“My pet is scratching…”

is one of the most common complaints from clients.


Skin irritations, infections and allergic reactions affect the majority of pets. Why? There are various factors influencing the skin health of your pet. Here are some common causes:


Fleas - By far the most common cause of itchy skin…

Fleas live in the environment and feeds off the blood of animals and humans alike.


‘My animal does not have fleas!’

The reason why fleas affect so many animals without owners realising, is the fact that owners assume that they should be able to see fleas on their pet for there to be fleas. This is NOT true!!

Fleas, unlike ticks, do not live on the animal they feed off, but only jump on to feed. After feeding on their host, they will return to a dark crevice and start laying eggs…thousands of them! These eggs will hatch in warm humid conditions. This is the reason for flea outbreaks after each rainy season.


‘How do I then know my pet has fleas?’

One of the tell-tale signs are hair loss at the tail base. Constant scratching, licking and biting, along with some ‘strange’ behaviour like suddenly jumping up, running around, then sitting down and scratching, and even whining, are all general signs that your pets might have fleas. Skin can become red and general hair loss can occur because of the constant scratching.


‘How do I help my pet?’

  • By using a good quality top spot that treats against fleas.

  • Using a good quality Environmental flea spray in the areas where your pet spends most of its time.

  • Washing blankets and bedding regularly.

  • Oral applications are also available for a monthly treatment against fleas.

  • Dipping your animal might provide temporary relieve from biting fleas, but usually only treats for a couple of days at most.


‘Why should I be concerned?’

  • Except for the obvious discomfort and skin irritation fleas cause your pet, they will eventually spread to your bedroom.  

  • Fleas are the intermediate host for Tapeworm. Chances are, if your pet has fleas, they have tapeworm too…

  • Constant scratching and licking can, if left untreated, lead to secondary infections and hot spots.

  • If left unchecked, one flea can turn into a major infestation.



Mites - Are microscopic parasites that live on the skin and can cause severe itching.There are 4 main mites that can affect our pets:

* Demodex canis - Demodectic mange in dogs

* Demodex cati - Demodectic mange in cats

Demodex is a natural inhabitant of the skin and usually only becomes problematic in young animals that have a T-cell deficiency in their skin (T-cells are involved in the immune function of the skin), and older animals with a compromised immune system.


* Sarcoptes scabiei - Sarcoptic mange, also known as “brandsiekte” in dogs.

Sarcoptes is infectious and spreads by direct contact. Sarcoptic mange is zoonotic, which means that it can infect humans as well!!

* Notoedres cati - which affects cats.

* Cheyletiella - commonly known as ‘walking dandruff’

This is a very contagious disease and the mites are visible on the hair of the animals as small white specs. It causes flaky skin and itchiness that varies between animals.


‘How would I know my pet has mites?’

Common presentation of ‘mange’ is a generalised or patchy loss of hair. Animals are extremely itchy and most of the damage is self-inflicted – due to scratching that could also cause secondary infections.Both can be diagnosed with skin scrapes and observed under a microscope at your veterinarian, although sarcoptes can sometimes be difficult to observe, since it lives in the deeper skin layers.


‘How do I treat against mites?’

These conditions often involve lengthy treatment that entails multiple weekly injections and regular follow-up visits. Demodectic mange often responds better to treatment than sarcoptes mange. Various dips can be used to treat some mite species and Spot-on treatments are now also available.




Ear mites (Otodectes cynotis)

My pet is shaking its head and scratching its ears…’

Ear mite are microscopic parasites that is isolated to the ear and are mostly diagnosed in younger animals and cause intense itching of the ears and head shaking.


‘How do I know my pet suffers from ear mites?’

Your veterinarian will be able to diagnose your pet with ear mites, by taking an ear swab and looking under a microscope for the ear mites.


‘Is it difficult to get rid of?’

There are top spots available for sale over the counter, but for more severe cases, medicated ointments will be necessary.




