Why is My Pet Constantly Itching? » Vetsavers Pet Hospital

Why is My Pet Constantly Itching?

dog itching

Why is My Pet Constantly Itching?

An itch, also known as pruritus, is a sensation caused from the irritation of skin cells or nerve cells in the skin. Pets itch for a variety of reasons. The annoying sensation can be caused by:

1. Fleas
2. Skin Mites
3. Environmental allergies (Atopy)
4. Food allergies

Flea Allergies

Because we live in a temperate climate, fleas can infect our pets almost all year long. Unless we have a hard freeze for several days, fleas are prevalent in the environment just waiting to jump on your pet. Fleas, once on your pet can bite up to 400 times per day. In just 21 days, one pair of fleas can multiply to about 1000 fleas on your pet. Flea bites cause itching, not from the bite itself, but from the flea saliva. Your pet may be allergic to the flea saliva which causes your pet to scratch. When your pet continues to scratch, they will eventually break the skin and cause inflammation. Once the skin is inflamed and compromised, it is susceptible to bacterial and yeast infections. Once the skin is infected, it causes more discomfort and itching and the cycle continues.

If you have an itchy pet, check for fleas. Run your fingers against the grain of your pet’s fur and look for a tiny black insect that moves very fast. Fleas usually hang out on the hip area near the tail, on the belly or around the neck of your pet. Also, you can look for flea excrements which look like black pepper flakes.

It is important to provide excellent flea prevention if you have an itchy pet. Fortunately, there are many very effective flea prevention options that your veterinarian may prescribe. Usually, OTC flea prevention that you purchase at the store does not work as well as prescription flea prevention. Don’t waste good money on flea prevention that does not work well. Eradicate the fleas quickly and effectively by contacting your veterinarian.

Skin Mites

Another cause of itching is skin mites. Mites can affect both dogs and cats and can cause varying levels of itching, secondary inflammation and skin infection. Some mites are contagious such as Sarcoptic Scabiei (Scabies) while other mites such as Demodex are not contagious. Demodex mites usually affect young dogs or dogs who have nutritional or environmental stressors or a compromised immune system. Your veterinarian may start with a skin scraping to look for mites if he or she suspects a mite infection. Mite infections can be successfully resolved with appropriate treatment by your veterinarian.
Environmental allergies (Atopy)

Your pet can have allergies just like you. Your pet can be allergic to grasses, pollen, plants, insects, dust mites, mold, perfumes, dyes or chemicals. These allergens can cause your pet to excessively scratch, rub, and some pets can have watery eyes or sneezing. Constant scratching, licking and chewing will lead to a skin condition called atopic dermatitis. This is an inflammatory chronic skin disease associated with allergies. Although atopic dermatitis is more commonly seen in dogs, cats can also develop this skin disease. Often, atopic dermatitis symptoms become worse over time, and may become more severe during certain seasons.

Your veterinarian will complete a medical history to determine the underlying cause of the skin allergies, and a thorough physical examination of your pet. If your veterinarian suspects that your pet has atopy, he or she may offer a referral to the dermatologist for intradermal allergy testing where a small amount of test allergens are injected in the skin and a wheal (a bump) response is measured. Based on this test, an allergy serum is made so over time, your pet can become less allergic to the allergens. Intradermal allergy testing may not be an option for some pets due to the expense. If a pet owner chooses not to do intradermal allergy testing, then your veterinarian may offer a variety of treatments to control the allergy symptoms.

If there is active skin infection, your veterinarian may prescribe antibiotics or antifungal medication. To control inflammation and itching, corticosteroids or immune modulating medication may be prescribed to lessen the symptoms of allergies. An appropriate shampoo may be prescribed to remove surface allergens from the body. It is important to understand that allergy symptoms can be controlled, but usually cannot be cured.

Food Allergens

Symptoms of food allergies can mimic atopic dermatitis. Pets who are allergic to food can have non-seasonal itchy skin, skin infections and recurrent ear infections. Food allergies can affect any breed and any age of animal. Some pets have a higher incidence of food allergies than others.
If your veterinarian suspects food allergies, he or she may recommend a food trial with a prescription hypoallergenic novel protein diet or hydrolyzed diet. During this food trial, your pet cannot be given anything other than the food prescribed for your pet. At the end of the food trial, your pet is challenged with the old diet and if an adverse food reaction occurs, then food allergy is diagnosed.

Put yourself in your pet’s shoes. If you have a persistent itch or rash, it is very uncomfortable and upsetting. An itch can be very annoying and sometimes keep you up at night. If your pet is scratching, they too feel the same discomfort as you do. Don’t let your pet suffer. Contact your veterinarian to find a solution and relief for your pet’s itch.