If you’ve noticed your feline friend can’t stop scratching, you might be a little concerned. Cats can be itchy for any number of reasons, and an itchy cat is generally not a happy one. So, what are the reasons behind itchy skin in cats, and most importantly, what can you do about it? We’ve pulled together an essential guide to caring for an itchy cat, so you can find all the answers in one place.
Signs your cat has itchy skin
There’s a good chance you’ll know if your favorite kitty is suffering from the dreaded itch – they’ll likely be scratching all the time! The odd scratch every now and then is perfectly normal and not cause for concern. But if you catch your kitty scratching every couple of minutes, take it as a sign that they’re feeling pretty uncomfortable and need some help finding the cause.
Take a closer look at your pet’s skin – does it look dry and flaky? A cat’s skin can dry out in the same way as a ours does, and if you’ve ever had a dry patch of skin you’ll know it’s a pretty irritating feeling! If they’ve been scratching lots, even when they’re out of your sight, there’s a good chance their skin will be sore, dry or flaky.
If they’re constantly grooming, pulling out their coat or biting at their skin, there’s likely to be an issue with itchiness. Sure, cats groom themselves a lot – up to half of their day is spent perfecting that fur. But if your cat’s normal grooming habits have taken a turn for the extreme, have a think about what could be triggering it.
If your tomcat is looking a little tufty, with missing patches of hair in their coat, that could be down to constant scratching. Repeatedly scratching away at their coat will inevitably cause bald areas of skin, so try to keep a close eye on them.
Oh, the hairballs! If your puss is presenting with you with these delightful gifts on the regular, it could be because they’re feeling itchy and trying to get some relief by over-grooming themselves. Most cats will throw up a hairball occasionally, but if you’ve noticed a change in frequency there’s likely an underlying cause that needs to be investigated.
Common causes for itchy skin in cats
Why is my cat itchy? It’s a question you may well be wondering if you’re nodding along to some of these symptoms and your pet is scratching all the time. The answer is, it could be any number of causes, so let’s take a look at some of the most common.
Reason #1: Fleas and mites
Ah, the pesky Ctenocephalides Felis, better known as the cat flea. These parasitic insects can wreak havoc with our precious pets, and they’re the most common of all external feline parasites. Fleas can cause anything from a slight itch to severe problems if your cat is sensitive to them and opens up wounds from scratching. They can also carry other conditions, which can then be passed on to your cat.
How to tell if your itchy cat has fleas
Constant scratching can be a telltale sign that your furry friend has fleas, but oftentimes it can be hard to actually spot them. A flea comb might help you find tiny black dots – the excrement left behind by these unwanted guests – but you may need the help of a veterinarian for confirmation.
How to treat an itchy cat with fleas
Combing your cat is a good first step towards eliminating fleas, and the more thorough you are, the better the results. Your veterinarian can advise you on the best products to use if they’ve also recommended bathing. From that point onwards it’s a case of prevention over cure, and again, you’ll need professional advice as to the best topical flea prevention products to use to keep those mites at bay.
While we’re on the subject, be careful to never use a flea product designed for dogs as this can cause complications for your cat. And be on the lookout for ticks – they’re bigger and easier to spot than fleas, and can feel more like a bump on the skin. If you find one that has latched on, don’t panic, and don’t pull it out. Use a tick removal tool to ensure you remove it correctly, and get in touch with your veterinary center.
Reason #2: Skin conditions
Another super common cause for itchiness in cats is, unsurprisingly, skin conditions. Cat dermatitis, for example, causes the skin to become red, swollen, and often blistered, and it’s triggered by an allergic reaction to something that has come into contact with the skin. Cat acne and ringworm are other relatively common complaints, and – although rarer – skin cancer is another possibility in cats.
How to treat an itchy cat with a skin condition
Your veterinary professional can advise you on the best course of treatment depending on the skin condition your feline friend is experiencing, so always check in with them for a diagnosis. For something as simple as dry skin, though, there are steps you can take at home to greatly reduce the itch.
By adding a supplement to your cat’s diet, for example, you can help to improve their skin from the inside out.
