If your furry family member is scratching and biting at himself excessively, it is important to determine the cause of his misery sooner than later. A persistent state of itchiness is a source of discomfort for your dog or cat, and his constant attempts to relieve the itch can lead to further complications.
Flea infestations are the most common cause of itching and scratching in dogs and cats. Imagine what it must be like to have dozens of tiny insects crawling all over your skin. Similarly, other parasites can prompt your pet into scratching mode, including the following:
- Ear mites
- Demodectic mange mites
- Sarcoptic mange mites
Finding and identifying parasites on your pet is accomplished through visual inspection of the skin and coat or by microscopic examinations of samples collected through skin scrapings or ear swabs.
Allergies account for the second most common cause of itching and scratching in pets. Allergens can affect your dog or cat through direct surface contact, inhalation or ingestion. An allergy results when the body launches an immune response to the protein components of the invading allergens. The top allergies that are diagonsed in pets include the following:
- Inhalant allergies, also known as atopy
- Flea bite allergies
- Food allergies
When humans are afflicted with allergies, their symptoms commonly include runny noses, watery eyes, sneezing and wheezing. Dogs and cats differ in that their typical allergy symptoms manifest as itchy or inflamed skin, itchy or inflamed ears and hives.
Inhalant atopy, which also goes by the terms atopic dermatitis and environmental allergy, is the most frequently diagnosed allergy in pets. Inhalant atopy is triggered by allergens in the environment, such as mold, pollen and insect proteins. Allergic reactions to these cuprits result through direct contact and through inhaling the particles in the air. Pets that suffer from inhalant atopy may exhibit symptoms on a seasonal basis with the cyclical presence of the offending allergen. Some allergens in the home, such as carpet fibers or cleaning products, can cause reactions throughout the year. To offer the most accurate determination of which allergen in affecting your pet, your veterinarian may refer you to a board-certified veterinary dermatologist for an intradermal allergy test.
Was It Something He Ate?
Food allergies are the third most frequently diagnosed allergies in pets. The allergy is usually set off by a protein ingredient in the food, but certain carbohydrate ingredients can also cause allergy symptoms. If your veterinarian suspects a food allergy, he or she may recommend feeding your pet a novel protein diet to conduct an elimination feeding trial. Once your dog or cat has eaten exclusively this food for a determined duration, a diagnosis can be made based on whether or not the allergy symptoms have abated.
Other Potential Causes of Itching
There are a number of other reasons why your dog or cat is scratching. Some of these causes include the following:
- Bacterial skin infection, or pyoderma
- Fungal infection, such as ringworm
- Yeast infection, or malassezia
- Dry skin
- Endocrine imbalances, such as hypothyroidism and hyperadrenocorticism
The treatment for your pet's itchy skin depends on the cause. If left untreated, your pet may inflict open wounds on himself when scratching, resulting in a secondary problem. Do not let your pet's itch snowball into something more serious. If you observe any persistent licking, chewing, scratching or biting, have your pet evaluated by a walk-in vet.