Why Do Pets Itch So Much?8 min read

 In Cats, Dogs, Medical



One of the many reasons why people take their pets to veterinary hospitals are those cases related to the pet itch syndrome. I think if dogs and cats were to never itch again, they would have to colonize the moon and live in the vacuum of space! Since that is not possible we have to figure out how to minimize the pain and irritation and other side effects of an itchy dog.

Itching dogs often cause discomfort for the owner. Our furry friends are covered with hair so much of it during a pet itch attack are found all over the home due to constant scratching. People are continually vacuuming their homes. Many pets sleep with their owners. Scratching behavior prevents most people from sleeping. The sounds of thumping on hard wood floors or the bed bouncing up and down from scratching will bother most people. When I treated many of these animals, I was indirectly helping the clients get a good nights rest!




Pets itch constantly when exposed to outdoor weed or tree pollen. This is characteristically known as atopic dermatitis. Many times the true problem cannot be identified. Lots of dogs and cats will itch at the same time of the year. I have had many dogs and cats that were presented yearly within days of the previous year’s visit! This means that many of these cases are seasonal allergies that are caused by certain tree or weed pollen that is released at that time of year. The only good thing about cold weather is that a hard freeze kills almost everything outside. Winter dormancy makes a dog’s life much easier. As soon as it hits 50 degrees and higher dogs start to itch again! Lesions can be presented anywhere on the body but especially the groin and the upper lower back areas.

SOLUTION: Many dogs spend a lot of time outdoors because it is warm and it is enjoyable. In the hot summer months try to keep animals indoors so that they can breathe filtered air conditioned air, if possible. Change the filters in your A/C air handler more frequently. Take a damp cloth and wipe your dog’s coat or bathe the animal frequently in an oatmeal based pet shampoo. Whatever you do, do not use warm or hot water! The skin is already inflamed and warm water will make the animal feel even more miserable. Use cool water such as that from an outdoor hose. If this doesn’t work seek medical attention. Most animals will receive a version of a corticosteroid such as prednisolone to control the itch plus an antibiotic if a secondary infection is present. Other solutions include moving to Arizona!




Flea bites are probably one of the worst allergens that a dog or cat can be subjected to. In an extremely sensitized animal one flea bite can drive a pet crazy. There is a cat flea and a dog flea. The cat flea is tiny and black while the dog flea is larger and brown. The cat flea is more common on dogs. The flea allergy is caused by the saliva of the flea which is introduced into the animal while the insect sucks blood from the pet. Flea allergies usually occur on dogs over the lower back and groin areas and around the head and neck area of dogs and cats.

SOLUTION: Veterinarians will need to take care of the itch and secondary infections but the most important treatment is appropriate flea control. This involves treating the home with sprays and foggers and your pets. Years ago, shampoos and sprays were the only solution. Today there are countless brands of topical products that are extremely effective. Some of the best products that I have found useful can be found by reading Flea and Tick Control.




Pets itch secondary to dry skin in winter time in northern climates. All heating systems, particularly wood burning stoves, will have a humidity level akin to the Sahara desert. This then causes flaking of epithelial cells (dandruff) and the resulting itch. This problem usually goes away after the heating season is over. It may be winter but make sure you do not find any fleas on your pets. They may not be able to survive outdoors in the cold but they will find it nice and cozy in your house.

SOLUTION: The easiest approach is to replace moisture that has been lost in the air and on your pet. Humidifiers can make everyone more comfortable in the winter. Bathe your pet with a cool water bath using an oatmeal shampoo. Pet skin conditioners are also available that will hold in moisture on your pet’s skin. In a pinch pour a small amount of human hair conditioner in a small spray bottle and fill with water. Spray on your pet and comb it in. There are oral commercial products that can help moisture the skin. They take time but they work. At home try adding a teaspoon of olive oil to the pet’s food everyday. You should notice an improvement in about 3-4 weeks.




Pyodermas are skin infections caused by bacteria or yeast. They cause an intense itch on their own but when combined with an allergy the animal becomes miserable. Anytime the skin surface is breached bacteria can play havoc. Yeast then follow the parade as they are opportunistic organisms.

SOLUTION: The only one is a visit to your veterinarian. It is best to stay away from steroids. Sure, they will make the dog feel better but will retard the elimination of the bacterial and or yeast infection. Treatment is with appropriate antibiotics for a minimum of 2 weeks plus a medicated shampoo containing either chlorhexidine and or ketoconazole.




Pets itch when an irritating substance is applied to the skin of the animal. Some animals are sensitive to certain shampoos and or topical flea treatments. These irritations lead to constant scratching by the dog or cat. This in turn can lead to bacterial infections.

SOLUTION: If you use a product on the skin of the animal and it irritates the pet discontinue its use. Find an alternative shampoo from a veterinary office or try an oral flea product if the topical products irritate your pet’s skin. Regarding shampoo, do not use “baby” shampoo. It may sound like it is gentle but it dries out dog skin in short order leading to itchy conditions. An oatmeal based shampoo would be a better bet.




The most common biting insect that can cause a severe allergic reaction in dogs or cats is yellow jackets or other wasps. Dogs and cats love to swat at the insects or bite at them. That explains why most injuries are on the paws or lips or inner portions of the pet’s oral cavity (mouth). Histamine is produced as a component of the allergic reaction. This causes swelling and most pets will scratch or bite at the affected area. Take your pet immediately to a medical facility.

SOLUTION: Treatment is prescribed by veterinarians to stop or slow down the allergic reaction. This includes: dexamethasone, benedryl and epinephrine (adrenalin). Most dogs do well but to prevent respiratory collapse all dogs and cats need immediate medical care.




The two most common parasitic mites that cause dogs to itch are Sarcoptic and Demodectic mange. Both of these parasites burrow and reproduce in the hair follicles of the dog. Sarcoptic mange goes back and forth between dogs and humans. Canine Demodex sp. does not cross over to humans. The itch from the sarcoptic mange mite can be intense.

SOLUTION: The use of corticosteroids is not indicated as they will act as an immunosuppresant making the problem worse. Demodex sp is found in usually immunosuppressed breeds like Doberman Pinschers so adding steroids to the mix can be risky. Ivermectins and some of the topical flea/tick preparations are used to treat sarcoptic mange while Mitoban® is used to treat Demodex sp.

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