Many pet owners struggle with scratching and itching, especially in the summer. Why let your pet be miserable when the problem could be as simple as diet or a minor parasite issue? Solving that problem now could make both your life and your pet’s life a whole lot more pleasant.

Parasites

The first course of action is always to check for fleas. Treatments do not always work as advertised, so don’t just assume that your flea product is working. (A flea comb will let you know whether your pet has fleas and/or flea dirt, which looks like coffee grounds. Flea dirt indicates the presence of fleas even if you can’t find them). Fleas are a problem that all pet owners deal with at some time or other; the trick is to use a good product for prevention, and if you do find signs of fleas to tackle them quickly. One flea can lay up to 30 eggs per day, so the math on this can get pretty scary. When fleas fall off your pet and hatch, they create even more problems. Don’t procrastinate! Remember that a single flea can bite an animal up to 100 times a day, so you can imagine what an infestation feels like to your pet. Fleas can cause a multitude of problems in addition to the suffering caused by the bites. Fleas can cause serious hair loss, anemia, bacterial infections, and other problems.

Diet

If your pet has no fleas, a food allergy could be the culprit. Many dogs are becoming sensitive to foods, most commonly corn, soy, and/or wheat. Try eliminating those ingredients from your pet’s diet. Supermarkets and pet stores now carry a range of corn, soy, and wheat-free foods, but check the ingredients: just because a dog food has pictures of vegetables on it doesn’t mean it’s healthy! Don’t forget to check ingredients of treats and table foods also. You should begin to see results in four to six weeks after you change foods. If this doesn’t get good results, a more restrictive diet may be the answer. Try going completely grain free and also try a different protein source (for example, if you have been feeding chicken, move to fish or bison). Most dogs will show improvement in skin and coat quality and will be scratching much less or not at all if you can get them on the right food. Sometimes it is challenging to weed out the allergen, but through trial and error you can find a food that agrees with your dog. The Whole Dog Journal (available in print or online) is a great source for information on dog foods, ingredients to avoid, and companies that produce quality foods for both dogs and cats.

Skin Infections

If your pet has suffered from a long-time allergy, it may suffer from skin issues even after you remove the source of the problem. Check with your vet to see if a course of antibiotics might help, especially if your pet’s skin is oily or has suffered some hair loss. Vets sometimes recommend special shampoos, Benadryl, steroids, or cortisone shots in addition to the measures above, but don’t forget to check with them first, especially to determine the dosage.

A note for cat owners

Cats don’t seem to show the same outward symptoms of poor diet like dogs do, but please keep in mind that cats are true carnivores. They should be fed a quality diet to maintain good health. Look for foods with meats as the top ingredients and avoid corn and wheat, by-products, and artificial colors. Avoid foods such as milk and tuna, and what your pet’s salt intake. Also consider adding some raw foods to their diet as in nature that is what cats and many dogs would eat.

By Trish Morgan, owner of The Pet Stop stores