Which Itch is Which? Itchiness in Pets

Scratch, scratch, scratch, scream?

If your pet’s incessant itching and scratching is driving you crazy, imagine how your pet must feel.

Excessive itchiness (i.e., pruritus) is a common clinical sign for numerous pet conditions and can range from mild to severe. To help you understand your pet’s itchy issues—and know when to seek help—the Animal Hospital of Parkland team offers the following guide to itchiness in pets.

The itch they can’t scratch: When you should seek veterinary care

Occasional itchiness is normal for pets, but frequent, intense, or prolonged scratching, biting, or licking can negatively impact your pet’s physical and emotional health. Schedule a veterinary appointment if your pet is experiencing persistent or unresolvable itching or related clinical signs, including:

  • Visible skin redness or irritation
  • Rash, bumps, or lesions
  • Hair loss
  • Unusual odor
  • Scaly or dry skin
  • Unexplained wounds or sores
  • Persistently wet hair on the feet, legs, or abdomen
  • Restlessness
  • Agitation
  • Lethargy 
  • Ear infections

Itch and consequences: Untreated itchiness complications in pets

Incessant scratching, chewing, and licking are more than a nuisance—these actions can cause trauma that leads to secondary challenges and affect your pet’s emotional and physical health and comfort. These include:

  • Flea or mite infestations
  • Bacterial infections
  • Fungal (i.e., yeast) infections
  • Acute moist dermatitis (i.e., hot spots)
  • Lick granulomas
  • Anxiety and compulsive disorders
  • Personality changes (e.g., irritability, self-isolation, depression, lethargy)
  • Digestive issues 

Which itch is which? Common itchiness causes in pets

The internet is filled with itch-relief pet remedies, but much like human anti-itch products, they address only the clinical sign—not its cause—and therefore provide only temporary and superficial relief. Effective pruritus resolution requires your veterinarian’s accurate diagnosis and targeted treatment. The diagnosis may include:

  • Allergies — Pet allergies are immune responses to specific substances (i.e., allergens) in the environment that your pet is exposed to through inhalation, ingestion, or direct skin contact. The most common pet allergens include:
    • Environmental allergens — Pets and people share the same environmental allergens, which include grasses, tree pollen, mold, mildew, and dust. The allergies that affect your pet may be seasonal or year-round.
    • Food allergens — Food allergies are often confused with food sensitivities, which are more common, and do not involve the immune system. The most common allergy-causing ingredients include beef, chicken, eggs, corn, wheat, and soy. Pets with true food allergies suffer from non-seasonal itching and may also experience digestive signs (e.g., loose stool, vomiting, diarrhea, nausea, and gas).
    • Fleas — Flea allergy dermatitis (FAD) is a hypersensitivity to a protein in flea saliva. Affected pets may react to a single flea bite with severe itching and discomfort.
  • Mites — Mange mites (i.e., Sarcoptes scabiei in dogs, Notoedres cati in cats) are highly contagious zoonotic parasites (i.e., they can be transmitted from pets to people). These burrowing mites cause intense itching and inflammation and your pet’s constant, forceful scratching results in scabbing, hair loss, and thickened skin. 
  • Infection — Bacteria and yeast are normal components of your pet’s skin flora, but when your pet’s health or immune system changes, these populations multiply, resulting in discomfort and infection. Yeast (Malasseszia spp.) dermatitis in dogs is a common and particularly itch-inducing condition that often occurs in dark, naturally moist areas, such as the lip folds, ears, axillary area (i.e., armpit), and between the toes. 

If your pet is suffering from a skin infection, your veterinarian will prescribe antibiotic or antifungal treatment and search for an underlying cause. 

  • Anxiety — Behavior-based scratching, licking, or similar over-grooming and nervous behaviors can be triggered by anxiety, stress, or boredom. Affected pets are attempting to relieve nervous energy or achieve a natural calming effect (e.g., repetitive licking stimulates endorphin release), but over time, secondary infections and injuries create genuine irritation, which sparks additional scratching and licking.
  • Inadequate grooming — Dirt, debris, and allergens can accumulate in your pet’s coat and decrease air flow and natural oil distribution, which can lead to irritated dry skin, or a moist, dark, bacterial breeding ground. If your itchy dog is due for a bath or grooming service, a cleansing bath and hydrating conditioner may quell their irritated skin. However, if your naturally fastidious cat or dog appears unkempt and is neglecting their usual grooming duties, an underlying health issue (e.g., pain, illness) may be to blame. 

Calming the itch: Help for your pruritic pet

The Animal Hospital of Parkland team understands that you hate to see your pet suffering from incessant itchiness. Our knowledgeable team can solve your pet’s itchy mystery and ensure they get fast, effective relief by addressing internal and external irritations. Depending on your pet’s underlying cause, their treatment plan may include:

  • Medications, including antihistamines, antibiotics, antiinflammatories, or anti-anxiety medications, and injectable medications that block the itch receptors that prompt your pet to scratch
  • Flea and tick treatment 
  • Topical shampoos, conditioners, and sprays
  • Laser therapy
  • Hypoallergenic diet
  • Environmental management (i.e., identifying and removing stressors)
  • Recommending increased exercise and mental enrichment to reduce anxious behavior

If your pet’s non-stop scratching, chewing, and licking are driving you both to pull out your hair, it’s time to figure out which itch is which—and which is the best treatment. Schedule your pet’s appointment at the Animal Hospital of Parkland—a Cara Family Neighborhood Vet—and let’s scratch that itchy behavior with targeted, effective therapeutic relief.

By |2024-02-14T23:50:36+00:00May 15th, 2023|Uncategorized|0 Comments

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