Why is my pet itchy?

Itching, also known as pruritus, is one of the most common presenting complaints I get from pet owners. They are frustrated listening to the incessant scratching and licking which may keep both them and their pet awake at night, and concerned that their dog or cat is uncomfortable.

Itching is a non-specific sign, meaning that there can be many different causes. However, most cases of itching can be attributed to two broad categories: infections and/or allergies. Often times, both infection and allergies may be contributing to the problem. A pet with allergies is more susceptible to secondary infections. Both are itchy and create a cycle of itching, licking, and infection.

The first step to relieving itchiness in your pet is to identify the cause. Your veterinarian will usually start by asking some relevant questions about your dog or cat, other pets and people in your household. Questions will include detailed information about the type and duration of signs and past and current medications.

Your veterinarian will perform a physical examination of your pet to determine if there are any signs of infection, such as hairloss, redness, pustules, crusts, etc. Infections can be bacterial, fungal (yeast and ringworm), or parasitic (demodex and sarcoptic mange). Diagnostic tests, such as skin cytology, fungal culture, or skin scrape, may be performed. If infection is present, it must be treated in order to determine if it is the primary cause of itching or if it is secondary to allergies or another cause.

Allergies are extremely common and are likely the cause of most cases of itchy dogs. My next posts will discuss allergies and how to treat them.