Everyone itches. Most of the time, we do not realize that we are even scratching. However, it can sometimes become excessive and can be a sign of an underlying problem. This is no different in animals. Pruritus, commonly known as itching, can be caused by parasites, infection, allergies, and even behavior.
The most common external parasites dogs and cats are infected with are fleas and mites. Fleas are tiny, black insects that are usually found on the back and hips of a dog, and around the face and neck of a cat. Since we live in Georgia, fleas are a common occurrence even in the winter. Our long, hot, and humid summers are great for fleas. Controlling these little insects can be very frustrating, can lead to skin infections, and even result in some blood-borne diseases in animals. The best way to control the fleas is, of course, to treat the pet, but you also need to treat the yard and the house. I would recommend using the monthly flea controls, since they are so much better than baths for controlling the fleas long term. Fleas are a common external parasite that commonly leads to excessive itching in our pets.
Mites are another external parasite that can cause mange, allergies, and ear infections in animals. They cause irritation and itching on our pets through their normal feeding behaviors. This will exhibit itself through the animal scratching, even to the point of bleeding. Veterinarians can diagnose which type of mite is infecting the animal and treat accordingly. There are many ways to treat these problems, and your veterinarian can guide you through this process. Mites are not as common as fleas, but they can still cause intense itching on an animal.
Infections on the skin can cause intense pruritus in an animal. Infections on the skin will generally be bacterial or fungal in origin, and they can be primary infections or secondary to another issue, such as fleas or mites. Bacteria normally live on the skin, but sometimes they get out of control. This will cause the pet to become itchy. As they scratch, they break the skin, and this allows the bacteria or fungus to colonize deeper in the skin. This in turn causes the animal to itch more. It becomes a continuous cycle. These infections, however, can be controlled through oral medications and shampoos. These infections are not contagious to other animals or people, except in very rare instances. Once again, your veterinarian can prescribe the appropriate treatment and counseling to clear the situation.
The most frustrating form of pruritus is related to behavior. Pets will generally lick a particular spot repeatedly. This will in turn lead to secondary infections, increase the pruritus, and create a desire to scratch. The key to controlling the behavior is treating the secondary infection and controlling the initiating cause or behavior. When talking to your veterinarian, give a detailed history because this may lead to a cause. If the cause can be identified, the problem can be treated more effectively. If no cause can be identified, anti-anxiety drugs may need to be prescribed. This is a last resort, of course.
Allergies can be one of the most frustrating problems in a pet. It is a very common cause of itching in both dogs and cats. I will cover this topic in the next article, since it is a very common and often misunderstood topic.
Pruritus can be a very frustrating problem for your pets and for you. There are several causes, and we have touched on a few in this article. If you see your pet scratching more than occasionally, talk to your veterinarian. These problems can be treated effectively once they are diagnosed. Be patient with your pet’s doctor because the problems are sometimes difficult to diagnose, especially behavior. Does Fluffy have an itch, or do they have a skin problem?