes to remove loose hair, dirt and odour causing bacteria from your dog’s fur,” says Dr Fyvie.

Consider keeping your pets inside on windy days – Wind increases the pollen count, so keeping your affected pets sheltered will help reduce the pollen load on their skin.

Nutrition – Even if the cause of your pet’s skin condition is not related to nutrition, they will benefit greatly from high-quality food specially formulated for any skin sensitivity. Look for one containing high skin-specific protein, essential fatty acids and antioxidants – such as Hill’s Prescription Diet Derm Defense — all are important nutrients that can help heal and protect your pet’s skin and reduce scratching.

“Your pet’s skin health is vital to their overall health,” adds Dr Fyvie. Proper bathing, regular coat and skin examinations and annual vet check-ups are a great way to help prevent skin problems flaring up and to keep your pet happy and healthy, always.

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