Allergic dermatitis is one of the most common reasons for a pet’s itchiness and for a veterinary visit. However, a multitude of conditions can cause itchy skin for cats and dogs. If your four-legged friend is chewing their paws or scratching incessantly, read our Star of Texas Veterinary Hospital team’s description of seven conditions that may be to blame.

#1: Your pet has atopic dermatitis

Perhaps the most common, but frustrating, itching cause in pets is atopic dermatitis (i.e., atopy). This condition occurs when a pet’s immune system essentially becomes trigger-happy in response to an environmental substance  (i.e., allergen). Common allergens include:

  • Pollen
  • Grasses
  • Weeds
  • Trees
  • Shrubs
  • Storage and dust mites
  • Dander
  • Molds

Atopy generally develops in pets who are between 1 and 3 years of age, and continues to worsen as your pet grows older. Atopic dermatitis can occur during certain seasons or remain year-round. Some pets are mildly pruritic (i.e., itchy) year-round because of inescapable allergens, such as dust mites, but their condition worsens during the spring growing season. Most commonly, a pet with atopy will scratch their front legs, face, ears, shoulders, and abdomen. However, affected areas vary by breed.

#2: Your pet has flea bite dermatitis

Another common skin condition that affects pets is flea bite dermatitis. Pets can develop hypersensitivity to a flea saliva protein, and after a flea bites them, they break out in an itchy rash. A small number of flea bites are enough to trigger an allergic pet to chew and lick their hind end, particularly at their tail base. Because so few fleas can cause a reaction, a pet’s flea allergy can be difficult to spot. You can protect your pet from flea bite dermatitis by ensuring you provide them with a year-round, high-quality flea preventive.

#3: Your pet has food allergies

True food allergies are rare, but they do occur, often in conjunction with an environmental or flea allergy. A pet with a food allergy will typically develop chronic ear inflammation and lick their paws incessantly. They may also develop chronic anal gland inflammation and require regular expressions to prevent impaction or an abscess.

Contrary to popular belief, protein sources—not grains—likely trigger most pets’ food allergies. The most common food allergens are:

  • Chicken
  • Lamb
  • Beef
  • Eggs
  • Dairy
  • Wheat
  • Soy

Pets with food allergies are often hypersensitive to more than one food. Therefore, your veterinarian can have difficulty making an accurate diagnosis. In addition, diagnosis will be time-consuming, as a food trial is the only way to diagnose a food allergy successfully.

#4: Your pet has a skin infection

Skin infections can be primary or secondary conditions, and can be caused by bacterial or fungal organisms such as Staphylococcus bacteria, yeast, or ringworm. If your pet has a skin infection, they will likely have bumpy, inflamed skin that emits a strong odor, in addition to itchiness and hair loss. Secondary skin infections will not resolve completely unless your veterinarian also treats the underlying cause. For example, if your pet is allergic to pollen, they will likely develop recurring skin infections until your veterinarian can successfully manage their allergies and itching.

#5: Your pet has external parasites

In addition to fleas, a variety of external parasites can cause your furry pal to be itchy. Ticks, mange mites, and ear mites can induce skin irritation and inflammation, and your pet may transmit these pests to you. A ticks is always happy to hop to a new host for a meal, while sarcoptic mange is an infectious condition. Remember to use caution and good hygiene practices when caring for an itchy pet who has external parasites.

#6: Your pet has a hormonal imbalance

Hormones influence every process in your pet’s body, and imbalances can affect their skin. Endocrine or hormonal conditions that can cause itching include hypothyroidism and Cushing’s disease. Your pet may become itchy and develop other skin issues if they suffer from low thyroid hormone production or an overproduction of cortisol—a steroid hormone. 

#7: Your pet is stressed

While stress and anxiety typically do not cause itching, this mental health condition can manifest as nervous behavior, resulting in itchiness because of excessive licking, chewing, and scratching. Rather than being truly itchy, stressed pets turn to licking as a way to soothe their frazzled nerves. Pets often use licking and chewing as calming behaviors, and you may notice your furry pal focusing on a certain spot as they lick or chew.

Itchy, inflamed skin can make your pet considerably uncomfortable. If your furry pal is incessantly licking, chewing, or scratching, schedule an appointment with our Star of Texas Veterinary Hospital team.