Itch and Scratch! Bite and Lick! A Series on Allergies (Part 1 of 4)

Is your dog continually scratching, biting, and licking at himself? And it does it drive you crazy? Think about it – if it is driving you “nuts” just imagine how awful it is making your pet feel. Pet owners take comfort, you are not alone.

There are six main reasons why dogs and cats will scratch at themselves and our biggest goal is to alleviate the discomfort. There IS a diagnosis to be made and you along with one of our veterinarians will be better able to select the proper treatment plan.

The six main categories of dermatitis that our veterinarians have to consider whenever a “skin case” is presented are nutritional, environmental, parasitic, allergic, neurologic and infectious. In this newsletter, we will concentrate on the first three:


Food allergies are different from many allergies in that they occur year round with no seasonal flare ups. When a food allergy is suspected, some owners erroneously believe a simple diet change to any type of food will help. But because most food allergies are caused by large protein molecules in the food (i.e. meat proteins or plant glutens) a switch to a very strict diet that contains a single unique protein source and a unique carbohydrate source that your pet has never been exposed to before is crucial for a proper diagnosis. The other very important factor is that your pet needs to be solely on this special diet for a full eight weeks to determine the correct diagnosis. For an example of one of the prescription foods widely used by veterinarians for a food trial contains kangaroo meat and oats – something that is not commonly sold in most pet foods across the country. During this strict food trial of eight weeks, NO commercial treats, table food, meat flavored medications, or animal origin chew toys (rawhide or pig ears) can be given. Ruling out food allergies is often common step in identifying non-seasonal allergies.


Patients in this category are physically and nutritionally normal, but are itching and scratching along with possible skin irritation and hair loss. Many dogs are very sensitive to simple lawn grass, pollens, or microscopic house dust mites – just to name a few. And by matching what is visible on the patient’s skin with a probable environmental irritant, the cause of the skin problem can usually be narrowed down. Our veterinarians can test for environmental allergies with a simple blood test. Sometimes skin lesions can occur because of moisture on the skin from rain, pond water, or humid air. Moisture on the skin may remain long enough to allow superficial bacteria to penetrate and create an infection.


The most common response pet owners make when they see their pet scratching and biting at himself is “I think he has fleas”. This is always a possibility and sometimes this statement is correct. Repeat exposure to fleas can trigger a hypersensitivity to the bite of even a single flea. This is a classic example of Parasitic Dermatitis (flea bites) triggering a complicated allergic reaction due to flea saliva. Sarcoptic mites are possible skin irritants as well. They create intense itching, hair loss and many small scabs on inflamed skin. Specific treatments are available for all types of parasitic skin diseases.

Any one of these possible skin irritants can cause misery to your pet. The good news is – we can help! If your pet seems uncomfortable please call our office to set up an appointment with one of veterinarians. While working together with you, our veterinarians will come up with the proper diagnosis and treatment plan to allow you and your pet to rest easy.

During The Winter Months Of November Through February, We Offer A 10% Discsount On Your Pet’s Dental Care. Call Our Receptionists Today To Set Up An Appointment.


Pittsburgh Spay & Vaccination Clinic is a state-of-the-art, full-service suburban veterinary facility serving the Pittsburgh Area since 1980.. We offer diagnostic, medical, surgical, and dental care to dogs, cats, ferrets, rabbits, and pocket pets in the Pittsburgh area.

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