One of the most common calls made to any animal hospital in America goes something like this: “Doctor, I’ve got to get my pet in there right away. He’s driving us nuts. All he does is itch and scratch, bite and lick and he’s keeping us up all night!” My thought is that if the pet’s caretakers are being driven “nuts” by the pet’s scratching and licking, how awful must the poor animal feel? This kind of call to the veterinarian refers to a fairly serious case of pruritus (pruritus means itching). In reality there is a wide spectrum of causes and severity of pruritus in animals with skin and coat trouble. Some animals can spend hours romping through fields, digging holes, and rolling in the grass and still have no after-effects at all. Others, kept indoors and fed an excellent diet, may have severe skin disorders. Let’s see if we can make some sense of this complicated and aggravating situation and try to answer the question “Why does my pet itch-and-scratch-bite-and-lick?”
Most Common Reasons Pets Visit us for Skin Problems:
- Skin Bumps or Masses - Any unusual skin bump, lump, or mass needs to be looked at and evaluated by your vet. It is common for dogs and cats to have some minor irregularities on the skin but sometimes things like this can indicate a serious underlying condition. Don't wait, have these looked at right away to determine if your pet may have a problem. Early detection is the answer.
- Dermatitis - This is an irritation and inflammation of the skin that is severely itchy and usually red, rash-like, scaly, or even bumpy looking. Dermatitis can be environmental, nutritional, parasitic, or bacterial in nature. The cause could also be several of these put together. Talking with your vet and having them give your pet a thorough exam and review the pet’s history will get to the bottom of most dermatitis cases.
- Fleas - These tiny and very pesky creatures can infest your lawn, home, carpets, bedding, and your pet! Dark, copper-colored, and wingless, about the size of the head of a pin, fleas are big enough to be seen scurrying through a pet’s fur and their bites can cause severe itching, scabs, infections, and even allergic dermatitis if not treated promptly.
- Sarcoptic Mites - These are nasty little critters! They cause intense itching, hair loss, and inflamed skin with multiple small scabs often present. Another name for these mites is Scabies. They are contagious to humans and burrow deep into the layers of the skin. Call your vet immediately if Sarcoptic Mites are suspected.
- Demodex Mites - These little rascals do live and reproduce just under the skin surface in the tiny hair follicles and oil glands of the skin. Unlike Sarcoptic Mites, Demodex mites can be seen on a skin scraping viewed under the microscope. They look like tiny cigars with stubby legs stuck to the front half of their body.
- Yeast - Yeast is a common contaminant of inflamed and environmentally stressed skin and can irritate an already diseased skin surface. Especially notorious for creating long term, low-grade external ear-infections, Yeast does cause itching and inflammation. Yeast infections typically create greasy, odorous and pruritic signs in affected dogs. The skin is stressed by the waste products of the organisms and responds by releasing histamine - which triggers further inflammation, pruritus and cell damage. If a yeast infection is diagnosed, there may something else going on such as Hypothyroidism, chronic administration of cortisone medication or dietary fatty acid deficiency.