Cat & Dog Itchy Skin

Information on the causes of scratching and itchy skin in cats and dogs.

Select a Topic

  1. What is Itchy Skin?
  2. What Causes Itchy Skin?
  3. Diagnosing Itchy Skin
  4. Treatment for Itchy Pets

What is Itchy Skin?

Itchy skin, known to veterinarians as pruritus, is one of the most common pet health complaints from cat and dog owners.

Itching is uncomfortable for your furry friend. Worse yet, an intense itch causes dogs and cats to scratch, chew and lick at their skin. This can cause irritation, infection and other complications.

Common signs of itchiness in dogs and cats:

  • Scratching
  • Hair loss
  • Biting
  • Licking
  • Chewing
  • Inflamed skin
  • Self-trauma

As soon as you notice your dog or cat itching excessively, or see a change in skin or coat condition, consult your vet right away.

What Causes Itchy Skin?

There are many different causes of itchy skin in our feline and canine friends. Medically, itching is caused by a chemical reaction in the skin that stimulates nerves and sends a signal to the brain to “scratch here.”

Repeated scratching at an area can cause fur loss, inflammation, skin lesions, pain and constant licking of the paws.

Causes of Itchy Skin in Pets:

  • Allergic reactions
  • Dry skin
  • Fleas
  • Hot spots
  • Seborrhea
  • Yeast infections
  • Bacterial infections
  • Scabies
  • Lice
  • Fleas
  • Immune system problems
  • Abnormal cell development (neoplasia)

Allergies in Pets

The most common cause of itchiness in animals is allergies. These typically fall into three categories: food allergies, environmental allergies and external parasites.

Besides the obvious signs of frequent scratching, other clues your cat or dog may have allergies are skin sores, ear infections, smelly ears and excess earwax. Since allergies tend to worsen over time, it’s important to contact your vet as soon as you suspect something is wrong.

When itchy skin is left untreated, serious infection can develop and spread to other areas of the skin and body. The best way to help your pet stop itching is to figure out what is causing their symptoms.

Diagnosing Itchy Skin

Your vet can perform diagnostic tests such as skin scrapings, fungal culture and skin biopsy to determine the cause of your cat or dog’s itching.

If your vet suspects allergies as the cause, allergy testing can reveal what triggers your dog or cat to react.

Treatment for Pets Itchy Skin

The right treatment for itchy skin depends on what is causing your pet’s scratching. You can try soothing oatmeal baths, shampoos and leave-in conditioners. Anti-itch creams, lotions and cooling salves can also help.

Antihistamines, antibiotics, dietary supplements, corticosteroids and immunotherapy can also provide symptomatic relief.

If the itchiness is caused by allergies, several treatment options are available. The specific path depends on the allergen involved:

  • Food allergy – remove the trigger ingredient from the diet.
  • Environmental allergy – the most common cause of allergies in animals. Options may include daily pills, monthly injections or immunotherapy (allergy shots) developed specifically for your pet based on skin test results.
  • Parasite allergy – medication to prevent flea and tick infestations.
Tips to stop excessive scratching and maintain overall skin health:
  • Feed high quality commercial pet food or an all-natural diet without additives, preservatives or artificial coloring.
  • Avoid sudden changes to your pet’s diet. Introduce new foods gradually and monitor what effect they have on your cat or dog.
  • Include omega-3 fatty acid supplements, or add sunflower or olive oil, to your pet’s diet to help reduce itching and inflammation.
  • Make sure that your pet’s coat is clean by bathing him with a soothing shampoo.
  • Oatmeal baths or Epson salt baths can sooth skin.
  • Use products specifically prescribed for your pet’s skin type and avoid using human and over-the-counter products unless your vet recommends them.
  • Make sure that pets with long-haired coats are clipped or shaved to make bathing easier.
  • Brush your dog or cat’s coat daily to prevent matting and increase circulation.
  • Avoid exposing your pet to allergens and irritants such as pollen, dust mites, chemicals, household detergents, pesticides or fertilizers.
  • Use a flea repellent recommended by your vet to keep fleas and ticks under control.
  • Keep your pet’s living space clean by disinfecting regularly and washing pillows regularly.

Try a natural remedy, such as PetAlive Allergy Itch Ease™ Granules for Skin Itch and Allergies. This medicine for skin allergies relieves and soothes your pet’s skin, stops scratching and supports the integrity of skin cells.

The content provided is for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice. If you have a health condition, please consult a medical professional and do not use this information to self-diagnose or self-treat.
  1. “Itchiness, Desire to Scratch, Chew or Lick Causing Inflamed Skin in Dogs.” PetMD. Accessed January 2, 2020.
  2. Netishinga, Hanna. “Got an Itch?” Accessed January 2, 2020.
  3. Walden, Laurie Ann. “It’s Spring and My Pet Itches.” American Veterinarian. Accessed January 2, 2020.
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