Diagnosing Canine Pruritus: Dogs' Itching

Dogs itching, also known as pruritus, is a condition that may be caused by various factors from the dog's environment or by internal problems. The skin itchiness can lead to additional unwanted behaviors such as constant chewing, licking and biting of certain areas and can also cause secondary skin infections that may be problematic to treat. Canine pruritus may be diagnosed judging by a few symptoms and by performing a few clinical tests.

Causes of Canine Pruritus

If your dog has itchy skin he may be suffering from:

  • Skin infections that can be viral, bacterial or fungal
  • Allergies to different airborne substances or food, pruritus being among the indicative symptoms of allergies
  • Parasite infestation, especially fleas, which cause major irritation and will bite the dog. The flea saliva may cause itchiness and it is also a common allergen in canines. Mites may also cause itchiness, but this will be predominantly in the head area, as mites affect the ears.
  • Anemia, which is due to a diet that is poor in nutrients, leading to dry skin that is itchy
  • Hormonal imbalance (i.e., hypothyroidism), which causes dry skin, leading to itchiness
  • Stress, which can make the dog scratch

The dog may also develop pet product irritation, caused by shampoos or soaps that are not suitable for the dog's skin.

Being aware of the possible causes of dogs itching can help you diagnose your pet. However, you will need to get a confirmation from your vet. Don't apply treatment before you get a clear diagnosis from the vet.

Additional Symptoms

If you identify additional symptoms, it will be easier to get a clear diagnosis. The dog may display a number of additional symptoms:

  • Rashes on the skin, caused by allergies
  • Excessive dander shedding, due to a poor diet or the use of an unsuitable dog shampoo
  • Hiding behavior, which can be a sign that the dog is affected by stress
  • Hair loss (if these are in ring-shaped patches, it can point to a ringworm infection)
  • Foul odor of the skin, due to skin infections
  • Increased thirst and urination, which can be a sign of hormonal problems
  • Weight loss
  • Shaking of head, which can mean the dog has ear mites

Clinical Tests

The clinical tests may include:

  • Complete blood count, which can identify possible abnormalities or a hormonal imbalance
  • Skin scrapings, which can diagnose the type of skin infections affecting the dog
  • Blood testing (ELISA or RAST) for allergies
  • Intradermal testing for allergies (not effective for food allergies)
  • Food trials, to detect ingredients that can cause allergies and itchy skin

The vet may also recommend you test different pet products (shampoos or creams) if he suspects the pet may be allergic to these. Elimination trials may be recommended for contact allergies.