Is your pet constantly scratching, licking, and rolling around on their back? Occasional scratching is normal, but if the signs become excessive, your pet may have allergic dermatitis (i.e., skin allergies) or other skin maladies that require veterinary treatment. Our Bayview Animal Hospital team shares three common reasons your pet may have itchy skin.

#1: Your pet may have allergies

Humans aren’t the only ones who suffer from allergies—pets develop these conditions too. When a pet has an allergic response to a substance, their body’s mast cells release histamine—an itch-inducing molecule that results in skin irritation and the classic allergic reaction response (e.g., redness, swelling, inflammation). Most allergies belong to one of the following three categories:

  • Environmental allergy — Most environmental allergens are naturally occurring substances, such as pollens, grasses, weeds, molds, and dust, which pets inhale. Many environmental allergens are seasonal, typically appearing in the spring and summer, but resolving during the fall and winter. Other environmental allergens persist year-round. Most pets who have environmental allergies (i.e., atopy) begin to show signs between 6 months and 2 years of age. 
  • Food allergy — Pets can become sensitized to their food’s specific ingredients, especially after eating the same diet for months or years. In general, pets are more sensitive to proteins—not grains—but any carbohydrate can be an allergen. The most common pet food allergens include chicken, beef, lamb, soy, and wheat. Cats may also react to fish. Unlike environmental allergies, a pet’s food allergies can begin at any age.
  • Flea allergy — Flea allergy dermatitis (FAD) is a pet’s severe allergic response to a specific protein in flea saliva. If your pet has FAD, a single flea bite can cause intense irritation and inflammation. Pets with FAD typically display hair loss around their tail base.

#2: Your pet may have mites

Parasitic mites can cause intense itching, often accompanied by hair loss and secondary skin infections. A pet can be infested with these common mite types:

  • Ear mites —  A common cause of ear disease and infection, these mites live in a pet’s ear canal. Ear mites irritate your pet’s ears, causing them to scratch at their ears and shake their head. Your pet may also have a dark, waxy discharge and a crusted rash around or inside their ear. 
  • Demodectic mites — Demodectic mites live in a pet’s hair follicles and cause no harm if your pet’s immune system is functioning properly. If a pet’s immune system is immature or weakened, the mite infestation will increase, causing hair loss that typically starts on an infected pet’s face, especially around the eyes.
  • Sarcoptic mites — Sarcoptic mites burrow beneath a pet’s skin, causing intense itching. Hair loss is common, typically on the legs and belly, and the skin may thicken if the condition goes untreated. Secondary skin infections can also occur. Sarcoptic mange is highly contagious, and humans are also susceptible.

#3: Your pet may have a skin infection

Bacterial or fungal infections can lead to hair loss and red, irritated skin. Most pets’ skin infections are secondary to other conditions, such as endocrine disorders or allergies, which can compound the itch intensity and worsen the underlying condition. Autoimmune diseases and skin cancers can also lead to itching. 

How to treat your pet’s itchy skin

After your veterinarian determines the source of your pet’s itchiness, they can recommend an appropriate treatment aimed at resolving the underlying cause and improving your pet’s comfort level. Common treatments include:

  • Antihistamines — Antihistamines can be effective for a pet who has an allergic itch.
  • Parasiticides — Topical, oral, or injectable parasiticides can kill and prevent itch-causing external parasites such as fleas, ticks, and mites. 
  • Medicated shampoos — Once or twice weekly baths with a medicated shampoo can treat and prevent skin infections and the primary itch.
  • Oral antibiotics and/or antifungals — These medications work best for pets with skin infections who are not responding adequately to medicated shampoos.
  • Allergy immunotherapy — These injections or oral drops slowly desensitize pets to their specific environmental allergens. However, this treatment modality does not work for food allergies.
  • Special diet — A prescription diet may be necessary for pets with food allergies.
  • Supplements — Fatty acids may be helpful for some itchy pets.

Occasional scratching is normal, but if the condition becomes excessive, your pet may require veterinary care. Schedule an appointment with our Bayview Animal Hospital team, so we can determine the cause of your pet’s condition and manage their itching.