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Why Does My Pet Scratch?

By Scott Lackenby | Dated October 15, 2018

Do you have a pet that is always scratching, biting or licking itself? They may be affected by allergies or external parasites.  Your vet will be able to diagnose the condition and help to you select the right treatment for skin irritation.

why does my pet scratch

There is a wide range of causes and severity of itching and scratching in pets. There are a wide range of grasses, trees and bushes that can cause allergies as well as parasites that bite the skin, crawl over the surface of the skin or live in hair follicles. In some cases diet can be the cause of itching!

Common Skin and Coat Abnormalities

Most skin and coat abnormalities your pet will experience will fall under one of the following categories:

  • Environmental – Sensitivities to normal lawn grasses may occur, however there are a variety of plants that can cause a skin irritation. Assist your vet by taking note of the plants and grasses in your backyard prior to your consult.
  • Parasitic – Repeated or prolonged exposure to fleas can trigger a hypersensitivity to further flea bites. Flea bites then trigger an Allergic Dermatitis which is caused by the flea’s saliva. In some cases this can cause a secondary infection that requires veterinary treatment. Mange mites or lice can also cause severe itching in pets.
  • Allergic – Allergic Dermatitis can be triggered by many things such as: Food ingredients, synthetic and natural fibres, medications, plant material and even dust mites. The allergy is caused by an antigen.
  • Neurogenic – The most commonly seen form of Neurogenic Dermatitis is Acral Lick Granuloma. Characterized by persistent, obsessive licking and chewing at the target area, it is more common for dogs and rarely seen in cats.
  • Infectious – Bacterial, fungal and yeast organisms are pathogens which can cause coat and skin problems in dogs and cats. These infections can be primary or secondary to another disease such as allergies or parasites. Ringworm (Microsporum canis or Microsporum gypseum) is a common fungus called a dermatophyte which causes non-pruritic (not itchy), circular patches of hair loss. Transmissible to other dogs (and sometimes humans) it is important to seek treatment from your vet as soon as possible.

What Can You Do To Prevent Skin Irritations?

Although you can’t always prevent your cat or dog from developing an allergy, here are three simple ways you can help to reduce the chance of skin irritations from occurring:

  • Make sure your pet receives regular external parasite control
  • Keep your pet’s coat well groomed. Excessive or unkempt hair can lead to irritations
  • Visit your veterinarian at the first sign of your pet’s discomfort. Early intervention can help relieve irritation and potentially prevent secondary infections.

Treatments Available for Your Pet’s Skin and Coat Abnormalities

Treatments will vary depending on the problem and severity of the symptoms:

  • Corticosteroids can help with itching by treating the underlying allergic response, but the most effective treatment is to identify and avoid exposure to the allergens.
  • Yeast infections are easy to diagnose and often respond well to a topical cream. In some cases, your veterinarian may prescribe oral drugs or medicated baths.
  • Various anti-fungal treatments, Oral antibiotics and antibacterial ointments or shampoos will help with many bacterial and fungal infections.
  • Fleas can be treated with topical and/or oral flea killer. Don’t forget to thoroughly clean your pet’s home and yard. It is important to remember fleas can remain in the environment for long periods of time without being on pets so long term treatment is required.
  • Acral Lick Dermatitis is often treated by discouraging the dog from licking, by using either a bad-tasting topical solution or an Elizabethan collar.

As the cause of skin issues can vary, it is recommended to visit a veterinarian to diagnose, treat, and make nutritional recommendations for a pet with skin or coat condition. Additionally, feeding your pet a high quality diet can support healthy skin and help prevent recurrent skin disease.


Written by Scott Lackenby

Scott joined the team at Gordon Vets in 1999, where he was immediately impressed with the high standard of customer service. Scott is very popular amongst clients for his kind hearted approach to pet care and his great sense of humour. His particular areas of interest are endocrinology and dermatology.

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Lihong Xing
Lihong Xing
05:00 05 Nov 18
Highly recommend Dr David, Scott, Helen, and Catherine, I've taken my cat to see all the doctors here.
Vishal Kapoor
Vishal Kapoor
01:52 04 Sep 18
Really amazing staff members. Their systems and processes are also very
Arezu A
Arezu A
03:20 15 Feb 18
Absolutely love the service here. I switched from other Vets to this Vet as the staff here are quite attentive and really care about your furry baby! I have basically seen most of the Dr's here and all of them so far have been fantastic, friendly and fun to speak with! Easy to locate and enough parking available! 5 Stars indeed!
Gerry Stevens
Gerry Stevens
11:01 14 Jul 18
Good competant vet. Did what I needed. Staff friendly. Cat's well.
Jeremy Tarbox
Jeremy Tarbox
22:55 10 Sep 18
We found a stray, agitated dog in front of our house last night. We phoned but got no help from the Council ranger who gave two options: tie him up in front yard overnight or "let him loose, he'll find his own way home" :( So we phoned Gordon Vet: they stayed open a few minutes so we could run him up and he could have a bed and dinner. Thank you Gordon Vet Hospital, hope he gets home soon!!! :)
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