AllergiesAllergies can be caused by allergens that cause an allergic reaction on the skin, which is usually very itchy. It is generally extremely difficult to determine the cause of the allergic reaction.


‘What is causing my pet’s allergy?’

Common allergens include:

  • Fleas – flea bit allergy – where the animal has an allergic reaction to the saliva of the flea.

  • Contact allergens – where the skin gets irritated from contact with certain surfaces or environmental elements. These can be anything from the type of softener you use on their bedding, to grass in your garden.

  • Atopy – This type of allergy is due to inhaled allergens like pollens, moulds, feather dust, etc.

  • Food allergens – of which protein and carbohydrates are the common culprits. 



‘How do I treat an allergy?’

Where food allergies are suspected, a food trail is done where the animal is put on a novel protein and carbohydrate diet – this means a type of protein or carbohydrate the animal was not exposed to previously.

Treatment of a contact allergy and atopy is very difficult, since the allergen needs to be identified where possible and eliminated from the animal’s environment. This is almost impossible with inhalant allergens.Your veterinarian, can however, prescribe short term systemic relieve during consultation.




Growths -

‘He keeps on licking this lump…”

Growths and warts can become irritated and itchy over time and lead to excessive licking and scratching causing skin to either become red and inflamed, or broken and weeping.

In these cases, your veterinarian will suggest surgical removal of the growth.





Fungal infections -

‘There’s this patch of hair that fell out?’

The most common types of fungal infections are:

* Dermatophytes – which are fungal infections or spores found in the skin of an affected animal.

* Malasthezia – which is a yeast infection. This presents as an almost tar like, bad smelling discharge from the ear.Definite hair loss occurs in the affected area.


‘What do I do?’

Fungal infections need to be identified through impression smears or biopsies taken for culture, because each species of fungus responds different to drugs.




Basics of pet skin health:

  • Treat every month against fleas! Don’t be fooled… they’re out there…

  • Feed your pet a good quality food.

  • Don’t wait until there’s no skin left before you take your pet to the vet.




For our farmers out there:

Sheep skin


Let us take a closer look at those animals that provide us products to keep us warm this upcoming winter.


Sheep are not often affected by skin/fleece problems especially not during the cold winter months. But even the smallest farmer can tell you that when sheep start losing wool, they start losing hair.


All skin conditions in sheep are controlled diseases. That means that if a veterinarian diagnose an infectious (bacterial, viral or mite) cause for the skin condition the local state vet must be notified.


Sheep are sensitive creatures and that is why they play host to a vast array of organisms that want to infect them. These range from the dreaded Sheep scab mite (Psoroptescommunisovis) and Sarcoptic mange mite (Sarcoptesscabiei) to the more commonly found Itch mite (Psorergatesovis), Lice (Damaliniaand Linognathus) and keds (Melophagusovinus). Bacterial infections i.e. fleece rot, sprouting from prolonged wet seasons are often accompanied by flies and could cause a lot of harm.


When sheep are itchy they spend more energy on scratching then what they do eating or reproducing, indirectly affecting the farmers’ production margins. Farmers can incorporate preventative measures like dips (Taktic) during periods of high infestation. However, it is very important to get a veterinarian to inspect your sheep early so that preventative measures like long acting ivermectin injections etc. can be given, rather to wait and have your flock potentially thinned out.


There is a lot to talk about production animals and herd/flock management. If any queries should arise please feel free to contact us for advice and further information.

My Pet is Scratching...

Services offered by 
Pierre van Ryneveld Vet
  • ​Small and large animal medicine 

  • Small animal surgery

  • Orthopedic surgery

  • Digital diagnostic facilities

  • In-house blood testing (lab) facilities

  • ​Mobile equine and large animal clinic

  • Small animal ambulance​​

  • Wildlife veterinarian

  • Herd health

  • Grooming


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Pierre van Ryneveld Veterinary Clinic

88 van Ryneveld Ave

Pierre van Ryneveld

Pretoria / Centurion



Tel 012 662 2502/0279/1845/0586

Cell 082 569 2466

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