Helping Itchy Dogs & Cats

Have you read our article on the simple tricks you can do at home to help dogs and cats with itchy skin? These ideas help many pets with dermatitis feel more comfortable.

Unfortunately, home care isn’t always going to be enough. Thankfully there’s also a lot your vet can do to help these poor dogs & cats with itchy skin, including a new and exciting treatment.

How Do Vets Treat Dermatitis?

First we need a diagnosis.

Why Do Dogs Itch & Scratch?

Causes of itchy skin include

  • Atopic dermatitis (allergy or eczema)*
  • Flea bite dermatitis*
  • Mite infestation
  • Fungal infection (especially Malassezia)*
  • Bacterial infection (especially Staph)*
  • Hypersensitivity
  • Contact allergy
  • Food allergy
  • Autoimmune disease
  • Epitheliotrophic lymphoma

*common
Each disease has specific symptoms, tests and therapy. Read more about food allergy testing here and here for an overview of non-food allergies. We can’t stress often enough how hard it is to find fleas on itchy dogs. The only way to rule out flea bite as a cause is to use the reliable dog flea controls listed on this page

Related: What causes mange in dogs?

What About Cats?

The causes are very similar for cats. The big difference is how it looks. Cats often pull our their hair and create bald areas we sometimes call overgrooming and can have nasty infected wounds on their face from scratching. It’s just as important to rule out fleas using these cat flea control products.

From now on we’ll only discuss the treatment of atopic dermatitis, the leading cause of itching and scratching in dogs & cats. Visit our pages on foot licking and ear infections as these are often also an issue.

Treatment Of Atopic Dermatitis

Ointments & Creams

Good for:

  • Preventing small areas of inflammation from spreading or getting infected
  • Dogs & cats very sensitive to side effects of systemic treatments
  • Spot-treatment to allow reduction in systemic doses

Not good for:

  • Areas with hair. Sparsely haired or clipped areas are best
  • Any area that can be licked. These often worsen if cream is used
  • Broken skin

chlorhexidine skin washMedicated Shampoos & Washes

Good for: 

  • Every dog. All should benefit from a wash chosen carefully with your vet

Not good for: 

  • Cats. Very few tolerate washing

Lotions & Sprays

Good for:

  • Topical treatment of haired areas
  • Treating larger areas (the two pictured are not absorbed systemically)
  • Dogs & cats very sensitive to side effects of systemic treatments

Not good for:

  • Treatment for longer than seven days
  • Broken skin

Antihistamines

Good for: 

  • Dogs & cats very sensitive to side effects of systemic cortisone

Not good for: 

  • Patients needing stronger or more reliable treatments

Cortisone (prednisolone, dexamethasone etc)

Good for: 

  • Widespread and severe dermatitis
  • Sudden flare-ups
  • Treatment on a budget

Not good for:

  • Continuous use (intermittent use or every second day better)
  • Dogs & cats very sensitive to side effects of systemic cortisone
  • Animals at risk of diabetes, cushings disease, obesity, pancreatitis
  • Animals with infections

Cyclosporin (Atopica™)

Good for: 

Not good for:

  • Treatment on a budget

Oclacitinib (Apoquel™)

Special mention: an exciting new product released in 2016 and performing very well.

Good for: 

Not good for: 

  • Treatment on a budget
  • Cats (not suitable)

Allergy Testing & Referral

Good for: 

  • Owners keen to try to identify a cause
  • A small chance of complete cure

Not good for: 

  • Treatment on a budget

Adelaide vet skin specialists can be found on this page.

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