Are you scratching your head—or maybe your pet’s head—wondering why your furry pal can’t seem to stop itching?  We’ve all experienced that maddening itching sensation that makes us want to scratch our skin right off. Now imagine how your poor pet must feel as they desperately scratch, bite, and lick at their constantly itchy skin. Many pets experience excessive itchiness for a variety of reasons. To help ensure your four-legged friend gets relief, our Columbia Pike Animal Hospital team describes the four most common pet itchiness causes. 

#1: Flea allergy dermatitis in pets

Flea allergy dermatitis (FAD) occurs when a flea bites a pet, and the dog or cat has an allergic reaction to a specific flea saliva protein. Only one flea bite can result in an allergic reaction, causing an affected pet’s immune system to release histamines and other inflammatory chemicals in the skin, leading to intense itching and discomfort. To help relieve the itching, an affected pet will scratch, bite, lick, chew, and rub excessively, which can result in open abrasions and secondary skin infections. Hair loss also commonly occurs, especially at the tail base. To help your pet get relief from FAD signs, our Columbia Pike Animal Hospital team will do the following: 

  • Diagnosing FAD — We will look closely at your to pet’s fur to detect fleas and flea dirt. In addition, we will examine your pet’s skin for inflammation, redness, or other skin lesions often associated with FAD. Because FAD signs are so discernible, additional intradermal allergy tests and blood tests are rarely needed to confirm a diagnosis. 
  • Treating FAD — To treat FAD, you must first remove all fleas in your pet’s environment by using household and yard repellents and on their body by administering an oral flea medication. Our team can then treat your pet’s secondary skin infections with antibiotics. 

#2: Sarcoptic mange in pets

Sarcoptic mange is caused by microscopic Sarcoptes scabiei mites in dogs and Notoedres cati mites in cats. These pests feed on their host’s skin. Sarcoptic mange is extremely itchy, and signs include excessive scratching, hair loss, and red, scaly skin lesions, typically on the ears, elbows, and abdomen. To help your pet get relief from sarcoptic mange signs, our Columbia Pike Animal Hospital team will do the following: 

  • Diagnosing sarcoptic mange — Mites can be difficult to find. We will perform a skin scraping, which in some cases, can detect mites. Our team may also perform a medication trial to diagnose suspected sarcoptic mange.
  • Treating sarcoptic mange — Treatment involves clipping the pet’s hair, using topical applications to kill the mites, and administering medications to control the itchiness.

#3: Environmental allergies in pets

Similar to you, your pet can have an allergic reaction to environmental allergens such as pollen, mold, and dust. However, unlike you, your pet’s allergies generally don’t affect their respiratory system. Your pet’s allergies affect their skin, causing atopic dermatitis, and they experience skin inflammation and itchiness, leading them to rub, lick, bite, and scratch. When a pet constantly scratches and chews on their itchy spots, they can develop secondary infections when bacteria or yeast come into contact with irritated skin. To help your pet get relief from atopic dermatitis signs, our Columbia Pike Animal Hospital team will do the following:

  • Diagnosing environmental allergies — Our team will make a tentative allergy diagnosis based on your pet’s clinical signs, but a full diagnosis often requires a skin scrape, blood work, and intradermal allergy testing to pinpoint your four-legged friend’s specific allergy triggers. By diagnosing the exact allergens causing your pet’s sensitivity, we can tailor their treatment plan to address their specific needs, rather than simply treating their signs. 
  • Treating environmental allergies — Although allergies cannot be cured, our team can help you manage your pet’s allergic reaction and relieve their constant itching by providing customized therapeutic treatments, which may include: 
    • Oral or injectable antibiotics, antifungals, or topical preparations
    • Limiting your pet’s exposure to known or suspected allergens
    • Hyposensitization (i.e., allergen-specific immunotherapy) for strengthening their immune system

#4: Food allergies in pets

Food allergies can cause your pet to exhibit signs similar to those of environmental allergies, including itching, hair loss, vomiting, diarrhea, appetite loss, and ear infections. If your pet has a food allergy, their immune system is reacting to specific ingredients, primarily proteins such as beef, pork, poultry, or lamb. Your pet may have a food allergy if they start itching after a food change. To help your pet get relief from food allergy signs, our Columbia Pike Animal Hospital team will do the following:

  • Diagnosing food allergies — The only accurate method to diagnose a food allergy is through a food elimination trial, with strict adherence to a prescription hypoallergenic diet for 8 to 12 weeks. Hypoallergenic diets are designed to have completely different ingredients than your pet’s current food.
  • Treating food allergies — Once our team—with your help—identifies the ingredient causing your pet’s allergic reaction, the offending ingredient must be totally removed from your pet’s diet to resolve their signs. 

If your pet’s itchy skin is causing them to scratch excessively, contact our Columbia Pike Animal Hospital team to determine the cause and provide your furry pal relief.