Pruritus - Itching and Scratching in Dogs

By Ryan Llera, BSc, DVM; Tammy Hunter, DVM; Ernest Ward, DVM

What is pruritus?

Pruritus is the medical term for itching. It is common in many 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 the skin and may lead to a skin infection called pyoderma (see the handout “Pyoderma in Dogs” for more information). The dog may develop hair loss and scabs and, if severe enough, raw or bleeding skin from self-trauma.


What causes pruritus?

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.

"Pruritus due to skin disease is one of the most common reasons dog owners seek veterinary care."

See handouts "Flea Allergy Dermatitis in Dogs", "Atopic Dermatitis (Atopy) in Dogs", "Food Allergies in Dogs", and "Sarcoptic Mange in Dogs" for more information about these skin conditions.

How can the itching be stopped?

Treating skin disease can be challenging and frustrating for owners and veterinarians. Several tests and treatments may be necessary to diagnose the cause of your pet’s itching, including skin scrapings and skin cytology to look for the presence of mites and other insects and bacterial or yeast infections. In some cases, testing can be done right away in the veterinary clinic, while more extensive testing may take weeks to months.

In many cases, the condition may only be controlled, not cured, and some pets will require lifelong treatment for their condition.

Are some dogs more prone to pruritus than others?

Any dog can develop skin allergies or pruritus. Many purebred dogs have family histories of skin problems; Cocker Spaniels, French 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 most itchy dogs respond very well to 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 (i.e., corticosteroids) that may be used to suppress itching.

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