When my vet recently told me that the number one reason people bring pets to her veterinary hospital is because of itching and related skin issues, I wasn’t surprised. Here in Southern California especially, the dry desert air combined with watered tropical landscaping and natural flora and fauna are a mecca for allergens and itch-causing critters. Dogs especially seem to be prone to scratching fits, but cats are not immune. In the decades I’ve worked and volunteered for large shelters and rescues, I hear the same common complaints time and time again. Dogs scratching ‘hot spot’ sores on their paws, cats itching keeping their owners awake at night, puppies chewing up their tails, red irritated skin and fur falling out every where! So what are the top 5 causes of canines and felines itching and scratching? How can you stop your pet’s discomfort? Ask your vet about our top 5 ways to stop a pet from itching. They are…

1. Fleas. Fleas are the number one reason dogs and cats scratch and itch. If your pet is sensitive to fleas, even one flea can cause a frantic dance. Imagine how you’d feel if there was a bug crawling in your hair and biting you. Even if your pet is on flea control, sometimes it takes multiple methods of both environmental cleanup (daily vacuuming, bed and carpet disinfecting) and products for your pet to fully get the flea problem under control on an ongoing basis. Talk to your vet about what flea control methods they recommend for your pet in your area, and read our 7 Steps To a Flea Free Home here.

2. Food allergy. Just like humans, some pets can have or develop (even after a long time of being fine with it) allergies to certain things they eat. Sometimes simply switching to a different flavor of pet food or treats and eliminating the old ones can stop a pet that is itching. After your vet has ruled out fleas, they may have you do a “food trial” where you temporarily feed a strict limited-ingredient diet for 8 weeks.  Then it can be trial and error process of introducing other foods slowly one at a time until your pet starts itching again. Voila! You’ve identified the tipping point trigger to avoid.

3. Dry skin. Especially when its cold and dry outside, and heated inside, pets can get dry, flaky, itchy skin. Even if you don’t notice flaking, ask your vet if a topical or dietary Omega 3 supplement for pets can help your pet if they have dry skin itchiness.

4. Environment. Pollen, dust, yard sprays, cleaning products, laundry detergent, shampoo, grass, plants… all of these and more can come in contact with your pet’s fur, paws, and skin and be a potential irritant. Figuring out which one or combination is causing your pet to itch can be quite a puzzle. Try one piece at a time. Give your pet a “bath” using just water, thoroughly rinsing their fur all the way down to their skin. Wash their bed and anything else washable (sheets, cushion covers, rugs) in hot water without any detergent. If they go outside, before they come back inside, wipe their paws and legs down with one or more damp papertowels, using long strokes as if you were erasing a blackboard… for dogs you can even dunk their feet in a tray or bucket of warm water to give a quick rinse before coming inside.

5. Stress. Any big life change can cause stress and anxiety in a pet’s life. They may not show it in other ways, but itching due to stress or anxiety is quite common. Ways to reduce a pet stress include: 1) De-stressing any humans the pet comes in contact with, since pets are stress sponges; 2) Establishing a rock-solid routine of feeding, playing, and sleeping at the same times every day; 3) Engaging your pet in more daily exercise they enjoy, be it chasing a laser toy around the living room, or going on a long hike together; 4) Giving them a safety zone hideout. For dogs this can be a crate where they can den up with a favorite chew toy and know they will be safe and undisturbed, for cats it might be a tall cat tree with a big top shelf or hidey-hole, or a nest in the bottom of a rarely used closet.

Your vet plays a key role in helping you figure out if one or more of the above causes and cures is the best treatment protocol for your and your pet. If your pet is suffering, they can suggest medications that can mask the symptoms to give your pet immediate relief while you figure out a permanent solution to your pet’s itching.

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