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Expert Advice on Pet Health and Nutrition

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WebMD Expert Discussion: 5 Reasons Your Pet Is Scratching

"Scratch, scratch, scratch… Scratch, scratch, scratch."

You roll over to the sound of your dog scratching repeatedly at the foot of your bed, and giving himself a good, hard shake while he's at it. What's driving him nuts and keeping you both awake? Could he have fleas?

Pets scratch for a variety of reasons, says WebMD guest veterinarian Will Draper, DVM, in the online discussion, Caring for Your Pet. Fleas are certainly one of those reasons. That's why you should use a flea preventive for your pets, either topically applied or given orally.

But fleas aren't the only reason pets will scratch up a storm. Another possibility, Draper says, is a different kind of pest: a tick. The skin irritation from ticks resembles that of fleas. Pets can injure themselves with their desperate scratches for relief. This kind of distressing itch needs a vet's treatment.

Just like humans, dogs and cats can also be allergic to substances they inhale, like pollen, dust, and molds. These allergens can cause noticeable skin reactions. If it turns out that your pet has an allergy, you can help ease her symptoms by doing the same things you would do for yourself. Use air filters in the home, keep windows closed, vacuum frequently. And whenever possible, avoid exposing your pet to substances she is allergic to.

Can pets have food allergies? Draper says they can. Not only can your pet's food allergies lead to gastrointestinal issues, they can also cause skin irritation that leads to itching and scratching.

Pets also scratch if an irritant -- such as a chemical or a medicated cream -- has gotten on their coats or skin.

And of course, sometimes your dog or cat will just scratch for no physical reason, Draper says. But if the scratching is persistent and making both of you uncomfortable, it's time for a visit to the vet.

Has your pet ever developed a frustrating scratching habit? What was the cause? How did you remedy it?

Discussion led by William Draper, DVM Guest Expert
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Dr. Will opened Georgia’s first accredited small animal emergency room in 2000. He’s been named Best Vet by Atlanta Magazine since 2004... More

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Pet Health and Nutrition Advice

Veterinarian Will Draper gives tips on the best nutrition and health care for your dog or cat.
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