When Cheeky was brought in to see me, the main thing that her owners had noticed was a skin rash along her back and on her underside. The skin on her belly was particularly badly affected, with a raised blotchy red patch of sore skin. Itchy animals are very common, especially in the summer months. In dogs, itchy skin causes scratching. Dogs tend to stand on three legs, and have a good scratch all over with one of their hind legs. Cats are more likely to lick and nibble itchy skin, and it look as if they are simply grooming themselves extra carefully. It is very common for owners to notice a rash in cats, rather than to be aware of them itching at themselves.
There are many possible causes of itchiness. Ideally, it is best if the vet can discover the precise cause of the itch. If you remove the cause, you can then be sure that the itch will not recur. Unfortunately, it is not always simple to find the cause. Many animals suffer from vague, multiple allergies in the summer months. Typically, they might start to itch in late June, and then carry on itching through July, August and September. Then in October, the itch settles down. There is obvious cause.
A general anti-inflammatory treatment is given, in the form of tablets or long-acting injections. The medication keeps the animal comfortable, the skin rash clears up, and by the time autumn comes along, the pet is better. The best guess is that the animal is allergic to some of the vegetation and pollen’s that are present in the summer. Many animals have the same problem every summer for a few months. The medication always works, and the precise cause remains a mystery. When I first looked at Cheeky, my first impression was that she had this type of vague seasonal allergy. She lived with three other cats (Fluffy, Cuddles and Midnight), and they were all healthy. I examined her carefully, and could see no sign of any parasites. Then when I had almost finished my examination, I saw a tiny black insect scuttle rapidly through Cheeky’s fur. It was a flea! I had found the cause of Cheeky’s rash.
The Edwards family were very surprised at this news. None of the other three cats were itching at all – surely if one cat had fleas, they would all have them? In fact, it is very common for animals to have fleas with no skin rash, and no itch. It is only when an animal is allergic to fleas that a problem becomes visible. Cheeky was obviously allergic, but the others were not. Now that I knew the cause of Cheeky’s rash, treatment was simple. I gave her an injection to give her immediate relief from the itchy skin, but the real focus was to get rid of her fleas. All four cats would need to be treated to ensure that the fleas were completely cleared.
There are different ways of eradicating fleas, and every case needs a different approach tailored to the individual situation. The introduction of ‘spot-on’ products has made flea treatment easy. A small vial is squeezed onto the back of the neck of the animal, and the safe but effective chemical spreads over the body, killing all the fleas, and protecting further infestations for a month or more. However in multiple animal households, it can be more economical to use a modern flea spray, available from vets. After each animal has been sprayed all over, the treatment lasts for two months. To prevent a recurrence of Cheeky’s rash, continual on-going flea protection for all of the cats was important, and the Edwards decide that the spray would be the most cost-effective approach for their pets.
To ensure that the flea problem is fully cured, it is also necessary to treat the house. Fleas hop off pets into the environment, laying eggs that can hatch out up to six months later. Sometimes carpets and furniture can become breeding grounds for fleas, and so treatment with a special spray for the home can be important. When I questioned the Edwards, they explained that the four cats lived outside most of the time. Then Ann Marie spoke up: “What about my bedroom?” It turned out that she likes to take Cheeky up to bed with her from time to time. And she had noticed an occasional rash on her arm. It sounded as if the fleas had hopped off Cheeky into her bedroom carpet.
Pet fleas don’t live on humans, but they can cause a few hives on exposed skin. To be sure that the flea problem was completely cured, the Edwards took a can of special household spray to treat Ann Marie’s room and any other corners where the cats occasionally hid in the house. Fleas are common in Ireland, but flea treatments nowadays are better than ever. Cheeky has now stopped itching, and thanks to the regular spray treatments of all of the cats, the flea problem will definitely not be coming back.
- Itchy skin is common, especially in the summer
- Fleas are a very common cause, especially in outdoor cats
- ets stock a range of simple, safe and effective products to treat fleas