Alt-Text: Cats with eyes closed scratching their face

Key takeaway

In general, treatments for itchy skin include topical ointments, medication, antibiotics, or antihistamines. While there are many treatments that help alleviate your cat’s discomfort, the key to soothing your cat’s itchy skin once and for all is determining the cause of their itch. To do this, a trip to the veterinarian’s office is essential.

Have you noticed your cat scratching themselves more than usual? If so, it can indicate itchy skin in cats, also medically known as pruritus. While pruritus isn’t a disease, it’s often an umbrella term for different conditions that cause skin problems, most notably itchy skin. This can be a result of allergic reactions to food, fleas, environmental factors, ringworm, or bacterial and viral infections.

In many cases, relieving your cat from their discomfort requires a veterinary diagnosis to determine the root of the problem. This way, specialized treatments can be administered correctly. So, if you’re asking yourself, “how can I soothe my cat’s itchy skin?”, you’re in the right place. 

With this guide, you’ll learn the different causes of itchy skin in cats, how pruritus is diagnosed, available treatments, and tips to prevent itchy skin. We’ll also answer a few frequently asked questions to ensure you have the knowledge necessary to support your cat. Read on to learn more about conditions that cause itchy skin and relief options, or skip to the sections that interest you using the links below. 

Causes of Itchy Skin in Cats

There are various causes of itchy skin in cats that may be responsible for your feline’s excessive scratching. In general, the leading causes of itchy skin include: 

  • Fleas or skin mites—As a common culprit, parasites can lead to serious irritation, especially if your cat is allergic to fleas or mites. Allergies to these types of parasites arise when cats are particularly sensitive to flea saliva. 
  • Food allergies—Felines with allergies to food can become extremely itchy when exposed to certain ingredients. If your cat becomes hypersensitive in the presence of particular foods, they may have atopic dermatitis. 
  • Environmental factors—Environmental allergens, such as grass, pollen, and dust, can make your cat itch an abnormal amount. Removing the allergen from your cat’s environment can help.

Here are a few more culprits of itchy skin: 

  • Bacterial infections
  • Hormone/endocrine disorder
  • Allergies (food, inhalant, environment)
  • Drug hypersensitivity
  • Poor diet
  • Ear mites
  • Ringworm
  • Immune disorders
  • Contact allergies
  • Behavioral problems that lead to irritated skin, such as hyperesthesia (cat panic attacks)

Due to the several different possibilities for itchy skin, it’s imperative that your cat gets diagnosed by a veterinarian before administering treatment. In the next section, we’ll take a deeper look at how skin conditions that result in itchiness are diagnosed. 

Diagnosing the Cause of Your Cat’s Itchy Skin 

There are many reasons why your cat is scratching, biting, or licking their skin in excess. The only way to determine the root of the problem and provide the best treatment solution is with a conclusive diagnosis. A veterinarian can diagnose the cause of your cat’s excessive itching by conducting multiple tests, such as:

Tests used to diagnose cause of cat’s itchy skin
  • Serum allergen-specific immunoglobulin (IgE) testing
  • Skin swab
  • Fecal examination to look for intestinal parasites
  • Biochemical profile
  • Skin scraping
  • Biopsies
  • Fur plucks

Oftentimes, veterinarians will first evaluate your cat for parasites by analyzing skin scrapings, combing their fur for fleas, and going through a trial period of different insecticides.1 If there aren’t any signs of parasites, they’ll test for bacterial, fungal, or yeast infections using your cat’s skin samples.

A veterinarian may also request to conduct a diet food trial if they suspect allergies. This type of test allows vets to identify the ingredient causing food allergies since these can often be difficult to pinpoint and cannot be diagnosed with a blood or skin test. Diet trials involve your cat partaking in a hydrolyzed or novel protein diet2 for a minimum of eight to 10 weeks. Then cat owners will slowly introduce ingredients that were once part of their cat’s typical diet and watch out for allergic reactions. 

If your cat is on a diet trial, they will partake in a hydrolyzed or novel protein diet for a minimum of 8 to 10 weeks

A veterinarian can determine why your cat is itchy by looking at their skin and symptoms, but further testing may be necessary. For additional support, they’ll refer you to a veterinary professional that specializes in dermatology. 

When visiting the veterinarian, always provide a list of ongoing symptoms and an approximate date of when they started to help them deliver a quicker diagnosis. When you schedule a consultation with a Dutch-affiliated vet, you’ll also provide pictures or videos highlighting affected areas. 

