Itchy skin is more correctly referred to as “pruritus,” which is defined as an unpleasant sensation within the skin that provokes the desire to scratch. Itchy skin is the result of inflammation or irritation associated with the release of chemicals from inflammatory cells in the skin. When these cells are stimulated by a chemical trigger, they release a variety of chemicals that initiate the discomfort of itching. That is one reason that the more you scratch, the more you itch. The key is to break the cycle, let these 6 surprising itch facts help you with that.
1. Itching is not a disease
It's a clinical sign, and every effort should be made to find the cause, not just treat. Skin diseases can be very challenging to diagnose and treat. This may result in some tests that seem a bit confusing to you:
- Skin scrapings
- Skin biopsies
- Blood tests to check for hormonal diseases (such as thyroid deficiency)
- Allergy testing and trial treatments
If you're confused by any of the testing, ask your veterinarian to clarify.
2. Different species may have different chemicals involved in itching
The treatment for itching varies with not only the underlying cause, but also the species affected. Chemicals involved in the itching process include histamine, and other chemicals such as proteolytic enzymes (proteases), leukotrienes and other inflammatory mediators1.
- Hassan, Iffat, and Mir Laieq Ishtiyaq Haji. "Understanding Itch: An Update on Mediators and Mechanisms of Pruritus." Indian Journal of Dermatology, Venereology and Leprology. Wolters Kluwer, Web. 10 Apr. 2015.
3. Itching may not be a skin problem at all
There are a myriad of things that can initiate itching or "pruritus." Causes can be primary skin diseases or secondary to problems not directly associated with the skin.
4. Parasites that can cause itching are not always visible to the naked eye
Common causes of itching are parasites such as fleas, ticks, lice and mites; many external parasites are not visible to the naked eye. Mites and lice are very tiny and often live below the surface of the skin. Sometimes mites are not found, even if they are suspected. Your veterinarian may elect to treat them, even if the mites are not found.
5. Itching caused by infection may have varied clinical appearances
Infections of the skin are a common cause of itching. Infectious causes of itching often involve the hair follicles (Folliculitis). While some cases of such skin infections produce obvious pimples, some produce only a minor rash and can be difficult to prove. They may require trial treatments with antibiotics or even biopsies to identify.
6. Itching caused by allergies can be topical, dietary or inhaled
Allergies are often suspected based on the breed and age of a pet, as well as the localization of the itching (face, feet, armpits, etc.). Depending on the severity, your veterinarian may try oral or injectable medications, blood or skin tests to look for the cause or may try a restricted diet to demonstrate the allergy. Consultation with a veterinary dermatologist may be beneficial.
If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian – they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.