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Pruritus (Itchiness) in Dogs

By: Dr. Mark Thompson

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Diagnosis

The key to treating pruritus is to identify and treat the underlying cause. Your veterinarian may want to perform a few diagnostic tests determine the cause of the pruritus. Tests may include:

  • A complete medical history. A thorough medical history is the foundation for the diagnosis of any dermatologic condition. The breed of your dog, the age, onset of symptoms, duration of symptoms, severity, season in which the problem occurs and the response to previous medications all are important clues.

  • A thorough physical examination. A complete general and skin examination that includes the skin, ears, footpads and claws is equally important. Unlike most organ systems in the body, the skin can be directly observed. Therefore, what your veterinarian sees is of value in establishing a diagnosis. Your veterinarian will usually look for primary lesions (those caused directly by the disease) and secondary lesions (those caused by your dog's response to the disease). The distribution of the lesions on your dog's body is critical to diagnosis since animals tend to scratch in certain areas with certain diseases. Also, a flea comb is often used to look for fleas, flea dirt or other parasites.

  • Skin scrapings. Skin scrapings are commonly done to diagnose skin parasites. A scalpel blade is used to scrape layers of skin that are then examined under the microscope for mange mites and other parasites.

  • Fungal cultures. Your veterinarian may do a culture of the hair to rule out dermatophytes (ringworm). Although not always pruritic, ringworm can sometimes cause animals to scratch and can mimic other skin diseases. A small amount of hair is plucked from a skin lesion, placed on the growth media and incubated for 10 days to four weeks to observe for growth.

  • Blood and allergy tests. Your veterinarian may elect to do blood tests to assess other organs that may have an effect on the skin, or allergy tests or food trails if allergy is suspected.

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