How to Soothe Your Cat’s Itchy Skin

There are many different treatment options and methods available to alleviate and minimize your cat’s discomfort. Ultimately, the right solution for your cat is dependent on their specific needs. However, a vet can provide a suitable treatment plan. That said, potential medical treatment options that a vet can prescribe your cat include:

  • Antihistamines
  • Corticosteroids
  • Omega-3 fatty acid supplements (skin oil replacements)
  • Antibiotics
  • Topical ointments
  • Medicated shampoo
Treatment methods for cats with itchy skin

Below, we’ve listed a few reasons for a cat’s itchy skin, along with possible treatments:

  • Infections—Antibiotic or antifungal medications are typically given to cats for three to four weeks if bacterial, yeast, or fungal infections are to blame.3
  • Parasites— Ear mites and flea allergy dermatitis are the most common causes of pruritus in cats, and these can lead to secondary bacterial infections. Insecticides that kill fleas can curb scratching due to flea allergies.
  • Food allergies—Eliminating the food causing your cat’s itching can prevent further flare-ups. Specially formulated food for sensitive skin can also be used.
  • Environmental factors—Providing a suitable living environment free of dust can decrease your cat’s itching. If pollen or grass is behind their itching, keeping them inside may help.

Make sure to schedule a consultation with your vet if your cat is under distress and is constantly itching. It’s essential to provide the appropriate treatment as frequent itching can lead to your cat developing secondary bacterial or yeast infections.

You can also reach out to a Dutch-affiliated vet for assistance if your local veterinarian has a lengthy waiting list. With Dutch.com, we don’t keep you waiting. All of our vets respond to requests within 24 hours and are experts in skin issues caused by one of the most common causes of itchy skin in cats: allergies. 

Person petting cat under their chin

Soothing a Cat’s Itchy Skin: Frequently Asked Questions

What can I put on my cat's itchy skin?

To provide your cat with some much-needed relief, you can use topical ointments. You can also bathe your cat with a medicated shampoo to minimize inflammation or swelling. Make sure that the ointments or shampoo you use is free of fragrances since this can further irritate the skin. 

What can I give my cat to make him stop itching?

What you can give to your cat depends on the underlying condition causing their itchiness. If your cat’s itchy skin is caused by parasites, for example, flea and tick preventatives are essential to stop their skin problems from worsening. Alternatively, if they’re itchy because of allergies, antihistamines are an appropriate option. However, make sure to check  with your vet before administering any medication. 

Why is my indoor cat so itchy?

Indoor cats that are excessively itchy may be experiencing allergies. Whether it’s an allergic reaction to their environment (dust), food, or parasites (mites and fleas), allergies require medical intervention or elimination of the allergen.  Treatments can be prescribed by licensed veterinary professionals once the allergen has been determined. 

What cream can I put on my cat for itching?

Topical therapy can effectively reduce discomfort in itchy cats, especially if itchiness is confined to a specific area.4 Look for non-irritating antipruritic creams. If the cream is placed in an area where your cat can easily reach it, consider making them wear an Elizabethan collar to allow the treatment to work. Please consult with your veterinarian before applying any treatments or medications to your cat.

Person combing cat’s hair upward

Final Notes

Healthy skin is imperative to the overall well-being of your cat. That said, cats that exhibit frequent itching as a symptom are often suffering from underlying health issues, such as fleas, allergies, and behavioral problems. If you’re wondering how you can soothe your cat’s itchy skin, the cause must be identified first. Once the source of your cat’s itching is determined, the condition can effectively be treated and managed. 

Allergies, fleas, and anxiety in cats are all conditions that are medically treatable with the help of a veterinarian. However, it can be challenging to obtain an appointment at a local vet’s office, causing many felines to endure their illnesses. With Dutch, you can conveniently speak with an affiliated vet remotely in as little as 24 hours to discuss your cat’s health issues and obtain treatment. Get started with Dutch to give your cat the itch-free life they deserve. 

References

  1. Moriello, Karen A. “Itching (Pruritus) in Cats.” Merck Veterinary Manual, Merck Veterinary Manual, 15 Nov. 2021, https://www.merckvetmanual.com/cat-owners/skin-disorders-of-cats/itching-pruritus-in-cats.

  2. “Food Allergies.” Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, 22 May 2018, https://www.vet.cornell.edu/departments-centers-and-institutes/cornell-feline-health-center/health-information/feline-health-topics/food-allergies.

  3. Moriello, Karen A. “Itching (Pruritus) in Cats.”

  4. Merchant, Sandra R. “Louisiana State University.” LSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital, https://lsu.edu/vetmed/veterinary_hospital/services/dermatology/ce_lectures/pruritis.php.