Your dog or cat starts to itch and scratch and you immediately think: Oh no, fleas! Well, hold on a second. Yes, it’s possible that your pet may have fleas. But there are many other skin conditions that could be causing your beloved pooch or kitty to scratch, lick and chew her skin. And she may have more symptoms, including rashes, scabs, sores/hot spots, swelling/lumps, pawing at her face or ears, shaking her head, and hair loss.
Common Causes of Skin Problems in Pets
This chart shows the top external pet parasites, which include fleas, ticks, mites (which can cause mange), lice and mosquitoes. Most pet parents will be familiar with the discomfort and stress these horrible little critters can cause our pups and kitties.
Besides flea allergies, pets can become sensitive to certain foods and environmental allergens. They can be seasonal allergens, like pollen and grass seeds, or year-round, like dust mites and dander. Environmental allergens often result in an itchy condition known as atopic dermatitis. You can read more about seasonal allergies here.
As we explain in this article, pets can develop dry skin and dandruff during the winter months due to low humidity. But did you know this can also happen to your pet during summer when you have your air conditioner on, leading to a lack of moisture in the air?
There are several types of infections your pet can get, including bacterial, yeast and fungal. Bacterial infections happen when your pet breaks his skin, allowing bacteria to enter. This often occurs when they scratch too much and can result in a staph infection. Pets that live where it’s hot and humid are prone to getting yeast infections, often between their armpits and skin folds. Fungal infections such as ringworm are most often contracted by pets coming into contact with fungal spores found in the soil.
Some hormonal skin diseases, such as hypothyroidism and adrenal gland disorder, can cause changes in a pet’s skin and coat.
Underlying health issues
Skin problems can be a sign that your pet has a more serious illness or disease. These include cancer – like humans, pets need protection from the sun – and autoimmune skin diseases such as lupus.
How to Handle Skin Problems
As always, we recommend the first thing you do is take your pet to your veterinarian for a physical exam, tests if needed, and treatment. Having a pet with skin problems is the number one reason pet parents visit their vet. Be aware that different skin conditions can have the same symptoms. And your pet may have more than one problem, such as fleas and a food allergy, at the same time.
There are a few things pet parents can do to try to prevent their pets from having skin problems. Groom your pet at least weekly to keep their skin and coat healthy. Use year-round flea and tick prevention. Feed them a high-quality diet. And finally, check your pet’s skin and coat regularly for any changes or symptoms of a skin condition.