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3 Reasons Why Your Pet is Itchy and What To Do About it!

Updated: Sep 30, 2023

Millions of pets struggle with itchy skin every year. We're here to help!

Uncomfortable, itchy skin is one of the most prevalent health concerns among our pets. So prevalent, in fact, that August has been named Itchy Pet Awareness Month, in an effort to shed light on this pervasive health issue impacting our beloved companion animals.

In August of 2022 alone, over 1.9 million pets saw a veterinarian for itching (thank you to Your Vet Wants You To Know for this data). And we know from experience that it's not just those 1.9 million pets that are suffering from their itchy skin - their guardians are suffering as well! Witnessing pets engage in constant itching, scratching and licking can be truly distressing for the entire household.

This month marks the fifth annual Itchy Pet Awareness Month and we are taking this opportunity to arm you with itch-related knowledge that will leave you well prepared to stand up to your pet's itchy skin.

Keep reading to...

  • Learn the 3 most common causes for itchy skin

  • Discover the symptoms associated with each unique cause of itching

  • Become familiar with the diagnoses and treatments for itchy skin

  • Gain access to useful itch-related tools and resources

How Do You Know If Your Pet's Itching Is a Concern?

Every pet itches from time to time - the occasional itch is normal. So how do you know when itching is a problem? Generally speaking, itching is considered a concern when it begins to interfere with your pet's daily routines. Is your pet waking up from sleep to scratch? Is he pausing play to bite at his hind end? Is he incessantly licking at his paws during times of rest? Is his itching resulting in secondary health concerns such as skin infections or lesions? These scenarios are all possible indications that suggest your pet's scratching may be a concern.

Tracking Your Pet's Itching:

If you feel your pet may have a problem with itching, we recommend tracking your pet's itchiness. Tracking your pet's symptoms is a great way to gain a clear understanding of just how uncomfortable your pet really is, and it simultaneously gathers information that will be vital for your veterinarian to have when developing a treatment plan for your pet.

Time to track? Try this easy-to-use itch tracker that makes recording your pet's symptoms simple and straight forward: just jot down a number once per day!

Preparing For Your Itch-Related Veterinary Visit:

Once you've determined your pet's itching is a concern, the next step is to visit your veterinarian. Arriving to this visit well prepared with helpful details about your pet's itching will assist your veterinarian in developing an effective treatment plan. But how do you know what details are helpful? Download this Vet Visit Prep checklist, which outlines key itch-related information to gather before heading to your veterinary visit.


What Causes Itching?

The three most common causes of itching for our pets include:

  • Fleas (Flea Allergy Dermatitis)

  • Environmental Allergies (Atopic Dermatitis)

  • Food Allergies

1. Flea Allergy Dermatitis (Fleas)

Flea Allergy Dermatitis (FAD) refers to the allergic reaction and subsequent skin irritation that flea bites - the flea saliva to be exact - can cause in our pets. Flea allergy dermatitis is the most common skin disease in pets! Any pet is susceptible to flea allergic dermatitis - even pets that are indoor only! Fleas are happy to hitch a ride into our homes on our shoes and clothing, enter through open windows and doors and ride in on other resident pets who are not indoor only.

Symptoms of Flea Allergy Dermatitis (fleas) include:

  • biting at skin - the pet will usually whip around suddenly

  • hair loss, most often near the base of the tail and down the rear legs

  • red, irritated patches of skin

  • small, red, circular bites on the ankles of humans in the household

The severity of flea allergy dermatitis and its symptoms will depend on the individual pet's sensitivity level to flea saliva. As with any allergy, the more sensitive the pet's immune system is to the allergen - in this case the flea saliva - the more severe the symptoms will be.

Treating Flea Allergy Dermatitis (fleas):

The best way to treat (and prevent) flea allergy dermatitis is to use flea prevention. But it's important to note that not all flea prevention is created equal - many products, especially ones sold over the counter, are ineffective in protecting your pets. For effective protection, we recommend using only flea prevention prescribed by your veterinarian. We also recommend giving it to all pets in the home (not just the ones that spend time outside) and making sure it's given on consistent basis, all year round. Talk with your veterinarian to identify which flea prevention is best for your pet(s).

