Why does your pet constantly lick or scratch itself?

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    Is your pet constantly licking or scratching itself? Here are a few common causes and how to manage them.

    SEASONAL ALLERGIES 

    People get sniffles and sneezes from allergies, but they affect pets differently. 

    SIGNS TO WATCH FOR: Dogs will lick their paws, scratch at their skin or rub or scoot their bottoms. Cats may groom excessively or pull their fur out. This can lead to inflammation and infection, explains vet Dr Andrew Rosenberg.

    HOW TO HELP: Your vet can perform tests to determine your pet’s allergies. They may prescribe topical or oral medication or immunotherapy drops or shots to reduce sensitivity. A cool bath with medicated shampoo once or twice a week can soothe their skin and remove any allergens.

    STRESS 

    Excessive or frequent licking or scratching can be your pet’s way of dealing with something that they’re upset about. 

    SIGNS TO WATCH FOR: Anxious pets may start licking themselves when something changes at home or they’re confronted by a stressful situation, such as a grabby toddler or another pet bothering them, explains animal behaviourist Dr Suzanne Hetts. 

    HOW TO HELP: Separate feuding animals and provide your pet with a safe space, such as a crate or bed, away from the action if they’re getting uptight. No luck? Seek expert help from a certified animal behaviourist – your vet can help refer you.

    GUT ISSUES 

    Allergies and other reactions to food can affect your pet’s skin, too. 

    SIGNS TO WATCH FOR: Cats can develop itchy heads as well as red, raised or crusted bumps, says veterinary dermatologist Dr Alexandra Gould. Dogs may have raised red dots or fl at, round areas, hair loss, skin thickening and hyperpigmentation as well as ear infections and hot spots. Changes in eating habits, diarrhoea, constipation, or (in cats) infl amed gums may signal gastrointestinal issues. 

    HOW TO HELP: Share your pet’s symptoms with your vet. A food trial using vet-prescribed food may help, since over-the-counter foods can still contain allergens, Dr Gould says.

    BUGS 

    It’s hard to look at a dog scratching itself and not think, “Uh-oh, fleas!” 

    SIGNS TO WATCH FOR: Fleas can look like tiny grains of sand or little white eggs on your pet’s coat, and you may also notice hair loss or pale gums. Lice or mites can also cause excessive scratching, head shaking and hair loss around the head, ears, muzzle and paws. HOW TO HELP: Talk to your vet if you think your pet has an infestation, but prevention is far easier! Keep up with the meds or intervention your vet advises.

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