There are many possible causes of itching:
Fleas – This is the most common cause of itching in pets. One of the first questions we will ask you is if your pet has been treated recently for fleas so we can rule it out as a cause for itchiness. Fleas can be well managed with both topical and oral treatments. Some animals develop allergies to fleas – see the section ‘allergies’ and our handout on FAD
Mites – various types of mites can cause itching. These include sarcoptes (mange mites), chorioptes, demodex and ear mites (otodectes). Mite infestations are diagnosed by taking scrapes of your pets skin and examining them under the microscope.
Treatments include topicals, washes, injections and ear drops – the treatment needed depends on the type of mite!
Worms and Lice– Worms can cause itching around the tail. Worm your pet regularly to eliminate this as a cause of itching. Lice are rare and normally visible to the naked eye.
An overgrowth of bacteria or yeast on the skin surface can be extremely itchy. It is often smelly and there is sometimes discharge from the skin.
If we are suspicious of an overgrowth or infection we can take a tape-strip (an imprint of cells on a piece of tape) of the skin and examine it under the microscope to look for high numbers of bacteria or yeast.
Mild infections can be treated with just shampoos or creams, but often oral antibiotics are needed to get an infection under control. There should be a huge improvement in the level of itchiness once the infection is under control.
Flea Allergic Dermatitis (FAD) – flea allergy is very common. Flea bites cause an excessive reaction to flea saliva resulting in pruritis (itching of the skin). The majority of pets with FAD can be well managed with strict flea control but some animals may need additional medical therapy. Effective flea treatment is vital for these patients.
Food Allergies – food allergies are also fairly common in dogs. They usually present with itching paws and ears. If we are suspicious of this after ruling out parasites and infections the way to diagnose it is by doing an ‘elimination and rechallenge’ diet organised by your vets. It takes a lot of commitment, but if the dietary trial is a success it is possible to cure an itchy pet by diet alone!
Atopic Dermatitis (AD) – these are allergies to harmless substances in the environments such as dust mites and pollens. Animals who develop this have a genetic predisposition. It is normally diagnosed by eliminating all other causes of itchiness. Atopic dermatitis can be managed with steroids, immune-modulatory drugs, and by giving allergen injections to desensitise your pet. All treatments have their pros and cons, which the vets will happily discuss with you if your pet is diagnosed with Atopic Dermatitis.
As an owner you will notice if your pet is scratching more than usual. Itching eventually causes changes to the skin such as:
- Hair loss
- Red skin
- Sores/open wounds
- Discharge from the skin
- Thickened skin
- Grey pigmentation
The longer skin is itchy, the harder changes are to reverse, so a prompt visit to the vets can help avoid lengthy treatment.
Coping with an itchy pet can be a frustrating experience for you. The information above aims to provide you with a basic understanding of what can cause itching and why it is not always quick to diagnose and treat! You can help keep your pets skin healthy by feeding a high quality diet, bathing with a soothing shampoo, such as ‘Aloveen’ and by using regular flea treatment.