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If your pet is forever scratching himself, he’s may be dealing with fleas, allergies or another medical problem. Here's what you can do to help.
Itching is one of the most common problems veterinarians encounter, and they have an arsenal of weapons—from special shampoos to lotions, supplements and medications—to ease the incessant itching and prevent a simple twinge from turning into something more.
Itching is usually a sign of an underlying problem. For example, if your pet has an allergy, exposure to the allergen causes a series of events to occur within the animal’s body, including the release of histamine, a chemical that is very irritating and leads to itching. Allergic reactions also cause the release of several other chemicals that contribute to irritation, inflammation, and itching. Some bacteria and fungal organisms (which can be introduced into the skin when your pet scratches himself) also release chemicals that irritate nerve endings in the skin and cause itching. If an itchy pet doesn’t respond to an antihistamine (a medication that targets histamine), it may be because histamine isn’t the main cause of the itch.
Less commonly, some animals chew, itch or lick themselves excessively as a compulsive behavior, usually as the result of stress or boredom.
In addition to the scratching, your pet may also exhibit mild or severe:
Itching is a response to another condition, so identifying the cause is as important as treating the itch. Your veterinarian will likely take a complete medical history and do a physical examination of your pet. Your veterinarian may also recommend diagnostic testing that can include the following:
If the problem has been chronic or recurring, your veterinarian will likely ask what therapies you’ve already tried and whether they were successful. This information can provide useful information about the underlying problem.
Managing an itchy pet can involve combining several approaches, because multiple factors can be contributing to the problem. For example, if your pet has an underlying allergy that’s complicated by a flea infestation in addition to a bacterial or fungal infection, all of these issues need to be addressed.
Treatment for an itchy pet can require a long-term commitment, since pets respond differently to medications. If a particular treatment doesn’t seem to be helping, or if your pet seems to be responding negatively, you should let your veterinarian know so changes can be made as needed.
If your pet is not responding to therapy, contact your veterinarian to see if modifications may be helpful. Sometimes, your veterinarian will combine several therapies for the best results. But every animal is different, so one may do very well receiving a combination of antihistamines with a shampoo and a nutritional supplement, whereas another pet may not.
This article has been reviewed by a Veterinarian.
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