When your pet starts to chew, lick, or scratch at their skin, you want to bring them quick relief. Allergies or parasites most commonly cause pet itching in the spring, but skin infections and other conditions can cause or worsen the itch. Over-the-counter medications don’t often work for pets, but the Juanita Hills Animal Hospital team can help you find treatments that will help. Here are a few more do’s and don’ts for handling an itchy pet.
Don’t: Blame your pet’s food
Many pet food companies market their foods as “hypoallergenic” or “grain-free” and claim they will solve all your pet’s skin woes. In truth, adverse food reactions are far less common than environmental or flea allergies. While your pet’s food may be to blame for itchy skin, the actual problem is likely another condition. And, if food is your pet’s problem, switching from one commercial kibble to another is unlikely to change anything, because a prescription or nutritionist-formulated home-prepared diet is necessary to diagnose a food allergy.
Don’t: Rely on over-the-counter medications to treat pet itch
Several over-the-counter antihistamines are safe for itchy pets and are routinely used by our veterinary team, but they work only if a mild allergy is causing the itch, and are unlikely to be effective for moderate or severe allergies, or non-allergic skin conditions. Our veterinary team can prescribe your pet medications and other treatments that are more effective than antihistamines.
Note—never give your pet over-the-counter medications without your veterinarian’s direction.
Don’t: Wait until your pet’s skin condition becomes severe
Occasional itching is normal pet behavior, but constant licking, scratching, chewing, or biting is not normal and indicates something is wrong. Addressing itchy skin early can make treatment more successful, while waiting until the condition is severe will decrease treatment success. Untreated skin itching can lead to self-harm and infections from scratching, chronically thickened skin or ears, hair loss, and discomfort or pain. Breaking the itch-scratch cycle with prompt intervention is essential for treating pet skin conditions.
Do: Schedule a veterinary visit for your itchy pet
Pets most commonly itch because of allergies, parasites, and skin infections, which present similarly. A thorough veterinary examination and comprehensive skin diagnostics help our team distinguish between these conditions, so we can determine the best treatments. We may also recommend visiting a veterinary dermatologist if your pet’s skin condition is severe or responds poorly to treatments.
Testing for itchy skin may include:
- Skin cytology — To identify bacteria, yeast, and inflammatory skin cells
- Skin scraping — To identify skin mites and other parasites
- Fungal culture — To identify dermatophytes (i.e., ringworm) infection
- Bacterial culture — To grow and identify bacteria species and antibiotic susceptibility
- Skin biopsy — To examine a tissue sample to diagnose complex skin conditions
Do: Stick to your itchy pet’s treatment plan
Parasite infestations and skin infections may take several weeks to resolve, while most allergy cases require life-long, multi-modal management for the best outcomes. Finding the right treatment combinations and tracking your pet’s responses takes trial and error, but committing to the treatment plan ensures your pet’s long-term skin health and comfort. Treatments depend on your pet’s condition and may include the following:
- Oral medications — Anti-itch, anti-inflammatory, immunosuppressant, antibiotic, antifungal, and anti-parasitic medications
- Medicated baths — Medicated bathing to soothe itchiness, inflammation, and infection
- Topical medications — Topical sprays, wipes, and creams between baths
- Allergy immunotherapy — Allergy “shots” to desensitize pets to their specific allergens
- Allergy food trial — Prescription food to diagnose and treat food allergies
Do: Keep your pet on a flea and tick preventive year-round
Fleas and ticks are an itchy pet’s worst enemy. The first step for an itchy pet is to initiate a year-round flea and tick prevention regimen to eliminate fleas and subsequent flea bite allergy symptoms. Flea allergies are dogs’ and cats’ most common skin conditions, and lead to intense itching, hair loss, and often secondary bacterial infections. Prevention products come in convenient topical, oral, or collar forms, and our veterinary team will recommend the best product for your pet’s needs.
When your pet is itchy, you need to find them quick relief. Contact our Juanita Hills Animal Hospital team to schedule a visit for your itchy pet or to discuss your pet’s long-term skin health and parasite treatment plan.