Itchiness - also known as pruritus - is a common problem in cats. Unfortunately, there are many potential causes of cat itchiness, from fleas and skin infections to allergies and adverse food reactions. Because of this, effective treatment requires narrowing down potential causes to identify the underlying cause of your cat's itching.
Causes of Itching in Cats
You may have noticed that your cat is scratching itself more than usual. Perhaps your cat is focusing on a single patch of skin, which has started to develop a red or raw appearance. Itching may also be accompanied by biting.
Your cat's itching may be caused by:
- Parasites, like fleas, mites and ticks
- Infections, including bacterial and yeast infections
- Allergies, including allergies to dust or pollen; flea bite sensitivity; or contact allergies related to plants, dyes or other objects or substances
- Food allergies, which can stem from a reaction to the proteins or grains in certain foods
Identifying the Cause of Itchiness in Your Cat
Your veterinarian can work with you to identify why your cat frequently scratches itself. Testing typically entails a multipart process encompassing the following:
- Skin Scraping: A skin scrape or cytology will transfer cells from the cat's skin to a slide or tape for examination. Hairs may also be plucked for a similar purpose. These tests help assess the presence of mites like demodex, fleas or ringworm, or the cause of an infection, including bacterial, fungal and yeast infections.
- Biopsies: If your cat doesn't have an infection, your vet may request a biopsy for a pathologist to review.
- Allergy testing: Your vet may also request intradermal allergy testing to identify potential triggers.
- Diet changes: If testing shows your cat isn't living with an environmental or contact allergy, your vet may recommend placing it on a hydrolyzed diet to see if a food allergy is the cause. A hydrolyzed diet consists of foods in which the proteins have been broken down into amino acids and therefore won't trigger an immune system response. It is usually recommended for cats to be on this diet for eight weeks.
If all testing comes back negative, your cat may have another condition, such as a genetic disease, autoimmune disorder or cancer. Your vet will guide you through subsequent stages of testing and treatment.
Treatment for Itchiness in Cats
Based on the cause of your cat's itching, treatment and management solutions could include:
- Antibiotics: Your veterinarian may recommend that your cat be placed on a three- to four-week course of antibiotics.
- Flea and tick treatments: If these parasites are present, your vet may recommend a flea or tick preventative product.
- Bathing: Routine bathing can help get rid of pollen, dust and other environmental allergens that can irritate your cat's skin. Avoid using harsh cleansers or shampoos made for humans. Instead, select a pet shampoo formulated with natural ingredients designed to moisturize the skin and help relieve any itchiness your cat feels.
- Grooming: While your cat may groom itself, it may not be doing a thorough job, resulting in buildup of dust, pollen and dirt. Try combing your cat's fur with a fine-toothed comb every day and clean out its ears a couple of times a week. Also consider using a natural anti-itch spray, especially on particularly itchy areas or hot spots.
- Antihistamines: Your veterinarian may also prescribe an antihistamine if your cat is contending with an environmental or contact allergic reaction.
- Temporary cone: Although cone collars tend to annoy cats, they create a barrier that prevents cats from scratching and licking their skin excessively, and they can be used as a temporary solution.
- Antifungal products: If your cat has a yeast infection, your vet may recommend an antifungal solution.
- Humidity: Dry air may also be behind your cat's itchiness. You're advised to add more humidity to the air to reduce potential dryness contributing to irritated, uncomfortable and flaky skin.