The most common ailments encountered by veterinarians during the summer months are skin problems. The combination of seeding grasses, warm temperatures and high ultra-violet radiation, mean that skin irritations are far more likely to occur during summer.
Many pets suffer from skin allergies. These are commonly caused by contact with an irritant substance. Certain grasses and plants can set up an allergic response in the animal when it lies on the vegetation. Paspalum grass and Wandering Jew are two plants that most frequently cause irritation, however individual dogs and cats can react to many more plant species. Many types of seeding grasses have been shown to cause allergies in certain animals.
If your pet is suffering from a contact dermatitis from plants you will notice reddening of the body on the underline – the tummy, chest, groins and paws. This reddening is usually accompanied by continual scratching and discomfort. Dogs may drag themselves along the grass or carpet on their bellies to try an relieve this constant itch.
The solution is not always simple as it is often impossible to identify the agent that is causing the problem. Prompt treatment of the irritation by your veterinarian is essential, as prolonged scratching can lead to the development of raw areas that can become infected. Your vet may choose to give your pet an injection of a drug which will decrease the body’s reaction to the irritant, or provide a course of tablets that have a similar effect.
Recurring allergic reactions require careful tests to try and establish the causative agent and prevent future contact with it.
Warm temperatures are enjoyed by a myriad of insect life, including fleas and ticks. These parasites can make your pets’ life miserable by setting up an allergic reaction that affects the skin.
Typical ‘flea itch’ occurs on the back at the base of the tail. Dogs and cats will frantically try to scratch, bite, rub and lick this area, hair will fall out and the skin will become scaly and thickened. Once again, an injection from the vet can reduce the degree of discomfort, however the real solution is to control the fleas – not only on the animal but also in the house and yard.
Ticks can cause irritation where they are attached to the animal. They need to be removed carefully. If you live in an area where the ‘paralysis tick’ is prevalent you should check your pets daily for ticks and regularly use a residual antitick/flea rinse or spray. If you suspect you pet has a paralysis tick, take it to the vet immediately – delay could be fatal.
We all know the summer sun damages human skin, but many people do not realise that the skin of domestic pets can be similarly damaged. Dogs and cats with areas of pink (unpigmented) skin are most susceptible. Overexposure to ultra-violet radiation damages the skin, which can become dry and scaly. You will notice this in areas like the ears, nose or underline where hair is sparse. Prolonged damage, year after year, can result in precancerous changes in the skin and ultimately skin cancer.
Skin cancer can present itself in a number of ways, but most commonly areas of dry, crusty and irritated skin progress into sores that gradually spread and become worse. An animal with any such lesions should be thoroughly examined by the vet.
Protect your pet by preventing it from going into the sun between the hours of 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., and applying zinc cream or a children’s factor 15 blockout to areas of exposed pink skin.
Prevention of summer skin irritations is better than trying to cure them, and remember your veterinarian is the best person to give you advice on the care and maintenance of your pets.