As any human who’s had a mosquito bite, poison ivy or allergic reaction knows, skin irritation and itchiness can be terrible to deal with. The urge to itch is nearly impossible to avoid, but we can typically use creams and medications to help ourselves. Our pets, on the other hand, can’t relieve itching as easily.
Dogs and cats are susceptible to allergies, many of which cause reactions in the form of dry and itchy skin. While some itching is normal, if you notice your pet is obsessively scratching themselves or rubbing on furniture, they may actually have an allergy that is causing them severe discomfort. Some pets will use their paws to scratch allergy-induced itches, but others may cause more harm to themselves, so it’s important to monitor your pets and keep track of their itching behaviors.
Pet allergies that cause itching
There are three major types of skin-affecting allergies that dogs and cats may have that cause itching. Atopic dermatitis is an allergic reaction to an allergen like pollen, mold and dust that manifests itself on the skin. These allergies might be seasonal or year-long and can be caused through inhalation or direct contact with the allergen.
Flea allergies are caused by the saliva of fleas that make your dog or cat’s fur home. Flea allergies are some of the most common causes of itchy skin, and symptoms will remain until your pet is free of the pests.
Finally, food allergies are caused by a particular food item. Common food allergies include beef, milk and eggs. While food allergies may cause diarrhea and vomiting, they also may cause itchy and infected skin.
Signs of allergy-induced itching
So how can you, as a pet owner, tell when your cat or dog is scratching a normal itch or is seeking relief from allergy-induced itching? Here are some common signs of itchiness to watch out for:
- Obsessive scratching: The major sign of allergy-induced itching is scratching that is nearly constant. If your dog or cat will not stop scratching a particular area on its body or chewing or biting their skin, they probably have something worse than a normal itch to scratch.
- Rubbing: Most pet owners know that their dog or cat will rub itself along the edges of furniture or on the floor to scratch an itch it just can’t reach, but watch out for excessive rubbing as a sign of allergic itching.
- Inflamed and irritated skin: Both allergic reactions on the skin and obsessive scratching will cause your pet’s skin to become very red, inflamed and obviously irritated. Look on your pet’s stomach, behind its arms and legs and on its paws for any areas that look severely inflamed.
- Bleeding or open sores: To relieve the itch that won’t go away, some cats and dogs will bite and scratch themselves until they cause bleeding, open sores, skin lesions and scabs. If left untreated, these wounds can become infected, causing additional pain and discomfort to your pet.
- Hair loss: The consistent scratching will typically cause an increase in hair loss and shedding, and you may notice bald spots on your pet where their allergic reaction and itching have been the most centralized.
- Hot spots: Dogs with allergic reactions may get hot spots, which are red, inflamed patches of skin—usually without hair—that are caused by natural bacteria overwhelming the area. Hot spots may bleed or become infected and are pretty hard to miss once they appear.
Soothing the itching
As soon as you notice your pet displaying signs of allergy-induced itching, take them to the vet to be tested for allergies. The vet will likely run some tests to determine the allergen and recommend ways to treat the response, but very few allergies can be cured. Instead, you can find at-home ways to soothe your pet’s itchiness and discomfort.
Baths are great ways to both remove allergens from your pet’s skin and soothe any inflammation and irritation. Use specially-designed shampoo for fleas, seasonal allergens or the type of irritation present. For flea allergies, get a flea comb and use it regularly to remove pests from your furry friend’s coat. Topical creams and gels may also help relieve any major hot spots or sores present on your pet’s skin, if they have itched themselves to the point of harm.
Using an air filter can help decrease the presence of allergens your pet can inhale, particularly during peak times for seasonal allergies, like spring. These filters remove the pollen and spores from your home, helping to minimize allergic reactions in your cats and dogs.
If you discover the itching was caused by a food allergy, monitor your pet’s diet to avoid any allergic reactions. No matter what the source of your pet’s allergy, make sure to pay attention to obsessive scratching and other signs of allergy-induced itching and take action as quickly as possible to keep your pet happy and healthy.