Pets itch from time to time. But if they’re itching all the time, it becomes a problem! Pet parents can usually tell when something’s wrong, but it’s not as easy to tell what’s causing the skin to itch so badly. Some owners chock it up to general dryness, while others suspect allergies could be to blame. Either way, a vet’s diagnosis is necessary to get to the bottom of the issue.
The difference between dry skin and allergies
Pet parents often have a hard time determining whether their pet’s itchiness is caused by general dryness or skin allergies. You won’t know for sure what the underlying cause is until you consult a veterinarian. However, learning some key differences between the two can help you make an educated guess. Dry skin and allergies look pretty similar, but they also have unique symptoms that set them apart.
For instance, general dryness is associated with flaky, cracked skin. You may notice dandruff in your pet’s fur, especially where they’ve been itching the most. Affected areas will appear cracked or scaly, which means the skin is dehydrated. Dry skin often leaves pets with dull, brittle fur, as well.
Skin allergies can look a bit different compared to general dryness. While dry skin can crop up anywhere, allergic reactions on the skin tend to develop in specific areas. There’s a good chance your pet has allergies if the itchy patches appear only around the eyes, ears, nose, paws and groin. Allergic pets may also have other topical symptoms, like small red bumps and inflammation, as well as respiratory symptoms like a runny nose, sneezing and watery eyes.
Test for dry skin with natural remedies
Pet parents might be able to determine the cause of their pet’s persistent itching with a few at-home tests. Monitor your pet’s skin after adjusting their diet, environment and grooming regimen. If the skin returns to normal after a few days, it’s probably safe to blame the itching on general dryness. Here are a few at-home remedies you can try.
- Increase their water intake: Commercial pet food can dehydrate cats and dogs, especially if their diet primarily consists of dry kibble. Encourage your pet to drink plenty of water by setting out more water bowls and replacing them with fresh water every day. Consider switching to canned wet food or mixing their dry kibble with chicken broth.
- Install a humidifier: Both pets and humans develop dry, itchy skin during winter because there’s less moisture in the air. Some pets and their owners live in dry regions and experience itchy skin year-round. In either case, setting up a humidifier in your living space may help relieve dry skin.
- Apply coconut oil: Coconut oil is one of the best natural moisturizers on the market. It’s non-toxic to pets, so you don’t have to worry about Fido ingesting small amounts. Rub a little bit of coconut oil between your fingers, then massage your pet’s fur so the coconut oil can reach their skin. Coconut oil should clear up general dryness.
When to seek a vet’s diagnosis
Pet parents should get their furry companions tested for allergies if none of the home remedies eliminated their pet’s skin irritation. Your vet will start by ruling out other possible causes of chronic itchiness, such as parasites and fungal infections. They’ll conduct a skin scrape to check for mange, which is a skin disease caused by parasitic mites. The vet might also recommend a fungal culture to detect the presence of ringworm.
Diagnosing skin allergies is a process of elimination. Once the vet rules out mange and ringworm, they will likely diagnose your pet with allergies. The next step is determining whether your pet has food, flea or environmental allergies. Vets use flea treatments and food trials to see if either are causing the itchiness. If symptoms persist, your pet is likely allergic to something in their environment.
Vets can figure out what your pet is allergic to with intradermal skin testing or radioallergosorbent (RAST) testing. Intradermal skin testing means the vet will inject a tiny amount of each potential allergen beneath the skin’s surface and monitor your pet for allergic reactions. RAST testing involves taking a blood sample to see how it reacts to different allergens. Once they identify the allergens affecting your pet, the vet will recommend possible treatment options like antihistamines or hyposensitization.
Pet parents can get understandably frustrated when they don’t know how to alleviate their fur baby’s itching. You’ve tried all the natural home remedies, and nothing seems to work! Never hesitate to ask a vet for help when you struggle to figure out the root cause of itchy skin. Your pet may simply have dry skin, or they could have allergies that require medical treatment. Vets are the only way to guarantee your pet receives the treatment they need.