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Pruritus Causes: Cats and Dogs

By Maureen Ryan. July 03, 2012 | See Comments

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Pruritus Causes: Cats and Dogs

Pruritus is not a medical condition that causes your pet to itch -- it's the symptom of another medical issue plaguing your pet. Learn how to recognize the many different causes of pruritus to make sure you can help your pet.

Pruritus is not a disease; rather it’s a sign that your pet is suffering from one or more medical conditions that cause severe itchiness. The most common causes of pruritus are allergies and parasitic insect infestations, but there are a few other less common causes as well.

Parasitic Skin Diseases

A wide variety of insects like to make their home on your pet, which can result in pruritic conditions such as these:

  • Scabies: Most common in dogs, scabies is a skin condition caused by the microscopic spider-like mite. Female mites tunnel under the skin to lay eggs, which hatch and grow into adults that lay their own eggs. The mites cause intense itching. The mites tend to gather around the ears, elbows, legs, and face. So lesions, skin irritation, and hair loss may appear as your pet scratches at these infested areas.

  • Demodectic mange: Caused by the demodex mite, this occurs mostly in kittens. While it may not be the primary source of itching, it can cause an infection of the skin that does become itchy and needs to be treated.

  • Walking dandruff: Fairly uncommon in cats, this condition occurs most often among kenneled puppies. A large reddish mite causes mild itching along with heavy amounts of dry scaly dandruff. It is highly contagious.

  • Ear mites: These insects often cause discomfort for cats and dogs around the ears, which leads to intense scratching and head shaking. They may also cause itching elsewhere on the body.

  • Lice: Lice usually only infest pets that are poorly cared for or diseased. In those cases, they will usually be found under matted hair around the ears, neck, and shoulders. Dogs and cats with lice may develop bald spots and sores from scratching and rubbing at the infested areas.

  • Fleas: The most common parasite found on cats and dogs, fleas usually make pets only slightly itchy. However, some cats and dogs are extremely sensitive to flea saliva, so bites will lead to pruritus.

Allergic Skin Diseases

  • Flea allergy: Flea allergy is the most common allergic skin disease among cats and dogs, but pets may have hypersensitivity to a host of other allergens that can cause pruritus as well, including:

  • Atopy:  Atopic dermatitis results from pets having a reaction to airborne allergens. Common allergens include house dust, mold, dust mites, grasses, and plant pollens. Cats and dogs most likely inherit the condition, which causes severe itching especially around the ears and face.

  • Food allergy: This is a reaction to one or more ingredients in your pet’s food, which causes itchiness.

  • Contact allergy: Considerably more rare than other allergies in dogs and cats, this condition results from contact with a substance that directly touches your pet’s skin.

This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian with respect to your pet. It has, however, been verified by a licensed veterinarian for accuracy.

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