During the spring, your allergies may flare, and this season can trigger your pet’s allergies as well. While your allergies affect your respiratory tract, your pet’s allergic response manifests as a skin condition, causing them to itch, scratch, and chew. However, allergies aren’t the only reasons pets itch. Our All Creatures Animal Hospital team explains how to recognize all possible causes for your pet’s itchiness and about the treatments available to manage your furry pal’s skin condition.
Causes of itchiness in dogs and cats
Dogs and cats become itchy for multiple reasons and can develop various dermatologic conditions, with some reasons being more common than others. Dogs’ and cats’ itchiness commonly occurs because of the following causes:
- Flea allergies — Flea infestations are typically only mildly irritating to pets who may feel the fleas moving around their fur. However, pets with flea bite allergies can develop intense itching and hair loss after experiencing only one or two bites.
- Environmental allergies — Environmental allergies often include pollens, molds, other pets, and insects. Allergies cause an inflammatory skin response that leads to itching, redness, secondary skin and ear infections, hair loss, and chronic skin thickening or dark pigmentmentation.
- Food allergies — Food allergies are uncommon in dogs and cats. However, they can cause signs similar to those of environmental allergies.
- Skin infections — Bacterial and yeast overgrowth on the skin can occur alone but usually develops secondary to another skin or immune system problem.
- Ringworm — Ringworm is a contagious fungal infection that pets can pick up from other pets, humans, or the environment.
- Mites — Ear mites and certain mange mites can cause intense itching.
Causes of itchiness in rabbits and pocket pets
Dogs and cats are not the only pets that develop itchy skin conditions. Rabbits and other small mammals often experience itchiness in response to the following:
- Fleas — Rabbits commonly attract fleas, especially bunnies who live outdoors or with other pets.
- Mites — Each type of small pet attracts skin and fur mite species that specifically target them. Mites cause extreme itchiness in all hosts. Rabbits can also contract ear mites.
- Staph infections — Rabbits and rodents may develop bacterial skin infections secondary to scratching and self-trauma when they host parasites. Sometimes these pets develop staph infections because of overcrowding or unhygienic cages.
- Ringworm — Similar to cats and dogs, rabbits are also susceptible to ringworm fungal infections.
Itchy pet diagnosis
If your pet is itchy, our All Creatures Animal Hospital team will perform a few tests to determine the cause of your four-legged friend’s condition. By performing skin scraping and cytology, we can look at your pet’s hair and cells under a microscope to identify parasites, bacteria, and yeast, and determine your furry pal’s treatment. Bacterial and fungal cultures help identify infections and determine how best to treat your pet. Pets with recurrent skin infections may have allergies, and our team can perform blood tests to check for underlying diseases suppressing your four-legged friend’s immune system.
When tests rule out other causes, we typically suspect your pet has allergies. However, keep in mind that allergy diagnosis is a long-term process during which we must find each pet’s triggers. We begin by observing your pet’s itchiness patterns and seasonal changes. To confirm your pet’s allergy diagnosis, our team will perform tests such as:
- Treatment trials — Observing a positive response to allergy-specific treatments can confirm a presumed allergy diagnosis.
- Food trials — Feeding a prescription hypoallergenic diet for two to three months can confirm a food allergy diagnosis. Once we have verified your pet has a food allergy, you can add individual ingredients to their diet to determine which foods are causing your furry pal’s issues.
- Blood or skin allergy testing — Blood or skin allergy tests are the only way to effectively determine your pet’s environmental triggers. Once our team has identified your pet’s sensitivities, we can focus on treatment strategies.
Itchy pet treatments
An itchy pet’s treatments depend on the underlying cause for their condition. Possible treatments include:
- Parasiticides — These injectable or oral drugs can eliminate parasite infestations.
- Parasite preventives — Topical preventive medications can prevent future parasite infestations.
- Anti-itch or anti-inflammatory medications — Drugs that target itch, inflammation, and the immune system can relieve irritation from allergies or other causes.
- Antimicrobials — Oral antibiotics or antifungals eliminate skin infections
- Medicated shampoos — Medicated shampoos can reduce the need for oral medications, prevent or control bacterial or yeast overgrowth, and relieve a pet’s itch.
- Topical medications — Sprays, gels, mousses, and creams provide itch relief between baths.
Itchy pet prevention
A veterinarian-approved, safe topical parasite prevention product is the best way to keep most pets itch-free. Preventing itch in pets with allergies or chronic skin infections requires long-term management and targeted treatments during their peak itch seasons. These conditions often require many attempts to find the most effective strategies for helping your pet. If your pet has a severe skin condition, your primary veterinarian will refer you to a veterinary dermatologist for additional treatments.
Itchy skin conditions are common in dogs, cats, and other small pets, but our All Creatures Animal Hospital team can provide expert diagnosis and treatment to ensure your pet gets the relief they deserve. Schedule your pet’s appointment if they have a skin issue, or need a parasite check or their annual wellness examination.
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