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Pruritis (Itchiness) in Small Mammals

By: PetPlace Veterinarians

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Pruritus or itching is an unpleasant sensation that causes an animal to scratch or bite at himself. It is caused by stimulation of certain nerves within the skin by mediators of inflammation. Thus, any skin condition that causes inflammation can cause pruritus.

Pruritus is the main symptom of skin conditions like skin infections and skin parasites (fleas, mites, lice and others) but may be seen with many other skin diseases. The act of scratching may stimulate the release of inflammatory mediators and worsen pruritus.

Mild itchiness usually has little effect on the health of the animal. Severe pruritus, however, causes intense scratching, which may lead to skin lesions that are painful and may become secondarily infected.

What to Watch For

  • Scratching or biting that continues beyond one day and leads to lesions such as hair loss, reddening of the skin and obvious pain or discomfort.
  • Chronic licking of the feet or excessive grooming in one area.

    Diagnosis

    Diagnostic tests may be needed to determine the cause of the pruritus. These tests may include:

  • A complete and thorough medical history and physical examination of your pet. A thorough medical history is the foundation for the diagnosis of any dermatologic symptom.

  • A thorough physical examination and examination of the skin, ears, feet and claws is usually done. Your veterinarian should pay particular attention to the types of skin lesions that are present and where these lesions are located on your pet's skin.

  • Skin scrapings are usually done to rule out mange mites and other parasites.

  • Fungal cultures of hair may be done to rule out dermatophytes (ringworm).

    Treatment

    The key to relief from pruritus is to identify and treat the underlying cause. Pruritus may be temporarily relieved with medication but the itching often recurs after the medication is finished. Temporary relief may come in the form of antihistamines, soothing shampoos and corticosteroids.

    Home Care

    Administer all veterinary prescribed medication to your pet as instructed by your veterinarian. Consult with your veterinarian to establish a parasite control program if parasites are the cause of the itchiness.

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