Spring is a pleasant time for most people, except allergy sufferers who deal with sneezing, itchy eyes, and other hay fever symptoms. Pets with allergies may also dread spring, which can cause them to develop itchy, red, inflamed skin. Parasites and skin infections can also contribute to a pet’s year-round  itchiness. Our Valley Center Veterinary Clinic team answers your frequently asked questions (FAQs) about your pet’s itchiness, explaining what you can do to help alleviate your furry pal’s suffering.

Question: What are skin condition signs in pets?

Answer: Pets scratch, lick, and chew to relieve their skin’s itchiness. Affected cats often overgroom and create bald spots. The problematic skin areas commonly appear irritated, red, bumpy, thickened, scaly, or moist. The pattern of your pet’s itching can clue in your veterinarian about the condition’s potential underlying causes.

Q: What are the most common causes for pet itchiness?

A: The most common reason for a pet’s itchiness is an allergy caused by flea bites, environmental triggers, or food. Whereas you likely have a runny nose when your allergies kick in, your pet’s allergies lead to skin inflammation, which causes intense and persistent itchiness. Other common causes of pets’ itchiness include parasite infestations and skin infections. Skin infections can develop independently in predisposed pets but usually occur secondary to a systemic disease that impairs their immune function, or as pre-existing allergic skin inflammation.

Q: Can I treat my pet’s itchiness at home?

A: Some over-the-counter (OTC) products, such as oatmeal-based shampoos, spray conditioners, medicated creams, balms, or antihistamines, can be effective for the treatment of a pet’s mild, allergy-related itching. Unfortunately, these products typically don’t provide enough relief and should be combined with prescription treatments. To ensure you are not aggravating your pet’s skin condition, you shouldn’t treat them at home before our Valley Center Veterinary Clinic team diagnoses the underlying condition causing your pet’s itchiness. 

Q: Will changing my pet’s food alleviate their skin problems?

A: The pet food industry has exploded recently, with boutique brands popping up left and right. Many of their marketing efforts have focused on grain-free diets, leading pet owners to believe that grains are the source of pet allergies and skin problems. Food allergies are actually relatively uncommon in animals, and rather than grains, triggers are more likely to include proteins, such as chicken, beef, or soy. 

While food allergies are uncommon, they can be the sole cause or a contributing factor in some allergic pets’ skin diseases. In this case, your pet may benefit from eating a prescription hypoallergenic diet trial for two to three months. To pinpoint your pet’s food allergen, you will reintroduce specific ingredients one at a time until they exhibit allergy signs.

Q: How do veterinarians diagnose itchy pets?

A: When your pet becomes itchy, schedule an appointment with our Valley Center Veterinary Clinic team. To determine the underlying cause of your pet’s skin condition, we will perform diagnostic screening, which may include:

  • Physical examination
  • Skin cytology to identify surface bacteria, yeast, or inflammatory cells
  • Skin scraping to check for mange mites
  • Fungal culture to check for ringworm
  • Bacterial culture for difficult-to-resolve or severe bacterial skin infections
  • Blood and urine tests to check for endocrine diseases
  • Blood or skin allergy testing to identify environmental allergens
  • Skin biopsy to identify tumors or other less common itchiness causes

Q: How are itchy pets treated?

A: Each itchy pet’s treatment is individualized to their needs and specific diagnosis. Often, some trial and error are involved in finding an effective treatment, which may be lifelong. Universally recommended treatments for itchy pets include monthly flea preventive applications, which help to rule out or control flea allergy dermatitis, and omega-3 fatty acid supplements to reduce skin and systemic inflammation. Additional skin condition treatments may include:

  • Antihistamines — Block itch-causing substances, but may not be effective for all pets.
  • Immune suppressants — Steroids and cyclosporine reduce white blood cell activity to suppress inflammation.
  • Anti-itch medications — Oral and injectable drugs can target and suppress a specific substance in the itch pathway, and produce fewer side effects than steroids. 
  • Antibiotics or antifungals — Used to treat bacterial or fungal skin infections.
  • Medicated shampoo — Frequent bathing with medicated shampoo can soothe the itch, help treat or prevent infections, and reduce oral medication use.
  • Topicals — To treat smaller, targeted body areas, medicated sprays, creams, and wipes are an excellent alternative to frequent bathing with medication shampoo.
  • Allergy immunotherapy — A customized allergy treatment exposes a pet to increasing allergen amounts, desensitizing them over time.

Skin problems are prevalent in pets and can lead to miserable itching, scratching, and licking. Help your pet get the relief they deserve. Our Valley Center Veterinary Clinic team are experts in diagnosing and treating pet itchiness. To discuss appropriate pet parasite preventives, or learn more about your pet’s itchiness causes and treatment options, schedule a visit with our team.