Treating Your Pet's Itchy Skin

Has your cat or dog got itchy skin?

Is your cat or dog scratching a lot? Is their skin dry or red? Can you see black spots of dirt in their hair or bald patches? These are all signs your pet has an itchy skin problem.

Itchy skin is annoying, disturbs sleep, and can affect mental wellbeing of your pet. Your pet’s coat should be shiny, non-greasy, unmatted and full. Their skin should feel warm, smooth, and soft.

Learn more below about the causes of itchy skin and tips to stop the itch. Frequent scratching, finding black specks and dandruff in their hair, or bald patches are all signs your pet has an itchy skin problem.

It can be tough to pinpoint the exact reason why your cat or dog is itching, but the most likely causes of itchy skin include:

Atopic Dermatitis

Cats and dogs can have an allergic response to inhaling an environmental trigger, resulting in red and inflamed skin. Environmental triggers include:

  • plant pollens
  • mould 
  • dust mites and dust

Contact Allergy

Some pets can develop red, itchy patches on their tummy, groin, armpits, and chin (where they have less hair) after touching an allergen. This is especially problematic in dogs as they are more likely to encounter irritants on their walks. The most prolific allergen is the Tradescantia plant (a dark green small, leafed creeper) found in many gardens and outdoor spaces in New Zealand.


Flea bites are the most common cause of itchy skin. Often the first sign your pet has fleas is scratching more often and finding black specks of flea dirt in their hair. Adult fleas bite and live on your pet but are only 5% of the problem. 95% of a flea population is the eggs, larvae, and pupae, which live in bedding, carpet, and furnishings. Fleas can easily be controlled by keeping up to date with regular flea treatment all year.

Flea Allergy Dermatitis (FAD)

Some cats and dogs are allergic to the protein in flea saliva. Just one flea bite can trigger an allergic reaction causing severe itchiness, especially at the base of their tail or down their back legs. This type of dermatitis can feel like groupings of tiny scabs in these areas.

Food Allergy

Dogs and cats can become allergic to common ingredients in their food like chicken, wheat, or corn. The reaction normally presents as red, itchy skin along with an upset tummy. They may have reduced energy and not feel like themselves.

Hot Spots

Moist dermatitis, commonly called hot spots, are defined areas of infected skin that look red, wet, and swollen. Itchy and sore, hot spots often ooze pus. They can be triggered by:

  • flea bites
  • allergies
  • cuts
  • excess moisture after swimming and bathing
  • constant licking from stress or boredom.



Whilst not as common as fleas, mites are microscopic parasites living in your pet’s skin and hair. A large population of mites can cause a skin disease called mange, which presents as widespread rashes and hair loss.

Skin Infection

Bacterial, fungal, and yeast infections can also cause red and inflamed patches of itchy skin. They can be identified by their musty smell and are most likely linked to an underlying allergy.

What can I do for my cat or dog’s itchy skin?

Eliminating the cause of the itch is much better than just trying an anti-itch to soothe the problem.

Fleas are the most common cause of itchy skin - keeping up to date with flea treatments is the easiest solution. To ensure full protection, treat all pets in your home all year round. The frequency of use varies by product - please read the directions of whichever product you choose. A great bonus is that some flea treatments also kill mites, ticks, and worms. 

Our friendly team will help advise which flea treatment is right for your pet.

Your house may also benefit from an annual flea bomb, to eliminate any juvenile fleas living in bedding, carpet, or furnishings. 

Other tips to stop the itch include:

  • Wash pet bedding regularly, ideally in hot water
  • Rinse your dog off after walks to remove any irritants that may be sitting on their coat
  • Minimise dust, dirt, and mould in the environment
  • Keep your dog away from toxic plants, like Tradescantia
  • Brush your pet weekly
  • Trial different food brands

If your pet’s symptoms continue and you have concerns, please don’t hesitate to contact us!

Disclaimer: This article provides general information only. It is not intended as medical or health advice and should not be relied on as a substitute for consultation with a qualified healthcare professional who understands your pet's individual needs.