An urgent need to scratch is the number one identifiable sign of pruritus. In some cases, cats and dogs might have mild pruritus with little impact on their overall health or quality of life. Instances of severe pruritus on the other hand can lead to chronic pain and discomfort caused by the original itchiness coupled with the infections and sores that result from repeated scratching, rubbing, chewing, and licking.
Pets that are genetically predisposed to atopy are hypersensitive to certain materials and substances. These pets may develop skin rashes or redness, inflammation on the ears, brown wax in the ear canals, and possible lesions caused by excessive scratching. Dogs or cats with atopy may also be seen rubbing and scratching their faces. Symptoms usually just appear seasonally at first. However they can become a year-round discomfort for pets that are not properly treated.
In dogs, the first signs of atopic dermatitis may appear between 1 and 3 years of age while cats may show the first signs as early as 6 months. Any breed or mixed breed of dog might be affected, but those most at risk for atopic dermatitis include Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, Lhasa Apsos, Wire Fox Terriers, West Highland White Terriers, Dalmatians, Poodles, English Setters, Irish Setters, Boxers, and Bulldogs. With cats, no specific breed has been identified as being more prone to the disease.
There are countless things that can trigger food or contact allergies. Depending on how sensitive your dog or cat is, the allergen might result in a rash, skin redness, or “invisible” irritation that leaves your pet with an uncontrollable need to scratch. Pets with food allergies may also have swollen eyelids. You might see bald patches develop along with sores caused by scratching. The food ingredients that are most likely to bring on these symptoms are beef, dairy, soy, corn, and wheat. Preservatives and chemical additives can also cause an allergic reaction. You will see similar symptoms in pets that have an allergic reaction to specific material or environmental substance (from plastic to lawn grass).
Fleas are the most common parasite found on pets. If your cat or dog is allergic to flea saliva, you will notice intense scratching and chewing and noticeably inflamed skin. For pets that are not allergic, however, your pet may only feel some mild itching due to the fleas’ presence (although the sensation might be worse around the groin area).
In the case of scabies caused by mites, you may see visible red bumpy bites at first, but following repeated scratching, these bites will turn into scabs and sores. If your pet’s itching is fairly mild but is accompanied by a thick dandruff on the head, neck, and back, then your cat or dog may have walking dandruff, which is also caused by a type of mite.
Lice infestations are most common in ill and unkempt pets. If you notice a pet that is scratching areas of matted hair (especially around the ears and head), lice may be the cause.
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.