Kitten itching behind ear

Key takeaway

If your cat is abnormally itchy, it could be a sign of parasites, an infection, allergies, or another health condition. Excessive scratching and itching can lead to discomfort for your cat, as well as potential wounds or infections.

If your cat has been itching and scratching more often than usual, you may suspect there’s a problem. After all, the last thing you want is for your cat to be uncomfortable. If you’re trying to figure out why your cat’s been so itchy and wondering how you can soothe your cat’s itchy skin, you’re in the right place.

Pruritus is the medical term for itchy skin. Rather than being a disease or disorder in itself, pruritus is a sign of a separate condition. While there are many reasons your cat may be itchy, the most common causes include parasites, infections, and allergies. In any case, a diagnosis for the underlying condition must be reached in order to begin treatment and provide your cat with relief.

In this article, we explain how to identify an itchy cat, the possible causes of itchiness, and available treatment options. If you’re interested in learning all about the different symptoms, causes, and treatments for itchy cats, read from top to bottom. Alternatively, you can use the links below to navigate to any section in the article.

Symptoms

If you’re a pet owner, you probably know by now that it’s normal for cats to groom themselves. They’ll lick their fur, scrub with their paws, and occasionally scratch themselves. However, when cats excessively scratch themselves, this can step outside the bounds of regular grooming and indicate a health problem.

A cat’s itching isn’t considered to be a medical condition, but rather a symptom of an infection, disease, allergy, or parasite infestation. As we mentioned above, the scientific term for itchy skin is pruritus. This describes an uncomfortable sensation in the cat’s skin that causes them to scratch at the affected areas, which can sometimes result in further damage and irritation.

If your cat has itchy skin, excessive scratching can potentially lead to health conditions that are separate from the underlying cause of the itching. For instance, your cat may scratch so much that they break skin and open up a wound. This wound, if left untreated, can become infected and result in even more discomfort and pain for your cat.

This is why it’s so important to be familiar with the symptoms of itchy cats. If you know what to look for, you can identify a problem early, get your cat the treatment they need, and resolve the issue before it becomes more serious. Common symptoms to watch out for include¹:

  • Excessive scratching
  • Excessive biting or licking
  • Itching focused in one area (such as ears or head)
  • Scabs around the neck, head, or whole cat
  • Red patches on the lower belly, arm pits, and groin

If you notice one or more of these symptoms in your cat, it is a good idea to schedule an appointment with your veterinarian, who can help you identify the root cause of the issue.


Causes

There are a number of culprits that may be responsible for your cat’s itching. Among the most common causes of itchy skin in cats are parasites, infections, and allergies.¹ In order to obtain an exact diagnosis, a vet will have to review your cat’s medical history and conduct a physical examination. Before scheduling an appointment with the vet, you might consider taking pictures or videos of any affected areas to illustrate the problem in more depth and provide your vet with the information necessary to make an informed diagnosis.

Since parasites, infections, and allergies are most often responsible for a cat’s itchy ears or skin, we’ll place a special focus on those issues. Below, we take a deeper look at what each of those conditions entail.

Parasites

Parasites are typically the first thing a vet checks for when attempting to diagnose an itchy cat. Fleas and mites are common causes of itching in cats and other animals. It’s possible that your cat has a hypersensitivity to flea saliva and is reacting to bites, or it may be that a flea infestation has grown to the point where it’s causing extreme irritation to your cat’s skin.

To check for parasites, your vet may employ a range of tactics. They can check for fleas and/or mites by conducting a microscopic analysis of skin scrapings, running through the cat’s fur with a flea comb, or overseeing trial treatments using pet-safe insecticides.¹

Infections

It’s possible that an infection is the cause of your cat’s itchy skin. Once parasites have been ruled out, a vet will look for signs of bacterial, fungal, and yeast infections that may be responsible for your itchy cat. Specialized tests can be performed to alert your vet to the presence of fungal infections such as ringworm. Additionally, skin samples can be analyzed to diagnose any bacterial or yeast infections.¹

Allergies

Similar to humans, cats can experience allergies that may result in itching, inflammation, or otherwise irritated skin. If your cat is itchy, it could potentially be due to an environmental allergen, a food allergy, or a sensitivity to parasites. It’s also a possibility that your cat has feline atopic dermatitis, a common skin condition that causes certain cats to become extremely itchy or irritated when exposed to particular allergens.

Cats may experience seasonal or year-round allergies. These allergies can be treated once the specific allergen that’s affecting your cat has been identified, whether it’s a particular food or an allergen present in their surrounding environment.¹

Owner cuddling cat

Treatments

The most effective treatment plan for an itchy cat is going to depend on the root cause of the issue. Ultimately, every treatment option will be aimed at soothing your cat’s itchy skin to minimize discomfort while addressing the underlying health concern.

