Itchy Pet Treatments

Skin Conditions in Dogs & Cats

If your pet is scratching incessantly, here are some important guidelines and suggestions to consider. Many different conditions may be causing the itch, sometimes it’s a combination of things. There are more than a hundred causes for itching in dogs and cats, and yet the symptoms all too often look the same. The underlying cause is usually not evident on a single exam. Response to treatment is one way to rule out possible causes. Diagnosis almost always requires TIME and multiple visits.

Step 1 – Rule out bacterial /fungal/ parasitic causes

This may require a trial of flea, mange, and/or anti-bacterial drugs.

Step 2 – Rule out pet allergies: food or airborne causes, sometimes it’s a combination of both. Insect bite or contact allergies possible too.

  • Blood tests can identify the offending allergens.
  • Degree of response to steroid (prednisone) offers clues.
  • Often pets are allergic to more than one item; It can frequently be dozens of allergens.
  • Food allergies take six to eight weeks of food trials to diagnose.

Step 3 – Sometimes allergies must be managed, because they can’t be cured. In this situation options to consider include:

Low Dose Steroid (Prednisone) Treatment


  • Steroids are generally effective and safe when used at a low dose every other day
  • Antihistamines and fish oil often allow us to decrease the dose of steroid further and are generally safe and inexpensive


  • Higher doses (or more frequent doses) may cause unacceptable side effects in some pets.
  • Dogs are more susceptible than cats to developing side effects. Increased thirst, urination, and hunger are the most common side effects.


Works by blocking the immune response using cyclosporine A



  • Expensive especially in larger dogs
  • May cause vomiting until the animal becomes accustomed to the drug
  • Desensitization


Works by blocking pro-inflammatory mediators in the skin that produce itchiness and predispose to infection



  • Limited availability
  • Expensive especially in larger dogs
  • “off label” use in cats


Also called “allergy shots” 


  • Causes of inhalant allergy are determined by a simple blood test
  • No side effects
  • Between 60 to 80% effective in reducing symptoms


  • Usually given by injection (new oral drops now available)
  • Treatment required for  at least a year, often for life
  • Blood tests are NOT accurate in detecting food allergies
  • Blood test runs about $200; the treatment kit also runs around $200