Overview of Pruritus (Itchiness) in Dogs
If your dog spends a large portion of his time scratching, he may have a condition known as pruritus, or itching, an unpleasant sensation that causes your dog to scratch or bite at himself. It is caused by chemical reactions that occur in the skin and stimulate the nerves, causing the brain to feel the itch. In fact, the act of scratching itself may stimulate these inflammatory reactions in the skin and make the condition worse. Any skin condition that causes inflammation can cause pruritus.
How pruritus affects your dog’s health depends on the degree of the pruritus. Mild pruritus may hardly have any effect at all. However, severe pruritus leads to intense scratching, which may result in painful skin lesions that may become infected. Your dog will often whimper or cry out and may have trouble sleeping.
Every dog has a threshold of pruritus or an “itch threshold.” This is the point where all of the sources of itching finally add up to enough irritation to cause the irresistible urge to scratch. Scratching begins when the stimulation exceeds that threshold. For example, a dog with a mild allergy to house dust mites may be below the threshold but may begin to scratch severely when he becomes infested with fleas.
Pruritus is associated with other skin diseases, including secondary bacterial skin infections (pyoderma) and secondary yeast infections. But it is the main symptom of skin conditions like allergies and skin parasites.
What To Watch For
Diagnosis of Pruritus in Dogs
Diagnostic tests may be needed to determine the cause of the pruritus. Your veterinarian will probably do the following:
Treatment of Pruritus in Dogs
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 from the following:
Administer all veterinary prescribed medication as instructed by your veterinarian. Consult with your veterinarian to establish a complete flea control program.
Keep your dog’s coat clean and brushed free of mats.
For more tips – go to Home Care of the Itching Dog.
In-depth Information on Pruritus (Itchiness) in Dogs
Many skin diseases can cause or can contribute to pruritus. Every dog has a threshold of pruritus. When the nerves of the skin are stimulated by mediators of inflammation to a level below that threshold, the dog will not scratch. Scratching begins when the stimulation exceeds that threshold. It is common to see dogs with two or more skin conditions that cause pruritus concurrently. For example, a dog with a mild allergy to house dust mites may be below the threshold but may begin to scratch severely when he becomes infested with fleas.