Your pet’s frequent head-shaking, scratching, rubbing, chewing, and licking likely wears on your nerves, but also means your pet probably is miserable. Itchiness can be caused by several underlying conditions that must first be identified and treated to alleviate any discomfort. Pruritus (i.e., the medical term for itching) can range in severity and is one of the most common reasons pet owners bring their pet to the veterinarian. Our Heritage Veterinary Clinic team explains how to identify and treat what’s itching your itchy twitchy pet. 

Signs your pet is itchy

While scratching is the itch-relief method of choice for people, pets use extra creative methods to find relief. An itchy pet does more than scratch their body with their paws, such as:

  • Licking an area excessively
  • Chewing or biting the skin
  • Rubbing against the carpet, wall, or floor 
  • Scooting their hind end on the floor
  • Head shaking 

While pets normally will scratch occasionally, their other itch-relieving behaviors likely signal a problem. Also, pets can damage their skin with their constant scratching, rubbing, or licking, which may lead to hair loss, saliva-stained fur, oozing, dry, and inflamed skin (i.e., hot spots), and secondary infections. Determining the cause of your pet’s itch is essential for providing relief and protecting their health. 

Most common causes of itchiness in pets

  1. Flea allergy dermatitis (FAD) — Flea allergy dermatitis (FAD) results from an allergic reaction to flea saliva. When fleas bite your pet, they inject their saliva into the skin, and a protein in the saliva triggers an allergic reaction that causes skin irritation, itching, redness, and hair loss in some pets. Affected pets can also develop scabs, crusts, and hot spots on their skin, particularly around the tail base, neck, and back legs. To diagnose your pet with FAD, our team uses a fine-toothed comb, called a flea comb, to assess your pet’s coat. We may recommend treating your pet for fleas to see if this resolves the problem.
  2. Environmental allergies — Environmental allergies (i.e., atopy or allergic dermatitis) occur when a pet reacts to an allergen in their environment, such as pollen, dust mites, or mold spores. Environmental allergy signs in pets include itching, scratching, licking, and chewing at the skin, which can lead to hair loss, scabs, and infections, and sometimes chronic ear infections. If we suspect atopic dermatitis, our team may recommend allergy testing, which can include blood work or intradermal skin testing, to determine the allergens causing your pet’s reaction. 
  3. Food allergies — Food allergies are less common than environmental allergies and are typically caused by a protein—not a grain, which is a common misconception. Pets with food allergies are usually allergic to chicken, lamb, beef, eggs, or dairy and show signs that include itching, scratching, vomiting, diarrhea, and gastrointestinal (GI) upset. To determine the ingredient affecting your pet, we may suggest a hypoallergenic diet trial.
  4. Sarcoptic mange — Sarcoptic mange (i.e., scabies) is a highly contagious skin disease caused by the Sarcoptes scabiei mite that burrows beneath the skin to feed. Sarcoptic mange causes intense itching, especially on the ears, elbows, and belly, as well as hair loss, and skin scabs or crusts. Affected pets may also develop secondary bacterial infections from scratching. To diagnose your pet, we may perform a skin scraping or biopsy to identify the mites or their eggs.
  5. Skin infections — Multiple bacteria species and yeast live on the skin without causing discomfort or disease, but when your itchy pet scratches open their skin, bacteria, yeast, and fungal organisms can enter the skin and cause infection and exacerbate the existing itchiness. Infections can occur in a single area, such as in the ears, between the toes, or on the underside of the feet, in multiple areas, or across the entire body. We must first diagnose what is causing the infection, which usually involves a physical exam and diagnostic tests, such as skin scrapings, bacterial or fungal cultures, or biopsies, before we can prescribe the appropriate treatment.

If your pet is itchy or you notice concerning skin changes, our team can identify the cause and determine the appropriate treatment to soothe your pet’s discomfort. Contact our team at Heritage Veterinary Clinic to schedule an appointment. We want to help your itchy twitchy pet.