Itchy skin in pets is often attributed to an allergy, but many other skin maladies could be to blame. While allergies and itchiness are often treated in similar ways, your pet’s itch won’t resolve completely unless you find the true underlying cause. The Adamson Veterinary Services team members are skilled detectives who can get to the bottom of your pet’s problem. Here are the top four reasons why your pet could be itching, and how our team typically treats these problems.

#1: Flea, food, or environmental allergies in pets

Allergies are the most common reason for itching in pets, who are most often allergic to flea bites or environmental substances, such as pollen, mold, dust mites, or dander. Less commonly, a food protein, such as chicken, beef, egg, soy, or wheat, could be the trigger. Diagnosing allergies requires ruling out other itch causes and seeing how pets respond to allergy treatments, such as flea prevention, a special diet, or anti-allergy medications. The itch from allergies may be seasonal, year-round, or a combination.

#2: Mange and mites in pets

Sarcoptic mange is caused by tiny mites that burrow deep into the skin of pets and people, causing intense itching, scratching, and hair loss. The mites are difficult to find and are contagious to other pets, so our team may decide to presumptively treat for mites and see if your pet’s itchiness responds. Several other skin and ear mite species can also affect pets, although they may or may not cause itching.

#3: Skin infections in pets

Bacteria and fungi live normally on your pet’s skin, but changes in the skin’s environment, from excessive moisture, allergies, endocrine diseases, inflammatory disorders, or decreased immune function, can lead to microbial overgrowth and overt infection. Skin infections typically occur secondary to other problems, and can make resolving the initial problem difficult. Signs include itching, licking, hair loss, skin redness, scabs, scaling, greasiness, bumps, or a foul odor.

#4: Autoimmune disease or skin cancer in pets

Less common reasons for itchy skin include autoimmune diseases, such as pemphigus, or cancers that manifest in the skin and may mimic allergic or infectious diseases, such as cutaneous lymphoma. These rare conditions can be diagnosed from a skin biopsy sample sent to the laboratory for analysis, and after ruling out other, more likely skin conditions. We may refer you to a veterinary dermatologist for specialized treatments if your pet has an uncommon skin condition.

Itchy pet diagnostics

Several tests are required to determine the underlying cause of your pet’s itch. These most commonly include:

  • Physical examination — Physical examination allows our team to identify parasites such as fleas or ticks, characterize your pet’s skin appearance, and ensure your pet is otherwise healthy.
  • Skin cytology — This test uses tape, swabs, or a microscope slide to collect skin cells from your pet’s itchy area, and examine them under the microscope looking for bacteria, fungi, and inflammatory cells.
  • Skin scraping — A dull blade is used to scrape off the top layer of skin cells that are examined under the microscope, looking for mites hiding deep in the skin’s hair follicles or other structures.
  • Fungal culture — A fungal culture collects skin cells and places them in special media to rule out ringworm fungi as a potential itchiness cause.

Itchy pet treatments

Your pet’s itchy skin can be treated using multiple strategies, depending on the underlying cause. Antihistamines are somewhat effective for a few pets with allergic itch, but most will not see enough relief from this strategy. Other treatments may include:

  • Anti-itch or immunomodulator drugs — These drugs, including Atopica, Apoquel, and prednisone reduce skin inflammation and itch from multiple causes.
  • Parasite preventives — Flea and tick preventives applied topically each month can relieve insect bite allergies, and certain products can also treat mites and mange.
  • Medicated shampoos — Once- or twice-weekly baths with a medicated shampoo can treat and prevent skin infections, as well as the primary itch.
  • Oral antibiotics and/or antifungals — These work best for pets with deep or long-standing skin infections that will not respond adequately to medicated shampoos.
  • Allergy immunotherapy — These injections or oral drops work to slowly desensitize pets to their specific environmental allergens, but will not work for food allergies.
  • Special diets — Diets can be beneficial for pets with food allergies.
  • Supplements — Fatty acids may benefit some itchy pets.

The first step toward quelling your pet’s incessant itching and scratching is a visit to Adamson Veterinary Services. Our team will run tests to determine the underlying cause of your pet’s itchiness  and prescribe treatments to relieve your pet’s discomfort. Contact us to schedule a visit, discuss parasite control options, or for more strategies to help your itchy pet find comfort.