Pruritus - Itching and Scratching in Dogs

By Tammy Hunter, DVM; Ernest Ward, DVM

What is pruritus?

Pruritus is the medical term for itching. It is common in many types of skin disorders. Itching and scratching are commonly associated with flea allergy dermatitis and other allergic skin diseases.

Is it common?

Pruritus is a common clinical sign of many skin disorders. It is often accompanied by red, inflamed areas of skin and may lead to skin infection called pyoderma. If severe enough, the pet may develop hair loss, scabs, and raw/bleeding skin from self-trauma.

What causes pruritus?pruritus_dog_2018-01

Pruritus due to skin disease is one of the most common reasons dog owners seek veterinary care. Flea allergy dermatitis, seasonal allergies or atopy, food allergies, contact dermatitis (e.g., soaps and perfumes), and sarcoptic mange (mites) are some of the most common causes of pruritus in dogs.


How can the itching be stopped?

The treatment of skin disease can be challenging and frustrating both for owners and veterinarians. In order to diagnose the specific cause of itching in your pet, several tests and treatments may be necessary. These may include skin scrapings and skin cytology to look for the presence of mites and other insects, and bacterial or yeast infections. In some cases, this process may take weeks to months. In many cases, the condition may only be controlled, not cured, and some pets require lifelong treatment for their condition.

Is all pruritus that complicated?

No. In the majority of dogs, pruritus is seasonal and the most common causes are inhalant allergies (e.g., pollens and molds), flea bites, and food allergies.

Are some dogs more prone to pruritus than others?labs_pruritus_

Any dog can develop skin allergies or pruritus. Many purebred dogs have family histories of skin problems. Cocker Spaniels, Poodles, West Highland White Terriers, and Retrievers are known to have high incidences of skin disorders.

Can pruritus be cured?

It depends upon the cause of your pet's itching. Some pets will require intermittent treatment for the rest of their lives. These are extreme cases and the majority of itchy dogs respond very well to relatively simple treatment.

Dogs that suffer from seasonal allergies to pollens, molds, and/or mites may benefit from allergy desensitization injections or allergy shots. Allergy desensitizing injections should not be confused with anti-inflammatory injections (such as corticosteroids) that may be used to suppress itching.

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