Stop Scratching! 5 Reasons Why Your Pet is Itchy

Is your pet’s constant irritation that causes non-stop itchiness and scratching making them feel miserable and you feel helpless? Excessive itching (i.e., pruritus) is one of the most common reasons why owners bring their pets to the veterinarian. This unrelenting problem can interrupt daily life and cause a cascade of unpleasant side effects, including secondary infections, sleepless nights, and personality changes.

Don’t let nonstop scratching put a “paws” on your pet-owner relationship. Schedule an appointment at Mercer Street Veterinary Hospital to get help for you both. In the meantime, here are five common causes for itchiness in pets.

#1: Environmental allergies and pets

Pets can be extra-sensitive to specific environmental substances, which causes an immune system overreaction to harmless allergens, such as pollens, grasses, mold, dust, and mildew. The body mounts a dramatic defense to these ordinary particles, which should be dismissed as benign (i.e., non-threatening), and releases irritating histamine. Unlike humans, pets are more likely to experience allergic reactions through their skin than the upper respiratory tract, although sneezing and watery eyes can still plague some pets. 

In addition to generalized pruritus, environmental allergies can provoke other signs and behaviors, including:

  • Paw licking and irritation
  • Skin rash, irritation, or infection
  • Recurring ear infections
  • Inflamed or impacted anal glands
  • Lethargy
  • Self-trauma (e.g., wounds, sores, hair loss) from biting and chewing

Accurately diagnosing seasonal allergies requires specialized testing by a veterinary dermatologist. However, many pets can be successfully managed with combination therapies, which include anti-itch and anti-inflammatory medication, exposure reduction (i.e., removing allergens by bathing or wiping the coat), and topical treatments. Environmental allergies generally appear early in life, between 1 to 3 years of age.

#2: Fleas and flea allergy dermatitis (FAD) and pets

Fleas are tiny parasites that spell big trouble for pets and people. These small, flat, wingless pests survive by biting and feeding on warm-blooded hosts. Fleas reproduce rapidly inside your home, laying as many as 40 to 50 eggs per day, and spawning a new adult population in weeks.

A flea bite can not only leave your pet with severe irritation, but can also transmit harmful diseases and tapeworms. For some pets, a single flea bite can trigger a severely uncomfortable allergic reaction, known as flea allergy dermatitis (FAD), that causes intense and uncontrollable itching, usually around the tail base, and hair loss.

A veterinarian-prescribed flea prevention protocol is the best protection against flea infestation and FAD. If your pet isn’t receiving year-round parasite preventives, contact our team.

#3: Mites and pets

Mange mites may be invisible to the naked eye, but they cause undeniable damage to your pet’s skin. Scabies mites (i.e., Sarcoptes scabiei spp. in dogs and Notoedres cati in cats) are highly contagious among dogs and cats and also zoonotic—meaning they can be transmitted to humans. Scabies mites burrow into your pet’s upper layers of skin, sparking severe irritation and discomfort. Mange occurs primarily around the face, ears, and neck, although mite populations can migrate to the legs and abdomen. Classic mange signs include intense itching, significant scabbing, crusty lesions, hair loss, and thickened skin.

Most veterinary-recommended parasite preventives are effective against contagious mites. If your itching pet also has significant scabbing and hair loss, isolate them from other household pets and contact Mercer Street Veterinary Hospital.

#4: Food allergies and pets

Unlike food sensitivities or intolerance, true food allergies involve an immune system response and are most uncommon. Food allergy onset can occur at any time during a pet’s life, and signs are present year-round. Many pets suddenly react to a food they’ve eaten for years, or their entire life. As with environmental allergies, food-allergic pets experience dermatological issues that include generalized itching and recurring skin infections, and they may also experience gastrointestinal (GI) signs, such as vomiting, diarrhea, nausea, and loose or numerous stools. Because a food allergy can disrupt nutrient absorption, pets may lose weight.

Food allergy diagnosis and treatment involves placing the pet on a limited ingredient or hypoallergenic diet for approximately eight weeks. Your pet’s improvement confirms an allergy diagnosis, and your veterinarian may begin gradually reintroducing foods to identify the specific allergen.

#5: Anxiety and pets

Not all scratching behavior stems from physical discomfort. Anxious, stressed, or nervous pets may adopt compulsive or self-soothing behaviors, such as scratching, chewing, and licking, to comfort or calm themselves. Unfortunately, these repetitive behaviors perpetuate real irritation and injury, including secondary skin infections and painful lick granulomas.

To ensure they diagnose anxiety-related itching accurately, your pet’s veterinarian will rule out the most common medical causes before they recommend behavior-based treatments. 

Little itch, big consequences: Pruritus complications for pets

Itchy pets can’t simply shake off their discomfort—they need veterinary care. Untreated pruritus can create a cascade of other painful and uncomfortable health problems, because as pets frantically try to soothe their unrelenting itch, their claws and teeth can damage the skin barrier and lead to worsening issues, such as:

  • Bacterial infections
  • Fungal infections
  • Wounds
  • Inflammation
  • Hair loss
  • Lick granuloma
  • Moist dermatitis (i.e., hot spots)
  • Compulsive behavior

Not all complications are skin-deep, however. Persistent food allergies can lead to chronic weight loss, malnutrition, GI signs, and lethargy. Unmanaged stress and anxiety can spiral into generalized anxiety disorder and lead to destructive or dangerous behaviors.

If your pet has an itch they can’t scratch—or can’t stop scratching—help them achieve long-lasting relief. Schedule an appointment at Mercer Street Veterinary Hospital.

By |2023-05-20T18:18:45+00:00May 7th, 2023|Uncategorized|0 Comments

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