If you are a current client of ours with an active doctor, client, patient relationship, click here to order your pet flea prevention through our in home delivery service...

2. Atopic Dermatitis (Environmental Allergies)

Atopic Dermatitis (AD), commonly referred to as 'environmental allergies', refers to the allergic reaction and subsequent skin irritation that our pets can experience after coming into contact with allergens in their environment.

Common environmental allergens include:

  • pollen

  • grasses

  • mold

  • dust

  • dust mites

Symptoms of environment allergies include:

  • incessant itching, usually all over

  • incessant licking, usually focused to the paws

  • reddish/brown staining on the paws and around the eyes

  • chronic ear infections

  • red, irritated skin

  • skin infections with pustules and flakes

  • a seasonal cycle to symptom severity

The severity of atopic dermatitis (AD) and its symptoms will depend on a couple things - the frequency and duration at which the pet is exposed to the allergen(s) as well as the pet's sensitivity level to the allergen(s). As with any allergy, the more sensitive the pet's immune system is to the allergen - in this case the items in the environment - the more severe the symptoms will be.

Identifying and Treating Environmental Allergies

If you are interested in identifying the particular environmental items your pet is allergic to, there is an allergy blood test available - called IgE allergy testing - that will tell you what items in the environment your pet is sensitive to (allergy testing does not identify food sensitivities). Once identified, it's possible to reduce your pet's sensitivity to their particular allergens through a desensitization process using allergy shots, called hyposensitization. During the hyposensitization process, your pet's immune system is exposed to very small amounts of their allergens, through a serum formulated specifically for their body. Over time, this frequent small-scale exposure allows the body's immune system to grow familiar with the allergens, reprogramming the immune system to react less intensely when those allergens are encountered in the environment. Allergy shots are shown to reduce the severity of AD symptoms for about 50% of pets who undergo the treatment.

3. Food Allergies

Food allergies refers to the allergic reaction and subsequent irritations our pets can experience after consuming a particular food ingredient their immune system is sensitive to. Although any food ingredient can cause an allergic reaction, proteins are the most common food allergen. Some of the most common pet protein allergens include: beef, chicken, dairy and eggs.

Symptoms of food allergies include:

  • chronic ear infections

  • gastrointestinal issues

  • soft, frequent and large-volume stools

  • incessant paw licking

Testing for Food Allergies

Currently there is no laboratory testing available that identifies food allergens in our pets. The only way to diagnose a food allergy is by conducting a diet trial, led by your veterinarian. A diet trial is a home-based diagnostic tool that utilizes the process of elimination to tell us if your pet's allergy symptoms are in fact food related. During a diet trial you will feed your pet one specific food, chosen very intentionally by your veterinarian, for 8-12 weeks. Because food allergies are most often triggered by the proteins within food, your veterinarian will look closely at protein ingredients when choosing the right trial food for your pet. For a diet trial to be definitive, it's crucial that nothing else besides that one food is fed to your pet during this 8-12 week period. At the end of the trial, your pet's allergy symptoms will be evaluated - if symptoms have improved, we can deduce that your pet's allergies are food related. Once a food allergy is confirmed, 'ingredient challenges', or targeted trials, that can be done to test your pet's sensitivity level to certain singular foods that you'd like to offer your pet, such as blueberries.

Treating Food Allergies

There is no cure for food allergies. The way to treat food allergies and prevent symptoms associated with food allergies is to feed a specialized diet, identified by your veterinarian.



How to Prepare for an Itch-Related Vet Visit: A helpful checklist

Just how itchy is my pet? Find out with this Itch Tracker!

Suspect your pet may have fleas? Learn more with this podcast episode

Suspect your pet has environmental allergies? Learn more with this podcast episode

Suspect your pet has food allergies? Learn more with this podcast episode

Think it's time to try a diet trial? Learn more with this podcast episode


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