The most common causes of itchy skin on cats include fleas, low-fat diets, allergies, infections, and emotional issues.
If there are secondary symptoms or you’re not sure whether or not the problem is serious, consult a veterinarian to be on the safe side.
Some scratching, licking, and even biting of the fur and skin is normal for cats, but there are symptoms that suggest allergies, parasites, or medical problems, including:
- Bleeding, crusty, oozing, scaly, red, foul-smelling, or flaky skin
- Constant interruption of normal activities to scratch or bite the skin
- Loss of fur
- Sores or scabs
- Weight loss
- Other illness symptoms
Fleas tend to attack the neck area or the base of the tail, hips, thighs, and groin. If the cat is allergic to flea bites, the itching will be even worse. In extreme cases, infestations can lead to hair loss and sores.
To check for fleas, run a fine-toothed comb through your pet’s fur and wipe the residue onto a damp white paper towel. If you see pepper-like grains surrounded by red rings, you’re probably looking at flea excrement.
Although fleas are usually the culprit, mites and lice can also be a problem. If it’s fleas, it’s recommended you use only natural flea products, for the safety of your pet.
In addition, mosquito bites or wasp stings can cause itching. Non-parasitic biting and stinging insects often attack the ears or nose where there is little or no fur.
Low Fat Diet
Low-fat diets are a bad idea for cats. Cats are obligate carnivores, which means that they require more protein and fat than do omnivores such as humans and dogs. If cats don’t get enough fat, their coats can become dull and their skin may get dry and itchy.
For cats who need to lose weight, low-carbohydrate, high-protein diets are a far better option. Look for foods that list meats, chicken and fish as the first few ingredients on the label and don’t contain wheat, corn, or other carbohydrate-rich grains.
You can also help your cat lose weight by encouraging him to get more exercise, assuming that he doesn’t suffer from mobility limitations due to injury or illness. Playing with your cat or dog gives them exercise and it’s a wonderful bonding experience for the both of you.
Fitness can be increased by playing with the cat regularly, leash training him and taking him on walks, or placing his food dishes at the top of a flight of stairs.
Food allergies are common in cats. They’re more likely to trigger digestive upsets than skin problems, but they can cause itchy skin in some cases, particularly on the feet, ears, face, and stomach.
Cats often develop allergies to wheat, dairy, fish, or artificial additives, though any ingredient in their food may trigger a reaction.
Allergic reactions that only occur in the warmer months usually result from insect bites or pollen.
Cats can also develop allergies to plastic or rubber food dishes, which cause sores on the chin and lips that look like acne. Other potential allergens include cigarette smoke, mold, and dust.
- Bacterial and fungal infections can trigger itching in cats. These may arise on their own or occur when a pet licks, bites, scratches, and rubs against objects, opening a wound on the skin. Excessive scratching and grooming are often a reaction to flea bites, though other issues, including emotional problems, can cause these behaviors.
- Ringworm is a common fungal infection in cats that may cause itching. It usually presents as an area with patchy hair loss and small, scaly round skin lesions on the bald skin.
- Yeast infections and ear infections may also trigger itching.
Some cats develop a habit of grooming excessively, even to the point of scratching and biting their skin and pulling out chunks of fur.
When the problem is purely psychological, the condition is called psychogenic alopecia.
Psychogenic alopecia is more likely to occur in cats that are under stress due to recent changes (moving house, new person joining the household, etc.) or have suffered trauma.
It can also be caused by day-to-day stressors such as conflicts with other pets in the home. Some cats are genetically predisposed to develop compulsive anxiety behaviours and may over-groom even when there is no obvious stress.
Take your cat in for a veterinary check-up to rule out illnesses and parasites before assuming that the problem is psychological.
Other Causes of Itchy Skin
Rarer causes of itchy skin include tumors and cysts, objects embedded under the skin (such as a thorn that the cat has stepped on), medication reactions, and immune system syndromes.
This is why it’s important to see a vet if you’re unsure what is causing the itching. However, most itch triggers are not life-threatening and respond well to treatment.
Treatments for Itchy Skin in Cats
Treatments for itching will depend on the cause. There are antibiotics available for bacterial infections and antifungals for fungal infections. Allergies can be treated by removing or reducing the allergen or implementing a hypoallergenic diet if a food allergy is suspected.
In the case of parasite infestation, your vet can recommend an appropriate topical or oral medication or a special shampoo (some products are riskier for kittens, pregnant cats, elderly cats, and cats with certain medical conditions, which is why it’s a good idea to check with a vet first).
If fleas are the culprit, use non-toxic, natural flea control methods to rid the home of fleas and eggs as well.
If the problem is caused by a low-fat diet, switch to a high-protein, low-carbohydrate food. There are also essential fatty acid supplements for pets that can help with dry skin in some cases.
Check with your veterinarian before giving supplements to your pet and purchase products designed specifically for cats. Consult your Veterinarian before starting any treatments.
For an Extensive List of “No Kill” Shelters and Animal Rescue Groups Click here