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Posted on 03-03-2014

Life’s an Itch – Welcome to Austin.

Tis the season for scratching, itching pets. About half of our clinic case load from now until October will involve itchy, scratchy skin and ears of dogs and cats. Think of your pet’s “itch threshold” as if it were ice on a frozen pond. Your pet can walk on top of the ice (not itching) unless it is carrying too much weight (insects, infection, or  allergens)  and falls through the ice (itching). The seasonal increase in our humidity and temps encourages growth of  insects, bacteria, fungus, and local vegetation. If that isn’t enough, we import more antigen crud with wind from the north one day followed by wind from the south the next.  

Some pets itch and scratch from more than one cause, but we can usually separate dermatitis into 3 categories:

1. Infestation of fleas, ticks, or mange mites:
Fleas and especially ticks are often easy to see, but mange mites are invisible to the naked eye and therefore have to be considered “possible” in every itchy dog or cat.

2. Infection with bacteria or fungus (yeast):
Bacteria and yeast are inhabitants of normal skin. They usually behave themselves, but they are opportunists and will take advantage of itchy skin.

3. Primary skin disease:
This category includes anything that compromises the skin’s immune competence. Diabetes, lazy thyroid, and allergies are frequent examples. Allergy is the most common and includes hypersensitivity to insect saliva, food ingredients, and common pollens and molds.


Some pets have more risk for skin disease because of their anatomy. The classic example is the “floppy ear” dog. In contrast to “erect ear” dogs (eg. German Shephards), breeds like the popular Labrador Retriever are predisposed to otitis. This is a focal form of skin inflammation (dermatitis), because the ear is just skin rolled into a tube.  When this tube lays flat against the head, the microclimate within is warm, dark, and moist.

Relieving your pet of the misery of scratching/itching is doomed to failure if a methodical search for the cause by your veterinarian does not occur. This search may need to include the microscope, the culture plate, or the lab.  

Everyone sleeps better if the collar tags aren’t jingling from poor itchy “Mr. Whiskers”.

—Dr. Troy D. Smith
Manchaca Village Veterinary Care
512-838-2273

Ayse Sevinc said:

Wonderfully informational ... thank you!

2014-03-07 22:52:08

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