Anzelc M, Burkhart CG. Pain and Pruritus: a study of their similarities and differences. Int J Dermatol. 2020; 59:(2)159-164

Macfarlane C. How to perform a skin scrape. The Veterinary Nurse. 2014; 5:(1)38-41

Macfarlane C. How to use the practice microscope. The Veterinary Nurse. 2018; 9:(1)42-45

Miller WH, Griffin CE, Campbell KL. Diagnostic methods, 7th Edition. Missouri: Elsevier; 2013

Mueller RS, Olivry T Critically appraised topic on adverse food reactions of companion animals (4): can we diagnose adverse food reactions in dogs and cats with in vivo or in vitro tests?. BMC Vet Res. 2017; 13

Paterson S. Skin cytology for the veterinary nurse. The Veterinary Nurse. 2019; 10:(2)64-68

Tater KC. An approach to pruritus, 4th edn. In: Jackson HA, Marsella R (eds). Gloucester: BSAVA; 2021

Pruritus in dogs and cats part 1: what is pruritus and how do we approach the pruritic patient?

02 October 2022
10 mins read
Volume 13 · Issue 8
Figure 2. Skin scraping taken from the dorsum of a Sheltie with diffuse scaling and erythema; note how the dislodged epidermal material adheres to the sharp edge of the scalpel blade because it is coated with liquid paraffin and also that the skin has been scraped repeatedly by the pet to cause erosion of the epidermis.
Figure 1. Example of a dermatology consultation history form.


Dogs and cats with skin disease are some of the commonest patients to be presented in general veterinary practice and those with pruritus are seen frequently. The veterinary nurse can help to reassure distressed clients that their itchy pets can be helped by an appropriate dermatological work-up, and can also be involved in the process, particularly in the harvesting of skin/scale/hair samples and in the preparation and identification of ectoparasitic and microbial elements using microscopy and other laboratory skills. Many veterinary surgeons trust the inspection of skin preparations to their experienced nurses, making their role crucial to the success of the work-up, which is interesting and rewarding for the nurse.

Pruritus is defined as an unpleasant sensation that provokes the desire to scratch, but in common with most biological functions, despite the discomfort it causes, it serves a physiological and protective purpose. Just as pain helps to remove us from noxious stimuli, preventing further harm, the pruritic response undoubtedly evolved to help an animal detect and then attempt to shed or remove parasitic or fungal organisms from the surface of its skin. This response is seen not only in mammals but in other species such as fish which ‘flash’ when they are pruritic, i.e. dart around in the water as if trying to dislodge something attached to them.

Two forms of pruritus have been described, both of which are detected by nociceptors which also transmit pain sensations. Epicritic itch is a focal, pricking pruritus, the sort that may be experienced at the site of an insect bite, for example, and this sensation is transmitted along myelinated A delta fibres at high velocity of 10–20 m/second. The second is known as protopathic itch and is a more generalised, burning type of pruritus such as that may expected in chronic atopic dermatitis or, as a human example, in cases of actinic damage, i.e. sunburn. These impulses are carried by unmyelinated C fibres and are slower as a result, being transferred at 2 m/second.

Register now to continue reading

Thank you for visiting The Veterinary Nurse and reading some of our peer-reviewed content for veterinary professionals. To continue reading this article, please register today.