Why Is My Pet Itching?

When your dog or cat starts scratching, it’s enough to drive both of you nuts.  They will sometimes scratch, chew, lick, and bite themselves until they are raw or bleeding.  Unfortunately this is a common occurrence in dogs and cats, and there are numerous causes.  This is why it is so important for your veterinarian to obtain a full history and to perform a thorough physical exam to help focus the laundry list of possibilities. 


There are multiple different external parasites that can cause your pet to itch such as fleas, mites, lice, and chiggers.  Fleas can be difficult to find because they hide so well, and often just the flea dirt (aka flea poop) will be seen.  Dogs and cats will itch because the saliva from fleas causes an allergic reaction when they take a blood meal; it is not just the presence of the flea itself.  Mites on the other hand are microscopic, and special testing is needed to find these little bugs. 


Our pets can get allergies just like we can.  They can develop allergies to fleas, foods, certain medications, or even to the environment.  Environmental allergies, also known as atopic dermatitis, is an inflammatory skin disease that causes intense itching in response to allergens such as pollen, grass, or dust.  Just like in people, we do not know why some animals seemed more prone to this condition than others.  Depending on the type of allergy you pet has, there are different therapy options available such as special prescription foods or medications.  Unfortunately, there is no cure for allergies (just like in people) and they must be managed on a day by day basis.  Your veterinarian will help you develop a plan to help manage your pet for this long-term condition as there are many different variables and it can become frustrating for pet owners.


Skin infections caused by bacteria or fungus can also cause itchiness.  These skin infections can occur secondary to another cause such as allergies or irritation.  Ringworm is one type of fungus that exists in the environment and can be contagious to you and your other pets.  Your veterinarian will help you determine if there is an infection and what is causing the infection so the most effective medication can be used.  There are different therapies for bacterial and fungal infections so it is important to determine what your pet needs. 

What Should I Do Now?

The prognosis varies depending on the cause.  Unfortunately, there are even skin cancers that can cause itching in our pets.  Since there are so many causes of itchy skin, it is important to give your veterinarian a thorough history and it also helps if pet owners keep track of the itch level (i.e. on a scale of 1-10) to determine when your pet is having good or bad days.