Causes of Itching and Scratching in Pets

Perhaps your pet normally has a thick and beautiful coat of fur. Then, one day you notice a bare spot of skin or a red and inflamed area on their leg. To make things worse, your pet is insistent on biting, chewing and licking it. What is going on? It is likely just a skin condition. However the cause of it could be something deeper. One of the leading causes of visits to the veterinarian are skin conditions. No matter what type of dog or cat you have, none are immune to having skin-related problems.

Receiving a Diagnosis

There are hundreds of reasons why your pet may be itching or scratching. If you notice that your pet is biting, licking or scratching his skin more than he normally does, it is time for a visit to the vet. Because many skin diseases have similar signs, your vet may need to conduct some laboratory work such as skin scrapings and blood tests. Here are some of the most common causes of itching and scratching.

Allergy Season

When it comes to itching, most pet owners think that the problem is always fleas. However, another common cause of itching in pets is them inhaling allergic substances. Certain allergens that may commonly cause a problem include grasses, weeds, pollen, dust mites, molds and certain trees. While humans are prone to developing respiratory problems from allergens, pets most often develop skin problems instead. Signs of allergy-related issues include:

  • Skin that is itchy or inflamed all over or just in one area
  • Dark stains from saliva on the coat caused by excessive licking
  • Infections in the ears
  • Wheezing, coughing or sneezing

Although allergens may not bother many pets, others may itch at certain times of the year. This can happen from spring to fall, or can be all year long. If a pet has allergies, they aren’t likely to disappear as they get older. In fact, the allergies may get worse as the pet ages. Should your veterinarian determine that seasonal allergies are the cause of your pet’s itching, they may prescribe antihistamines, steroids, allergy shots or other medications.

Food Allergies

After your pet eats a particular food over a period of time, he or she may develop an allergy to something in the food. Common food allergy culprits include beef, pork, chicken, corn and wheat. Along with excessive itching, digestive issues may accompany. Your veterinarian may put your pet on a special diet that includes forms of protein your pet has never eaten before. After a few months and the allergy has gone away, ingredients can be brought back into the diet gradually until the allergic ingredient is discovered.

Other Causes

Contact allergies are another reason your pet may be itching and scratching. Common items such as blankets, carpet, plastic food containers, furniture stuffing or bedding materials could be causing the problem. Identifying what item is causing the issue may be a bit difficult, but after the offending item is removed, healing can begin. To help the healing process along, your vet can give your pet a prescription.

Certain hormonal diseases and bacterial skin infections can also cause itching problems. For example, Cushing’s disease in dogs causes hair loss and a thinning of the skin.

Hot Spots

Also known as pyotraumatic dermatitis, hot spots are a troublesome condition. It starts with an itch, follows with nonstop licking, scratching and chewing. This will continue even after the hair is gone and it is replaced by a red, raw oozing sore. These sores can show up anywhere on the body, including the neck, face, lower back, thighs and legs.

Helping Out Your Pet

Other than medication, there are several things you can do to make your pet feel better in the meantime.

  • Bathing your pet frequently may help the itching. Ideally, you should use an oatmeal shampoo that is formulated for pets. Make sure to rinse your pet thoroughly to remove all soap residue. It is best to just towel-dry your pet as using a hairdryer may irritate the skin worse. Your veterinarian may recommend a prescription shampoo that needs to be left on the skin for a bit.
  • Certain supplements such as essential fatty acids may help out. Some pet foods already contain them. This is why before you supplement them in your pet’s diet you should be sure they aren’t already getting them. Your veterinarian’s office is where you will find them.
  • Antibiotics may be necessary if a secondary bacterial infection is present. If an insect bite is the cause of the itching, an antihistamine may help for a little while. To prevent bug bites, there are products available that are specifically designed for pets.

When it comes to making your pet’s itching better, having patience and persistence will help. By working with your veterinarian, you will find ways to make life better for your beloved companion.