If your pet has become a walking ball of fur and itchiness, they could have a skin problem. However, identifying the cause of your pet’s itchiness can be challenging, as possible culprits abound. Excessive scratching, biting, licking, and chewing can indicate your pet has underlying health issues, so read our Town & Country Animal Hospital team’s guide to identifying the cause of your pet’s itchiness and helping relieve their misery.
#1: Check your pet for fleas
External parasites, such as fleas, commonly affect pets and can cause severe itchiness and other health problems. Thoroughly checking your pet’s fur for these hitchhiking pests can help you determine if parasites are the cause of your furry pal’s incessant itching. When a flea feeds on your pet, they inject a small amount of saliva into their skin. Pets with flea allergy dermatitis (FAD) are allergic to a protein in flea saliva, which causes extreme itchiness. One flea bite is enough to cause a reaction, and your pet’s excessive scratching can cause sores and scabs. Fleas can also carry tapeworm larvae, which can cause infection if your pet ingests fleas while grooming or biting their itchy skin.
Adult fleas are small and reddish-brown, and you may spot them moving quickly through your pet’s fur. While the fleas may no longer be on your pet’s skin—because your furry pal’s constant licking, scratching, and biting often cause the fleas to jump off—you will likely find flea dirt, a black, granular substance that resembles pepper flakes. Flea dirt is flea feces, which you may spot on your pet’s skin or in their bedding. If FAD is suspected, your veterinarian will examine your pet’s skin for fleas or flea dirt and may recommend additional intradermal or blood allergy testing. During the treatment period, all fleas must be removed from your pet and their environment, to prevent future flares. Year-round flea prevention is the best way to protect your pet from FAD.
#2: Check your pet for mites
Mites are another tiny parasite that can cause your pet skin irritation and itchiness. Two skin mites—Demodex and Sarcoptes—can cause hair loss, crusting, and itchiness in pets. Ear mites are another common mite type that affect pets. To check for ear mites, gently lift your pet’s ear flap and look inside for dark, waxy debris or redness. If you suspect your pet has mites, your veterinarian can perform a skin scrape or other diagnostic screenings to confirm the pests’ presence and recommend a treatment plan based on the mite type and the infestation severity.
#3: Determine if your pet has allergies
An allergy develops when your pet’s immune system is overly sensitive and responds inappropriately to a substance (i.e., allergen) in their environment. While humans with allergies typically experience sneezing, runny nose, and itchy eyes, allergic pets exhibit different signs, which may include:
- Itchy, red skin
- Chronic skin infections
- Chronic ear infections
- Hair loss
Pets can be allergic to a variety of environmental substances, outside and inside your home, including pollen, dust, and mold. Depending on the allergen, your pet may experience seasonal or year-round signs. If your pet is allergic to pollen, their signs will likely be seasonal, with them becoming extremely itchy when pollen levels are highest, and remaining symptom-free or exhibiting only mild itchiness during the rest of the year. However, If your pet is allergic to allergens inside your home, such as dust or mold, they will likely have year-round problems that may worsen during the winter, when they spend more time inside.
Pinpointing the exact cause of your pet’s allergies can be difficult because most allergic pets are sensitive to multiple environmental substances. To diagnose your pet, our veterinary team may recommend a blood screening or intradermal testing, which involves injecting allergens under your four-legged friend’s skin to determine which substances in their environment are causing their allergies. Although allergies cannot be cured, your veterinarian can help you manage your pet’s reaction to their allergens and relieve their constant itching by prescribing medication and allergen-specific immunotherapy. In addition, to help keep your pet comfortable, limit their exposure to known or suspected allergens.
When your veterinarian has identified the underlying cause of your pet’s itchiness, you can help ensure your pet gets the relief they deserve. If you’ve got an itchy pet, contact our Town & Country Animal Hospital team.