In many cases, treating a cat’s itchy skin will involve medication. The specific medication used will vary depending on your cat’s health condition but may include antibiotics, anti-inflammatory medicine such as glucocorticoids, or immunosuppressive drugs such as cyclosporine.²

In other cases, you can help your itchy cat without using any medication. For instance, if your cat is itchy because of a food allergy, then the most effective treatment will likely involve identifying the problematic food and removing it from your cat’s diet. Similarly, if an environmental allergen is causing itchy skin in your cat, the best strategy may be to remove that allergen from the cat’s immediate environment, if possible.

Another treatment option that has proven effective in many cases is incorporating more essential fatty acids into your cat’s diet. Adding a high-quality fish oil supplement such as DermaPet or Welactin to your cat’s diet can make a significant difference in itch relief.

While essential fatty acids can provide numerous benefits for your cat, keep in mind that they’re not always going to be the most effective treatment for an itchy cat. Additionally, feeding your cat a diet that’s too rich in fatty acids can have an adverse effect on their health.⁵

Since the right treatment plan for your itchy cat depends on a variety of factors, it’s always best to consult with a vet before embarking on any course of treatment. If your cat’s itchy and you’re eager to meet with a vet, you can quickly schedule an online consultation using Dutch.com. We partner with a network of qualified vets who can help diagnose the root cause of your cat’s itchiness, design a customized treatment plan, and provide ongoing care.

Itchy Cat: Frequently Asked Questions

Many questions cross your mind when you have an itchy cat at home. Below, we’ve answered some common questions to help you help your cat get the care they need.

How can I soothe my cat’s itchy skin?

How you treat your cat’s itchy skin is going to depend on what’s causing the problem in the first place. If a parasite or infection is responsible, then topicals or oral medication may be used to alleviate your cat’s itching. Or, if an allergic reaction is the source of the problem, a treatment strategy will likely be centered around removing the allergen from the cat’s environment.

Ultimately, a vet needs to evaluate your cat’s symptoms in order to make a diagnosis. Once a diagnosis has been reached, your vet can advise you on the best steps to take moving forward.

What can cause a cat to itch besides fleas?

While fleas are a common cause of itching, infections and allergies are also common culprits when it comes to itchy cats. Bacterial, fungal, and yeast infections can all potentially lead to itchy skin for your cat. At the same time, food allergies and environmental allergens can also cause itchy cats.

Why is my cat itching and licking so much?

If your cat’s been excessively itching and licking, there are a variety of factors that may be behind it. In general, the three most common causes of itchy cats are parasites, infections, and allergies.

Owner petting orange cat

Final Notes

If you have an itchy cat, you may be concerned for their well-being. A cat’s itchy skin typically signals a health condition, whether it be the presence of parasites, an infection, or an allergy. However, in most cases, an itchy cat shouldn’t be cause for alarm. With the right treatment plan, these conditions can be addressed in a fairly simple, straightforward way.

With Dutch, you can get your cat the treatment they need without having to leave your home. All you have to do is schedule an online consultation, and you’ll be able to quickly meet with a qualified vet. Our team of Dutch-affiliated vets can help to diagnose the underlying cause of your cat’s itchy skin and design a specialized treatment plan that meets their needs. Plus, we’re the only pet telehealth company that delivers medication right to your door, so you can get high-quality treatment with the utmost convenience. Get started today to access expert care on your terms.

References

  1. Moriello, Karen A. “Itching (Pruritus) in Cats.” MSD Veterinary Manual, MSD Veterinary Manual, Aug. 2018, https://www.msdvetmanual.com/cat-owners/skin-disorders-of-cats/itching-pruritus-in-cats.
  2. Moriello, Karen A. “Pruritus in Animals.” MSD Veterinary Manual, MSD Veterinary Manual, Jan. 2020, https://www.msdvetmanual.com/veterinary/integumentary-system/integumentary-system-introduction/pruritus-in-animals.
  3. MacDonald, M L, et al. “Essential Fatty Acid Requirements of Cats: Pathology of Essential Fatty Acid Deficiency.” American Journal of Veterinary Research, U.S. National Library of Medicine, July 1984, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24049889/.
  4. Heinze, Cailin R. “The Skinny on Fat: Part 2 – Essential Fatty Acids and Inflammation.” Clinical Nutrition Service at Cummings School, 2 Apr. 2018, https://vetnutrition.tufts.edu/2018/04/essential-fatty-acids-and-inflammation/.
  5. “The Challenge of Skin Disorders.” Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, Cornell University, https://www.vet.cornell.edu/departments-centers-and-institutes/cornell-feline-health-center/health-information/feline-health-topics/challenge-skin-disorders.