An itch you can’t scratch is definitely frustrating, but reaching an itch and scratching and scratching may be worse. If your pet is itching and constantly scratching, they can seriously damage their skin, exacerbate the problem, and start a stressful itch-scratch cycle. Getting to the root of your pet’s constant scratching is critical for finding them relief.

If your four-legged friend is using all four paws to scratch their itch, three conditions may be causing the incessant scratching, licking, and chewing.

#1: Your pet has allergies

Allergies in pets are more common now, as this condition is largely an inherited trait. Certain breeds, like bulldogs and Labradors, are notorious for their allergy problems, although any pet’s immune system can become overactive when presented with allergens. Allergies develop when a pet is repeatedly exposed to a substance and their immune system mounts a hyperactive response that typically causes skin issues. Some allergic pets show respiratory signs, or gastrointestinal (GI) problems, like vomiting or diarrhea, but this is far less common.

Pet allergies are categorized into three types, and pets often have more than one allergy type. The three categories are:

  • Environmental allergies — Environmental allergies, which are also called atopic dermatitis or atopy, are a reaction to pollen, mold, grasses, trees, shrubs, and dust mites. Pets with environmental allergies can suffer from seasonal flares or year-round issues that typically worsen with age. Atopy signs in pets include greasy skin, hair loss, skin inflammation, recurrent skin and ear infections, and scratching, licking, and chewing at the face, paws, and ears.
  • Flea allergies — Flea allergies occur in pets who are hypersensitive to a protein in flea saliva. Sensitive pets can develop an itchy, scabby rash on their hind end, especially the tail base, from only a handful of flea bites. Pets with flea allergies need a year-round flea prevention regimen to prevent allergic reactions.
  • Food allergies — Food allergies are not common in pets, and grain allergies are rare. Pets with food allergies typically are sensitive to the protein source in the diet, so the most common allergens include chicken, lamb, beef, and dairy. Food allergies in pets cause the classic allergy signs, such as skin and ear infections, hair loss, and scratching, licking, and chewing at the face, paws, and ears, and may also cause vomiting and diarrhea.

#2: Your pet has parasites

While fleas are the number one itch-causing external parasite in pets, other pests can also bite and chew your pet’s skin and cause serious itchiness, including:

  • Ticks — Ticks can cause an itching sensation as they crawl through your pet’s fur or latch on for a warm meal. This triggers your pet’s urge to scratch, and they may accidentally remove the tick body and leave the attached head, which can lead to disease. Avoid this situation and potential infection—always check your pet for ticks immediately after returning from the outdoors, and ensure they never miss a dose of their year-round tick prevention product.
  • Mange mites — Two types of mange mites—sarcoptic and demodectic—commonly infect pets. Sarcoptic mange causes intense itching and is contagious, whereas demodectic mange is less pruritic and not contagious.
  • Ear mites — Ear mites can pass from pet to pet, especially if they share close living quarters or sleep together. These tiny pests create such intense itching that pets often scratch their ears until they bleed.

Lice can also cause pets to itch, but they are rarely a concern unless the pet is ill and housed in a dirty, overcrowded environment.

#3: Your pet has a skin condition

Various skin conditions can cause itching that your pet will scratch, lick, chew, and rub for relief. Skin conditions your pet can develop include:

  • Bacterial and fungal infections — Bacterial skin infections are often caused by Staphylococcus bacteria, while fungal infections can result from yeast or ringworm. These skin infections can be a primary condition or develop secondary to another issue, like allergies, endocrine disorders, anatomical skin folds, or inadequate grooming.
  • Hormonal conditions — Hormones are responsible for many bodily functions and can cause a multitude of health issues if they are out of balance. Certain hormonal diseases, including hypothyroidism and Cushing’s disease, can result in itchy, flaky skin.
  • Autoimmune diseases — Autoimmune diseases such as lupus and pemphigus are linked to itchiness, scabs, pustules, and ulcers.
  • Skin cancer — Certain skin cancers, like cutaneous lymphoma, can cause pets to itch.

Itchy skin and ears can make your pet miserable, so don’t delay treatment if your furry pal is rubbing, licking, or scratching their face, paws, or body. Give our Midtown Animal Hospital team a call to schedule your pet’s appointment, so we can bring them some relief.