Ahh, itch relief, ever so elusive, needs a battery of diagnostics

02/10/2009 7:27 AM

02/10/2009 7:30 AM

A pet's skin problems can be frustrating for both the animal and the owner.

This is particularly so when the problem leads to pruritis, or itching.

Larry and Carolyn are dealing with a pruritic dog named Fancy. She is a 15-year-old American Eskimo living in Spanaway, Wash. I am going to assume she spends a lot of time indoors because her caretakers have described her skin condition in such detail that could only come from close observation.

Fancy spends much of her waking hours licking her feet, chewing at her legs and scratching the sides of her body. Fleas were initially considered as a possible underlying cause and the veterinarian instructed Larry and Carolyn to treat Fancy with a flea-control product called Frontline. They have done so without fail on a monthly basis, but Fancy continues to scratch and chew and lick.

As a result of subsequent visits to the veterinarian, Fancy has been administered two different medications, the identities of which were not shared in the letter. Neither of these helped; nor did the addition of a medicated shampoo to the treatment regimen. Friends advised them to change Fancy's food, which also provided no relief.

Obviously, Fancy's skin is inflamed from some type of insult that leads to an inflammatory response that manifests as intense pruritis. Finding the cause will require some diagnostic testing.

Because Fancy's response to her condition is so intense, I would strongly consider the possibility of some type of allergy. This could be an inhaled allergy, or atopy. It could also be a food allergy.

Even with apparently good flea control, this could still be a flea allergy. There are tests that can determine inhaled allergies and flea allergies. Food allergies are best ruled out by monitoring the diet and eliminating potential problem foods.

Mange could be causing Fancy's intense itching. The sarcoptic mange mite, a tiny bug, burrows into the skin and causes an inflammatory response that results in heavy scratching. This disease, once diagnosed, is easy to treat and cure.

These are but a few possibilities and I use them to illustrate a common point in many of my articles. Diagnostics are important. In Fancy's case, I would recommend a blood panel to assess overall body function and especially thyroid function, as it can be intimately associated with skin health. I would also recommend allergy testing, which may need to involve a veterinary dermatologist, although many in general practice conduct this type of testing. It is also likely that I would recommend a skin biopsy to get an idea of the type of inflammatory response occurring in Fancy's skin.

Armed with these results, we would likely be well on the way to solving the mystery of Fancy's skin disease and then on the road to relief, both for Fancy and for Larry and Carolyn.

Jeff Kahler is a veterinarian in Modesto. Questions can be submitted to Your Pet in care of LifeStyles, The Modesto Bee, P.O. Box 5256, Modesto 95352.

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