The itching pet is one of the most common problems that we see. Sometimes the cause is not obvious to the owner, but yields readily to a thorough examination. For instance, we commonly find unsuspected flea populations on animals with long, dark coats. Young puppies with bad itching are most likely to have Sarcoptic mange ("Scabies"). In fact, the dermatologist say that "they have scabies until you prove it's something else: treat them for Scabies." Fortunately, this is now a simple matter. We just treat three times with Revolution at 2-week intervals (versus the old days of whole-body clipping, followed by whole-body dipping every week in something toxic and stinky).
All too often, when a cause is not readily visible, we just assume that the pet has an allergy. Of course, this is frequently the cause of itching (especially in Southeast Missouri, home of pollen, mold, insects, and agricultural chemicals — that's what brings in the tourists).
A recent article in Science News really got me thinking about the patients who don't respond to our customary treatments. Researchers have discovered nerve fibers that are specifically involved with the sensation of itching, that are not part of the pain sensation system, and that are not involved with histamine-mediated itching (allergic itching). The whole article is really interesting. This type of itching doesn't really respond to antihistamines or cortisone.
In the past, I have prescribed Relief Spray for some itching patients. This product contains a moisturizer and and pramoxine, a local anesthetic. I have felt like just trying to numb the nerve endings temporarily was a bit of a cop-out: symptomatic treatment without understanding the underlying cause. After reading this article, I think I may have been doing the best that could be done for some of these patients.
It certainly gives me one more thing to think about with these itchy patients.