Stopping the Itch: Causes and Treatments for Itching in Pets

You know how uncomfortable a mosquito bite is, especially when the more you scratch it, the more it itches. When your furry pal develops an itch, they can be just as miserable, and they may keep scratching until their skin is raw and bleeding. To help your pet keep their cool in the face of an unbearable itch, our team at Staples Mill Animal Hospital offers tips on common causes of itching in cats and dogs and how to treat it.

What causes itching in pets?

Itchy skin, paws, and ears can be triggered by a multitude of health conditions. Some of the most common reasons for your pet’s itching include:

  • Environmental allergies — Atopic dermatitis, or atopy, is caused by an allergic reaction to something in your pet’s environment. These allergens are often airborne and inhaled, which can lead to whole-body itching, but any substance your pet comes in contact with can cause their immune system to kick into overdrive and mount a hyperactive response. Frequent culprits of environmental allergies in pets include pollens, molds, dust, grasses, shrubs, and dander. Affected pets can develop chronic ear and skin infections, anal gland issues, and hair loss because of environmental allergies.
  • Flea allergies — Flea bite dermatitis is the most common allergy in pets, and it can lead to intense itching even with just a handful of flea bites. When a flea bites an allergic pet, the protein in their saliva causes an inflammatory response that results in an itchy, scabby rash that often pops up on the hind end, particularly over the base of the tail.
  • Food allergies — Food allergies are an easily misunderstood allergy, as many pet owners believe grain allergies are the main culprit behind their pet’s itching. However, most food allergies are caused by protein, so chicken, lamb, and beef are the biggest issues for dogs, while fish is the most common problem for cats. Food allergies typically develop after repeated exposure to a protein, so if your pet is fed the same food for years, they can experience itchy skin and paws, ear infections, and gastrointestinal problems because of a food allergy.
  • Parasites — In addition to fleas, ticks and mites also can cause your pet to itch. Mange mites and ear mites can cause severe itching that leads to skin infections, and certain mites can be passed from pet to pet, or from your pet to you.
  • Hormonal disorders — Hormones play an important role in all bodily processes, and certain imbalances can cause itching and skin problems in pets. Hypothyroidism and Cushing’s disease are two hormonal disorders that can cause hair loss and dry, itchy, scaly skin.
  • Skin diseases — Diseases that affect the skin, like skin cancers and autoimmune conditions, are rare, but they can cause a wide range of skin problems, including itching, sores, and pustules. Skin infections caused by bacteria, yeast, or ringworm also can create an intense urge to scratch.
  • Stress and anxiety — Although stress doesn’t truly cause itchy skin, it can give the appearance that your furry pal is itchy. Stressed, anxious pets often over-groom and lick, chew, and scratch excessively to the point of hair loss and sores.

How is the cause of my pet’s itching diagnosed?

Discovering the true cause of your pet’s itching is critical for effective treatment, but the process can be lengthy and frustrating. Often, there is more than one reason behind your pet’s itching, which complicates the matter. For example, pets with allergies are often allergic to more than one allergen, but knowing exactly what they are allergic to is necessary for reducing their itching.

To determine the cause of your pet’s itching, we may recommend any of the following diagnostic tests:

  • Skin and ear cytology
  • Skin scraping
  • Skin biopsy
  • Hormone level testing
  • Food trial
  • Blood or intradermal allergy testing

How will my pet’s itching be treated?

Once we have diagnosed the cause of your pet’s itching, we can create an effective treatment plan to alleviate their discomfort. Depending on the cause of the itch, your pet may need:

  • Corticosteroids
  • Antihistamines
  • Anti-itch medications
  • Immunotherapy
  • Flea prevention
  • A prescription or novel protein diet
  • Medicated shampoo
  • Ear cleaners and medication
  • Skin supplements
  • Antimicrobials
  • Medication for hormone imbalances
  • Anti-anxiety medication
  • Your pet’s itching can change over time, especially if they have allergies. Typically, a pet’s allergies will worsen with age, so what was once effective at calming their itching may stop being successful at some point. If your pet’s itching becomes unmanageable at home, they may need a change in their treatment plan to keep them comfortable.

    An uncontrollable itch can make your four-legged friend miserable, especially if they are scratching with all four paws—and their teeth! If your furry pal is chewing or scratching themselves raw, help them get relief by scheduling an appointment with our Staples Mill Animal Hospital team.