Reason #3: Dietary issues
Food allergies and intolerances are surprisingly common in cats, and can develop at any time. The main symptom is itchy skin, which you might find is worse on your pet’s face and around their ears. They may also suffer with tummy troubles and rashes, and you might notice that some foods in particular trigger these reactions.
How to treat an itchy cat with dietary issues
Your veterinarian will want to rule out any of the more common itchy skin triggers – like fleas or skin conditions – before they go down the dietary route. Then it’s a case of ruling out any dietary triggers through a process of elimination. Your pet care professional will be able to check you’re not inadvertently feeding your feline friend an unsuitable diet, and they can guide you through an elimination diet and advise you on the most common food triggers.
Reason #4: Environmental factors
Subtle changes in a cat’s surroundings can have an almighty impact on their health. And when it comes to itchy skin, environmental triggers are well worth ruling out. Sometimes, the problem can be seasonal – if it’s wintertime and you’ve got the central heating on, for example, you may notice your cat itching more. Or if you’ve changed the washing detergent at home, or introduced a new room fragrance, your cat could be reacting to the chemicals inside it. Cats are sensitive souls, after all!
How to treat a cat that’s itchy due to environmental factors
Firstly, it’s important to spend some time identifying the environmental trigger that’s contributing to your pet’s discomfort. This might take some time and some investigating, but it’s well worth the extra effort because it could be totally within your control to remedy it.
Try moving your pet’s bed away from heaters or radiators in winter, for example, and see if the problem eases. If your pet is itching every time they come in from the garden, keep a close eye on them to see if they’re coming into contact with something – a plant, or a chemical – that you could keep out of their way.
How can I soothe my cat’s itchy skin?
There are lots of home remedies recommended to soothe a cat’s itchy skin, from catnip to Epsom salts. But by far the best approach is to first rule out the reasons behind it, and then decide on your plan of action.
Using an at-home treatment before you’ve confirmed the underlying cause for itching could, in fact, cause your pet more discomfort. If they have open sores from scratching and you bathe them in a product that irritates their skin, for example, you could do more harm than good. It can also mask an underlying complaint and therefore make solving the problem take even longer than it needs to, so please always check in with a professional first.
What about psychological factors?
If you’ve worked out that your cat is over-grooming but can’t find an underlying cause like fleas or skin conditions, consider the psychological factors that could be behind it. Cats groom to calm themselves as well as clean themselves, so if your feline is feeling a lot of stress, or they’re under stimulated and bored, they may be inclined to overdo it.
Consider any changes in your routine that may have caused your kitty to feel anxious. Have you moved home? Added a new member of the family? Or does your cat spend more time alone for whatever reason?
These could all be reasons for your cat to begin over-grooming, therefore causing skin complaints and a patchy coat. Cats love routine and aren’t keen on change, so your pet may be scratching as a means to an emotional end.
Why does my cat have itchy ears?
If your furball is constantly swiping at their ears, you’re not the only pet parent to come across this problem. Itchy ears are common in cats, and it’s often due to pesky ear mites. The problem is more commonly seen in kittens, and you’ll spot your puss holding its head sideways, too. Just be sure to check with a professional to rule out other ear problems, which could be causing your cat discomfort.
Ear infections are another cause for itchy ears, and these need to be treated promptly else your cat could become seriously unwell. And ear polyps are yet another cause for concern, which can be diagnosed via an otoscopic exam of the ear canals.
How to help an itchy cat
There are lots of ways to treat itchy cat skin once you’ve identified the cause, so always start by booking in with your veterinarian if you’re concerned about your cat’s scratching habits. The most common causes are pests like fleas, mites and ticks, but environmental factors are also worth ruling out early, as oftentimes they’re within your control to change.
Skin conditions are another big factor to consider if your kitty is acting out of sorts, and dry skin is as irritating for cats as it is for us humans – so always get it looked at professionally. Lastly, although dietary issues are less common, they’re always worth considering. Particularly if your pet has stomach problems alongside the incessant itching.
Once you know the trigger – whatever it turns out to be – you’ll be armed with the knowledge to soothe your cat’s itchy skin, and take swift action to prevent it from becoming an ongoing problem. Your cat with thank you for it, too – and you’ll likely receive fewer of those horrible hairballs!