Your pet scratching, licking, and chewing all day not only makes your poor pet miserable, but also gets under your skin. Allergies are a common itch culprit that commonly start in springtime, but they aren’t the only cause. South Shores Pet Clinic shares the top reasons why your pet itches, and how our team diagnoses and treats their problem.

#1: Flea allergies in pets

Fleas are external parasites that live and reproduce on pets and in pets’ homes, bedding, and environment. While many pets with fleas are not particularly itchy, those with flea bite allergies can become intensely itchy from only one or two bites. Characteristic flea allergy dermatitis (FAD) leads to itching, hair loss, and scabby and scaly skin, usually on the back near the tail. 

Flea allergy treatment involves eliminating flea infestation and administering year-round topical or oral flea prevention medications, which are highly effective in preventing fleas from living and reproducing on your pet. However, one or two stray fleas may still bite before they are killed, so allergic pets may have occasional flare-ups that can be treated with the prevention medications.

#2: Environmental allergies in pets

Environmental allergies affect up to 30% of dogs, who develop itchy skin, skin inflammation, skin infections, ear infections, stained hair, dark or thickened skin, and hair loss. Common allergens include pollen, mold, and dander from other pets or humans, and grass, insects, and dust mites. Pets allergic to environmental triggers are prone to developing food or flea allergies.

Allergies typically develop during a pet’s first few years of life and may worsen with age. Diagnosis can be made after excluding other skin problems, observing a seasonal pattern, or using a blood or skin allergy test. Multiple treatment trials and allergen avoidance strategies are often required to find the right combination that will keep the pet comfortable. Anti-itch and anti-inflammatory medications, immunosuppressants, medicated shampoos, and oral or topical antibiotics are some potential treatments.

#3: Food allergies in pets

Food and environmental allergies in pets look similar, but food allergies are far less common. The most common food allergens correspond to the most common pet food ingredients, such as chicken, beef, egg, fish, soy, or wheat. Food allergy signs are similar to environmental allergies, but may continue year-round without a seasonal pattern. Food-allergic pets may also develop chronic stomach or intestinal problems.

Diagnosing and treating pets with food allergies involves a specialized diet trial using hydrolyzed or novel proteins. Pets who improve on the diet likely have a food allergy, but may not wholly improve until all other allergies are addressed. If the diet trial works, the pet owner may choose to introduce individual ingredients into the diet until they find the culprit, but many choose to continue the special diet without knowing the exact problem.

#4: Skin parasites in pets

Skin and ear mites are common itch-causing parasites. Sarcoptic mange is caused by a skin mite that burrows into the skin, causing intense itching and hair loss—the mite infestation is called scabies in humans. Diagnosis requires a skin scraping test to collect skin cells and look for living or dead mites. Finding the mites can be difficult, but our team can treat your pet presumptively with a simple anti-parasite injection.

#5: Skin infections in pets

Skin infections are prevalent in pets, with young, senior, and immunocompromised pets at highest risk. The skin’s normal resident bacteria and yeast overgrow and cause infection with signs that include itching, rashy bumps, scaling, greasiness, and inflammation, and often a foul, gym-sock odor. Infections may develop independently or secondary to inflammation or self-harm from scratching other itchy skin problems—often allergies. 

A skin infection is diagnosed by examining a skin sample under the microscope and sending out bacterial or fungal skin cell cultures to grow the organism in the lab and determine the most effective medications. Oral medications and medicated shampoos are often used to control, prevent, and treat pet skin infections.

Many skin diseases and conditions in pets present with similar signs, but the South Shores Pet Clinic team has the skills and knowledge to diagnose your pet’s problem and bring them relief. Contact us to schedule a visit for your pet if you notice itching or other skin problems, including redness, bumps, scaling, flaking, black or reddish patches, or hair loss.