Causes of Itchy Pets


Itchy Pets – Pruritis:


The term for itchiness in pets is pruritis and can manifest as shaking head, scratching ears, licking or chewing paws, picking up the rear legs to scratch when pet along the back (pedal reflex), and scooting. Pruritis can be one of the more frustrating problems we see in pets and can result in problems such as hotspots (pyotraumatic dermatitis), granulomatous ulcers, superficial or deep skin infections (pyoderma), interdigital cysts, foot infections (pododermatitis), hairloss around the eyes, and ear infections (otitis externa). There are three main causes of pruritis in pets and a systematic approach is needed to determine the cause of the pruritis and the best way to treat the patient.


  1. Parasites: Common parasites that cause pruritis include ringworm, fleas, demodex mites, and scabies mites (mange). Each parasite tends to cause pruritus in specific locations and often times multiple pets in the house will be affected. Parasites are diagnosed either through treatment trials or through tests including skin scrapes, ringworm culture and flea combing. Ultimately, in this area of the country it is wise to have your pet on a good flea/tick prevention and when it comes to an itchy dog – the best options are the isoxazoline family of preventatives, which are given by mouth and include Nexgard and Bravecto.
  2. Food Allergies: Although not nearly as common as environmental allergies, food allergies do occur in pets, and the most common allergens in decreasing order include Beef, Chicken, Dairy, Soy and Grain. Even over the counter diets that claim not to include beef or chicken often do have these proteins present (75% in a recent study). There is no test for food allergies that is validated in dogs (unlike humans) and the only way to rule out food allergies is through a strict food trial using a prescription diet. Many dogs with food allergies, but not all, will also manifest with one or all of the following: poor appetite, regular vomiting/eating grass, excessive flatulence, loose bowel movements and/or frequent bowel movements (>3 x per day).
  3. Environmental allergies (Atopic allergies):  Atopic allergies are the most common cause of pruritus and can be seasonal (certain pollens, trees, grasses) or year round (dust mites, storage mites, yeast). There is a blood test that can be submitted that can help us to determine the allergens affecting your pet, and immunotherapy can be considered in certain patients. Many pets with atopic allergies require regular anti-itch medications and certain topical treatments for when problems arise.

We look forward to working with you to determine the cause of your pets itchiness.

All dogs with allergies can benefit from omega 3 fatty acids and probiotics. Dr. Andrew Marsh’s ¬†favorite probiotic is Visbiome # 60 capsules – 1 capsule if under 20 lbs and 2+ if over 20 lbs.