Pruritus is a chemical reaction that stimulates the nerves of your dog's skin. In turn, this stimulation sends messages to the brain that tells your dog to scratch. This can be scratching that occurs a little or a lot, depending upon the severity of the condition and how strong your dog's threshold for itchiness is. Excessive itching is never good in your dog, as it can cause a multitude of other skin problems including legions, hot spots or raw, irritated skin.
Causes of Pruritus
There are several causes for this condition, including:
Flea allergies. This is the most common cause. Your dog does not necessarily have to be infected with many fleas for this to lead to pruritus; it can take as little as one lone flea to create such a reaction.
Atopy. The second most common cause of pruritus, this is an allergic reaction to airborne pollens such as mold or dust.
Mange. Both demodectic mange and sarcoptic mange can cause this condition. Sarcoptic mange is also known as scabies, and is considered to be a very serious form of the disease.
Food allergy. This is difficult to determine, as food allergy only accounts for 10% of all of the allergies that are found in dogs, and deciphering which food your dog is allergic to can be tricky.
Symptoms of Pruritus
The main symptom is scratching. This is different from the ordinary itching that a dog does throughout the course of his day, as it is more forceful and persistent. Even if it causes your dog extreme discomfort, scratching will continue because the brain is still sending out messages that it needs to be done as a result of the pruritus.
The other main symptom is licking their feet. Again, this is something that will be done almost obsessively, as though they are incapable of stopping or controlling themselves.
Biting can be another symptom. Like with the other two, this is something that will be done more than a dog would usually do and will often wind up causing your pet extreme discomfort.
Constant scratching leads to other problems such as hair loss, irritated skin or even lesions. These are all good indicators that your dog is scratching more than normal.
There are several forms of treatment available for this condition.
Omega-3 fatty acid supplements
Corticosteroids can be used for more severe cases, although they are known to have severe side effects. If the pruritus is a result of an allergy, finding its cause can be difficult but necessary. Try switching your dog (gradually) to another food to see if the reaction is due to it. Just because your dog has been on the same food for a long while does not rule out the possibility of a food allergy; in fact, many dogs develop allergies to food they have been on for a long time.
Pruritus requires ongoing treatment and can be frustrating for the dog's owner if progress is not made. Administering the prescribed medications will help to reduce or eliminate the desire for the dog to scratch. Dietary modifications may also be called for.
There are currently no known preventative measures, but with maintenance and treatment, recurrence can be avoided or minimized.
Make sure to give whatever your veterinarian has prescribed to your dog as recommended. It will also help if you brush your dog's coat regularly and keep it as clean as possible.