Cats are natural groomers. It is one of a cat’s favorite pastimes, lazing around the house, licking and grooming himself. Sometimes though, your cat’s licking and grooming behaviors could get out of control and become a problem. When a cat’s grooming becomes obsessive-compulsive, he can wind up losing fur and grooming himself raw, especially if he’s over-grooming because he is itchy.
What Is Over Grooming?
Oriental breeds are more prone to obsessive grooming than other breeds, although any cat can engage in these behaviors. If your cat is going overboard with licking and grooming, it’s probable he has some underlying condition you may not know about yet. In fact, you may not know there is anything wrong with your cat until you see him losing hair or developing redness and irritation. Cats are super sly on the best of days, making it difficult to tell when something is off.
Even when you notice your cat is grooming excessively, you may not realize it’s because he is itching until you see him scratching a lot or developing other signs of skin irritation. This article is going to discuss the major causes of cat itching and review potential treatment options and preventative measures.
Why Is My Cat Itching So Much?
Pruritus is the technical term for itching in cats. However, itching in and of itself is not a disease or health condition. It’s merely a sign of one and it may be accompanied by other symptoms depending on the underlying cause. One of the most difficult things is figuring out why your cat is scratching in the first place. There are different feline skin conditions that can plague a cat and they can all share many of the same symptoms. This makes narrowing down the root cause much harder. The best thing to do is start with the top causes of feline itching and go from there.
Your Cat Has Fleas
This is probably one of the most common and obvious reasons your cat is itching like mad. Fleas can multiply very quickly, especially with cats. You may not even know your cat has fleas until the infestation has become out of control. Worse, even with one flea your cat can itch like crazy and drive himself and you nuts. This is because flea saliva often triggers an allergic reaction in a cat and leads to intense scratching, licking, chewing, and biting in an effort to find relief. If you suspect your cat has fleas (or a flea) or your feline is allergic to fleas, you should do a thorough check and get him treatment as soon as possible.
Even if you don’t see any actual fleas, you may notice something that looks like dirt on your cat, especially in areas where fleas like to congregate. These little black granules, called flea dirt, is actually flea poop. It’s what a flea produces after it gorges on your cat’s blood and it goes through the digestive process. Flea dirt may be visible in areas like your cat’s tummy, his lower back, and near the base of the tail. If your cat keeps scratching but you see nothing, he may have eaten the fleas (and the flea dirt) during his frenetic grooming. Your best bet is to make sure your cat is on some kind of flea preventative treatment. If he is, and continues to itch and scratch, there may be a different problem that needs to be addressed.
Your cat can itch because of other types of bugs and parasites too, not just fleas. Especially if your cat spends a lot of time outside. Outdoor cats run higher risks of being exposed to other animals, as well as the parasites they carry. Mites can be a problem and are highly contagious, feline ear mites especially. However, ear mites aren’t just relegated to your cat’s ears. Cats can also suffer insect bites, like mosquito bites, fly bites, bee stings, and wasp stings. Insect bites are usually on a cat’s face or ears, where there is less hair. This makes it easy to differentiate from something like fleas or mites. Cats can also pick up ringworm from being outside and around other animals. Like mites, ringworm is highly contagious and causes extreme itchiness. Ringworm is easier to recognize as well because your cat will usually develop flaky lesions that look red in the middle, along with hair loss in the area.
Your Cat Has Skin Issues
Cats can suffer from several skin disorders, some of them more common than others. Dry skin is probably more common than most. Cats can get dry skin due to dehydration, environmental factors, allergens, poor diet, and even seasonal changes. Dry skin is treatable, once you figure out the underlying cause.
Lighter colored cats can suffer sun damage to the skin and itch because of that. Sunburn mostly affects outdoor cats although any cat can get sunburned with enough exposure. You will usually notice sunburn on areas like the nose, ears, and eyelids of a cat.
Feline acne can make a cat super itchy. A cat can get bumps and blackheads that transform into red and itchy pimples. In some cases, these pimples can rupture and become abscesses. The accesses crust over and itch, causing your cat a lot of angst. You will usually notice feline acne on areas like the chin, although it’s not nearly as common as some of the other causes of pruritus.
Some cats develop bacterial skin infections, especially if he has feline acne or an overgrowth of yeast. In most cases, bacterial infections are something that develops in conjunction with another underlying cause, they don’t usually just come on out of nowhere.
Your Cat Has Allergies
Cat allergies are surprisingly common and can be brought on in response to a variety of triggers. Some cats suffer from food allergies while other cats are more prone to environmental allergies. Food allergies are often coupled with other symptoms, like stomach upset and feline weight loss. Cats will also lose hair with a food allergy. This is often hair around the neck and face although he can lose hair anywhere. Food allergies can manifest suddenly and be difficult to narrow down. A cat can be allergic to just about any ingredient in his food, especially if there are additives or fillers he is sensitive to. Allergies to dairy, chicken, fish, or beef are common. If no other issues can be found and there seems to be no other explanation for your cat’s itching than a food allergy, your vet might recommend putting your furry companion on a special elimination diet to narrow down the culprit.
