Itchy Cat? Possible Causes and When To Worry (2024)

It’s concerning when your cat is itchy. Besides worrying about how to soothe your cat’s skin, you may also wonder what is causing the itch.

Cats can develop itchiness for a variety of reasons, ranging from skin dryness to parasites. Itching can leave cats with raw or bleeding skin, major discomfort, or hair loss, so it’s important to get to the cause sooner rather than later.

Read on to learn why cats itch, and the best ways to manage this symptom by working with a veterinarian.

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What Is Itching in Cats?

Itching in cats is a common symptom and may be caused by many conditions. These causes can range from something mild, such as irritated skin, to more serious causes, such as infections.

When cats itch, they use their nails to repeatedly scratch the problem area.

This stimulation of the skin releases histamine, a substance that causes inflammation (swelling). This in turn results in more itching, and the cycle repeats itself until the cause is taken care of.

Itching affects the way cats feel and act. Itchy cats should be checked by a veterinarian to get the correct diagnosis so that the right treatment plan can begin.

Causes of Itching in Cats

Itching in cats is most commonly caused by allergies, infections, or parasites.

However, there are many possible reasons for a cat to become itchy, which include the following:

Is Itching in Cats an Emergency?

Generally, itching alone is not a medical emergency, but there are exceptions.

If a cat is extremely itchy and is damaging his fur and skin, leading to deep scratches and bleeding, he should be brought to a veterinarian quickly for relief and to prevent infection.

Also, if a cat is itching because of an allergic reaction, he should be brought in immediately.

If a cat is extremely itchy and is damaging his fur and skin, leading to deep scratches and bleeding, he should be brought to a veterinarian quickly for relief and to prevent infection.

When To Call Your Vet

If your cat is continually scratching and seems uncomfortable, it is a good idea to schedule a veterinary appointment to figure out the underlying cause.

The majority of the time, itching in cats is not a medical emergency; however, if a cat is itchy and they are also showing symptoms of an allergic reaction, such as a swollen face, sneezing, or difficulty breathing, this should be treated as an emergency and they need to be brought to a veterinarian immediately.

How Veterinarians Diagnose Itching in Cats

Diagnosing itching is straightforward; the tricky part is figuring out what is causing the itching.

To start, a veterinarian will do a thorough physical exam to check your cat’s overall health.

If there are certain areas that your cat has been repeatedly itching, make sure to mention those to your veterinarian so she can take a closer look.

A veterinarian can do testing to figure out the underlying cause. These tests may include:

  • Flea comb: A veterinarian gently combs the cat’s fur to look for live fleas or flea dirt. While fleas can be found anywhere in the fur, they are generally near the tail base, in between the shoulder blades, or underneath the chin.

  • Skin scrape: A dull blade is used to gently scrape skin cells off the problem area. This sample is added to a glass slide and mixed with a drop of oil, then viewed underneath the microscope. This test finds mites and their eggs.

  • Tape prep: A piece of clear tape is gently pressed against the cat’s skin and then added to a glass slide. It is stained and viewed under the microscope to find bacteria or fungi.

  • Fungal culture: If the veterinarian suspects ringworm, a small sample of fur and skin from the affected area is added to a culture plate to check for fungal growth over several days.

  • Allergy testing: Often done by a veterinary dermatologist, allergy tests can be done by analyzing blood or through skin pricks.

  • Fine needle aspirate (FNA): If an itchy lump is found on the cat, a small sample of cells can be taken and viewed under the microscope to find out what type of lump it is.

  • Blood work: Collecting a small sample of blood helps the veterinarian find underlying diseases that may cause itching.

  • Diet trial: Cats suspected of having food allergies must follow a strict diet for six to eight weeks before reintroducing the old diet to watch for changes in symptoms.

  • Ear cytology: If a cat has itchy ears, a cotton swab is used to get material from inside the ear canal. It is then added to a slide, stained, and viewed under the microscope to look for yeast and bacteria that cause infections.

Treatment of Itching in Cats

Itching in cats is treated according to the underlying cause.

Treatment may include a combination of topical or oral medications. Treatment can be short-term for conditions such as an insect bite, while long-term treatment is needed for conditions like food allergies.

Possible medications that may be prescribed for itching in cats include:

  • Antihistamines, such as hydroxyzine

  • Corticosteroids, such as prednisolone

  • Flea and tick preventatives, such as Bravecto®

  • Omega-3 fatty acids

  • Immune-modulating medications, such as Atopica

  • Antibiotics, such as Clavamox®

  • Antifungals, such as itraconazole

  • Topical anti-itch creams, such as Animax®

  • Anti-itch shampoos, such as Dermabliss

Recovery and Management of Itching in Cats

Recovery for itchy skin in cats depends on the underlying cause.

Itching due to an allergic reaction ends within minutes of a veterinarian giving the right medication.

For example, itchy skin from parasites clears up once the fleas or mites have been killed or removed. This may take up to thirty days for full healing.

If the itching is due to an underlying chronic disease, such as hyperthyroidism or cancer, itching can be reduced with medical management, but the cat may have recurrent episodes of itching for the rest of their life.

Itching due to an allergic reaction ends within minutes of a veterinarian giving the right medication.

While a cat is recovering from itchy skin, it may be helpful to consider using an Elizabethan collar, such as this recovery cone, to prevent your cat from scratching the affected area(s).

Prevention of Itching in Cats

Some cases of itching are not preventable, such as those caused by underlying immune-mediated diseases or allergies. However, making sure your cat gets regular veterinary care to keep good overall health is important.

Regular grooming and keeping your cat’s fur clean and dry can also prevent itching. Keeping your cat up to date on flea and tick preventatives protects them from fleas and mites that cause itchy skin.

Itchy Cat FAQs

What can I give my cat for itching?

Pet parents should never give their itchy cats any supplement or medication without first asking a veterinarian. It is important to figure out the underlying cause for the itching, and the veterinarian can give the right treatment plan.

Why is my cat itchy but has no fleas?

Cats are great at grooming themselves and may eat any fleas that were on their coat, only leaving behind tiny specks of black flea dirt, which pet parents may not see. Therefore, it is possible for a cat to be dealing with fleas without any live fleas being seen.

Why is my cat itching and scratching so much?

Cats may itch for a variety of reasons, such as infections, parasites, or allergies. Bringing your cat to a veterinarian is the best way to find out the cause of the itching.

WRITTEN BY

Brittany Kleszynski, DVM

Veterinarian

Dr. Brittany Kleszynski is a veterinarian and freelance medical writer who specializes in creating meaningful content that engages readers...

Itchy Cat? Possible Causes and When To Worry (2024)

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