Have you ever heard your dog’s collar jingling in the night as they franctically try to “itch that spot,” or perhaps you notice your pet obscessively licking on their paws, or even their belly? Although early on you may not have concerns about your pet’s “pruitis” or “itching” if left untreated, itching can lead excessive hair loss, as well as secondary infections in the skin, including “hot spots” which are areas of inflamed and oozing skin.
There are innumerable reasons for itching in pets, just like in humans, but
before I begin to diagnose a pet’s itching problem, I ask a multitude of questions which can quickly help me identify the cause.
First of all, I will ask owners, “does your pet itch all the time or just during certain times of the year? And did the itching just start or has it been going on for a period of time?”
How about, “What diet is your pet on?” and “Have you changed the diet recently, or incorporated new treats?
“Has anything changed in your pet’s environment, ie new bedding? How about new detergent for laundry?”
“Has your pet been around other pets that are itching?”
These are just a few of the crucial pieces of information we need as we try to diagnose your pet’s itching.
Although there are innumberable reasons for “pruitis” or “itching “ in pets, I will list the most common reasons I see here in the Vail Valley.
- Diet: Pets can develop allergies to the food they are on, or new foods. Most commonly, pets will react to the “protein” source in the food, for example, it could be chicken, lamb, beef, or fish that your pet is allergic to. In addition, pets can also less frequently develop allergies to the grains in food. The hallmark sign of food allergies affecting your pet’s skin is year round pruitis rather than “seasonal.” Sometimes we will just see chronic otitis or “ear “ infections in pets which continue to recur. Ask your vet about a “food trial” with hypoallergenic diets to help in the diagnosis of food allergies.
- Parasites: Pets can quickly pick up “ectoparasites” from wild animals (ie rolling in a carcass), or from pets that are in closed, more confined space such as a groomer’s or boarding kennel, in addition to hiking on trails, etc. It is very common for our clients to “Assume” that their pet is not exposed to ectoparasites because they don’t always see them ! Types of ectoparasites that cause itching include fleas, mites, and lice.
- Your veterinarian can do a complete physical exam and perform microscopic examinations as well which can quickly help identify parasites if not visible to the naked eye.
- Allergies: In addition to allergies to food, pets can develop both “contact” allergies which are allergies to things your pet comes in contact with that result in itching, for example, tall grasses . New bedding, a change in laundry detergent, etc are other examples.
- Pets can also develop “inhalant” allergies , which is an allergy to something in the air. Contrary to food allergies, the other common allergies are more frequently seen in pets in a seasonal pattern rather than year round.
- Skin infections can not only be a result of itching, but can also be a source of itching. Itching can develop because of secondary bacteria, or yeast infections which can develop deep in the skin of your pet.
Regardless of the cause of itching, a dog with “pruitis” will excessively scratch, bite , or chew at it’s skin, leading to more infections and discomfort in addition to hair loss.
Be aware of your pet’s normal routines, and frequency of itching and be aware of your pet’s overall comfort level. Don’t hesitate to contact your veterinarian as soon as you detect a problem!