What's Causing Your Pet to Itch and Scratch

Cat scratching itself
Does your cat or dog incessantly itch, bite or lick his skin? He may have a skin condition or a more serious medical disorder.

Your pet normally has a thick, lustrous coat of fur. One day, you discover a bare or red spot on his leg and the skin looks sore. Even worse, your pet cannot stop biting, chewing and licking the area. What is happening? Your pet may have a skin condition, but the problem may go deeper than what you see on the surface. The irritated area could be a sign of a more serious medical disorder.

Short or long hair, big or small, purebred or mixed, no dog or cat is immune to having dermatologic (skin-related) problems. From the mildest irritation to a near-fatal reaction to an insect bite, skin problems are one of the leading causes of visits to the veterinarian.

Itchy and Scratchy

There are hundreds of reasons why dogs and cats might itch and scratch. Take your pet to the veterinarian if you notice that your pet is scratching, biting or licking his skin more than usual.

Many skin diseases have similar signs, so testing is often required before a final diagnosis can be made. To help determine the problem, your veterinarian may recommend laboratory work, skin scrapings, blood tests or other diagnostics. You can help by observing changes in the condition of your pet’s coat and reporting the results to your veterinarian.

Allergy Season Is No Picnic

You may think your cat or dog is itching himself because he has fleas, but there is a chance that he could have inhalant allergies, another common cause of itching and scratching in pets.

Both pets and people can suffer from inhalant allergies (atopy), a type of allergy caused by substances commonly encountered in the environment, such as grasses, weeds, pollen, house dust mites, molds and trees. The difference is that people usually react to these substances (allergens) by developing respiratory problems, while dogs and cats most often develop skin problems. Signs of inhalant allergies in pets can include:

  • Inflamed or itchy skin, either in one area or all over.
  • Orange or reddish-brown salivary stains on the coat caused by excessive licking and biting.
  • Ear infections.
  • Coughing, sneezing or wheezing.

While some pets never have a problem, others may itch at certain times of the year, usually from spring to fall, or year-round. Allergic reactions do not tend to go away as dogs and cats age. In fact, pets can become allergic to more and more things as they grow older.

Thankfully, your veterinarian can often help manage and treat your pet's allergies. Treatment may consist of antihistamines, steroids, allergy shots or other medications. Sometimes environmental modifications can also be helpful.

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