If your pet is scratching constantly, they need veterinary care. Many conditions can lead to a pet’s itchy skin, and if left untreated, excessive scratching can result in painful abrasions and skin infections. Our Companion Care Animal Clinic team answers your frequently asked questions (FAQs) about itchy pets. 

Question: What causes itchiness in pets?

Answer: Numerous conditions can cause a pet’s itchiness. Common culprits include:

  • Flea allergy dermatitis (FAD) — FAD is the most common cause of itchiness in pets. Affected pets are allergic to flea saliva, and one flea bite can cause a severe itchy reaction. 
  • Environmental allergies — Environmental allergies (i.e., atopy) are caused by allergens such as dust mites, mold spores, and tree and grass pollen. A pet with atopy has a defective skin barrier that allows allergens to penetrate, leading to inflammation and itchiness.
  • Food allergies — A food allergy can also cause your pet’s itchy skin. An affected pet is typically allergic to proteins in their food, most commonly chicken, beef, eggs, and dairy. Gastrointestinal (GI) signs, such as excessive gas, vomiting, and diarrhea, may also be present.
  • Skin infections — Bacteria and yeast can cause a pet to develop a skin infection that results in itchiness. Skin infections commonly occur secondary to allergic conditions and can hinder diagnosis and treatment.

Q: How can I determine my pet’s itchiness cause?

A: Conditions that cause itchy skin often manifest similarly. However, some indications help our Companion Care Animal Clinic team determine your pet’s underlying problem:

  • Lesion location — In some cases, the parts of your pet’s body affected by itchiness and skin lesions can help us determine the cause. Examples include:
    • Pets affected by FAD commonly have hair loss and skin lesions on their abdomen, inner thighs, and lower back.
    • Pets affected by atopy commonly have hair loss and skin lesions on their face, armpits, groin, feet, and under their tail.
    • Dogs affected by food allergies commonly have hair loss and skin lesions on their face, feet, and around their anus. Cats affected by food allergies have lesions on their head and neck.
  • Seasonality — If your pet’s itchiness only occurs during certain times of the year, they likely have atopy.
  • Gastrointestinal (GI) signs — If your pet has GI signs that started about the same time as their itchiness, a food allergy may be to blame.
  • Flea dirt — If you find fleas or flea dirt (i.e., flea excrement) on your pet or in their bedding, they likely have FAD.
  • Age of onset — In some cases, your pet’s age at which their signs began can help our team determine their skin condition’s cause. Depending on your pet’s age, they may have developed the following:
    • Atopy typically starts when pets are young, between the ages of 1 and 3 years.
    • Food allergies typically start when pets are younger than 6 months or older than 6 years.

Our team considers these factors and also performs extensive diagnostics, including blood work, skin scrapings, cultures, and skin biopsies. These screenings help us determine your pet’s itchiness cause.

Q: Can allergy testing determine my pet’s itchiness cause?

A: No. Allergy testing is performed after your pet has been diagnosed with atopy. These tests help determine the environmental allergens that are causing your pet’s reaction, and your veterinarian uses the allergens to treat your four-legged friend’s condition through hyposensitization therapy.

Q: Should my itchy pet get allergy shots?

A: Allergy shots (i.e., hyposensitization therapy) are an effective treatment for atopic pets. The information from allergy testing is used to make a solution that is injected under your pet’s skin or administered under their tongue. These injections deliver gradually increasing doses of the problematic allergens to desensitize your pet. Effects typically take about 6 to 12 months, but most pets experience significant improvement.

Q: Should I switch my pet to a grain-free diet to alleviate their itchiness?

A: No. FAD and atopy commonly cause a pet’s itchiness. A pet with a food allergy typically reacts to a protein. The only way to diagnose a food allergy is through a strict six- to eight-week hypoallergenic or hydrolyzed diet trial. In addition, grain-free diets have been linked to dilated cardiomyopathy.

Q: What are other treatment strategies for itchy pets?

A: Effective treatment for your pet’s itchy skin usually requires a multimodal approach. Strategies include:

  • Bathing — Bathing helps remove allergens from your pet’s skin. Most itchy pets should be bathed about once a week. Between baths, wipe your pet’s coat with a wet cloth.
  • Year-round flea control — Pets affected by FAD require year-round flea control. Because many pets affected by other itchy skin conditions also have FAD, these pets should also receive year-round flea prevention.
  • Steroids — Steroids are commonly used to help alleviate itchiness, especially during the initial, acute stages. 
  • Anti-itch medications — Nonsteroidal medications are also available to help alleviate your pet’s itchiness.
  • Antimicrobials — If your pet has a secondary skin infection, our team prescribes an appropriate antimicrobial to help clear the infection.
  • Omega-3 fatty acid supplements — Omega-3 fatty acid supplements promote skin health and reduce inflammation. 

Put a stop to your pet’s constant scratching by contacting our Companion Care Animal Clinic team. We will perform the necessary diagnostics to determine the cause of your pet’s itchiness and devise an effective anti-itch strategy.