If your vet doesn’t suspect a food allergy, it could be your cat has an allergy to something in his environment. Cats will often develop environmental allergies as youngsters, and they may get worse as they age. Environmental allergies can be triggered by just about anything. Some cats may get allergies with the change of the seasons, some cats may have allergies to chemicals or pollution in the air, and some cats may get allergies from things like pollen or dust mites. Cats can even be allergic to cigarette smoke, carpet cleaners and laundry soaps, plastics and materials in his cat toys, and even have reactions to lawn care products and kitty litters.
You really never know what might trigger a reaction with environmental allergies. Unfortunately, this makes them just as difficult to narrow down as a food allergy. Thankfully, once an allergy has been identified and removed from your cat’s diet or environment, his itching should significantly improve.
Your Cat is Seriously Ill
Sometimes cats will itch because of more serious issues, like ulcers, lesions, tumors, and even feline cancer. Ulcers and lesions can manifest as a result of disorders like feline eosinophilic granuloma complex or pemphigus foliaceus, while tumors could be benign or cancerous. Cowpox virus can also present with itchy ulcerations although the condition is relatively rare.
Other Reasons Cats Itch
Cats that are in pain will sometimes itch or chew at the site of the pain. For instance, a cat with arthritis pain may regularly chew or bite or itch the area as a way to try to alleviate the ache. If your cat suffers from some kind of injury, he may also itch the area, again as an attempt to relieve the pain.
Cats that are bored or anxious or have some neurological issue may itch and scratch obsessively. It seems more prevalent in Oriental breeds, but it doesn’t mean other cats don’t do it, too. Indoor cats especially are prone to boredom, especially in single-cat households where he has no other playmates. If you only have one cat, it’s important you keep him busy and stimulated so he doesn’t fall into negative behaviors. Your cat can also itch from anxiety or stress, especially if there are big life changes happening. Moving into a new home, bringing a new member into the house, or even having a lot of people over during holidays can all be stressful experiences for your cat. It disrupts his lifestyle and routine, causing him to lick, itch, and chew as a way to alleviate his feelings.
Relieving Your Cat’s Itchy Behavior
As much as your cat’s constant itching may drive you mad, just think about your suffering kitty. Being itchy all the time is miserable. You can help your cat in a few different ways, depending on the cause of his itching. For instance, if you cat is itching due to fleas or other parasites, you may need to see your vet and put him on a flea control medication. If mites or a yeast infection is suspected, your vet can give you recommendations to treat those as well. Bacterial infections may require antibiotics and if your cat’s reaction is severe, they may recommend other medications as well, depending on the symptoms.
If your cat is itching because of boredom or anxiety, it’s important to make sure he is getting plenty of love, attention, and exercise. If you only have one cat, you might want to consider getting a second so that he has a friend to play with, especially if his itching appears to be connected to boredom. Make sure he has plenty of cat toys to play with and that you make time for daily play, especially if he’s on his own most of the time. If your cat seems more anxious and stressed, you’ll have to find ways to make him feel more comfortable. Using behavioral techniques like counter-conditioning or desensitization may be beneficial but take things slowly, so your cat isn’t overwhelmed and you don’t make a bad situation worse.
For cats that are itching due to allergies, the only real way to cure him is to remove the allergen. That can be easier said than done. If it’s a food allergy, a diet change might help, although it may take a few tries to find a food that works. If it’s something in your cat’s environment, you’ll need to spend some time eliminating things and seeing if his condition improves or not. When it comes to allergies, you may have to play detective to figure out the underlying trigger. It can be frustrating, but remain patient. Your cat is counting on you to figure it out and help him feel better.
An itchy kitty is certainly no fun. It’s not fun for the both of you. The good news is that itchiness can be treated once you figure out what’s causing it. Nine times out of ten, the reason your cat is itching will be benign. Benign means it can be easily remedied, and that’s something for you and your cat to smile about.
“Why Is My Cat So Itchy?” PetMD, 8 Apr. 2017, www.petmd.com/blogs/fullyvetted/2013/oct/4-common-causes-of-itchiness-in-cats-30980.
Parker, Hilary. “Cat Excessive Licking, Scratching, and Chewing Causes.” WebMD, pets.webmd.com/cats/guide/cats-and-compulsive-scratching-licking-and-chewing#2.
“International Cat Care.” The Pruritic (Itchy) Cat – When It Is Not Fleas | International Cat Care, icatcare.org/advice/cat-health/pruritic-itchy-cat-when-it-not-fleas.
“5 Conditions That Can Make Your Cat Itch.” Mercola.com, healthypets.mercola.com/sites/healthypets/archive/2016/11/22/cat-itching.aspx