Westcoast Veterinary Hospital/Naples Safari Animal Hospital & Pet Resort

The Itchy Pet

While not necessarily life threatening, excessive licking, chewing and scratching can make a
pet’s (& the owner’s) life less than ideal.  Understanding the causes and treatments of itchy
(pruritic) skin will help make both you and your pet as comfortable as possible.   There are 3
common reasons that your pet may be itchy:

Ectoparasites  include fleas and scabies mites.  Fleas are by far the most common cause
of the pet’s itchy skin, and Florida is the flea capitol of the country.  Although flea infestations
will cause any pet to scratch, many animals are allergic to flea saliva and become
hypersensitive to only a few bites.  Therefore,  flea treatment should be initiated for  any itchy
pet,  whether or not fleas are noted.  Scabies mites burrow under the skin and cause severe
pruritis.  The mites can sometimes be detected by a skin scrape, but if suspected, are usually
treated  empirically to rule out this potential cause for itching.

 Allergies occur when the body’s immune system  over reacts to a harmless substance and
recognizes it as something to be attacked,  causing severe irritation.  Allergies are divided
into contact/airborne allergies (atopy) and  food intolerance reactions.   Chewing at the feet,
recurrent ear infections and itchy armpit and groin areas are common symptoms  in both
types of allergies.  Atopy usually develops in animals in the 1-4 year age range and,
unfortunately, gets worse with time.  Common allergens include pollens, dander, grasses,
trees, dust mites  and molds – all very common in this area.   Allergens are inhaled &
absorbed by contact through the skin. Unlike humans who are prone to develop respiratory
irritation, pets develop itchy skin.   Inhalant allergies generally are worse during certain times
of the year, but may become year round in Florida.  Food intolerance involves a reaction to
any component in the diet.  Many people falsely believe that food allergies require a recent
diet change, but the opposite is true, most animals have been eating the offending ingredient
for long periods of time with no trouble.  Pets with food allergies may show irritation around
the anal area as well as soft stool.  Food allergies are not usually seasonal*

 Secondary infections can occur any time the skin barrier is compromised and are often
found accompanying any of the above mentioned causes of itchiness.  Bacterial and yeast
infections are itchy in themselves & must be treated along with their initiating factors to
successfully manage the itch problem.
*The above causes are not mutually exclusive; it is apparent that some breeds or individuals
may be more prone to itchiness and have a low itch  threshold.  These pets may have
combinations off all 3 types of sensitivities,  and while they may be tolerant of 1 type of
offender , any additional offenders may send them over the “itch edge”, therefore multiple
treatment modalities may be required for maximum control.

Lesli R. Reiff, DVM