Why Is My Cat Itching And Licking So Much?
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Cats love to groom, so much so that it’s quite normal for them to groom themselves for up to half of the time they are awake! But if you notice that your cat suddenly seems to be doing little else, it could be a sign of skin irritation or itchiness. There are lots of reasons why your cat may start itching, scratching and overgrooming. In this article we’ll look at the most common causes and how you might get your cat some welcome relief.
Common causes of itching in cats
Parasites. Fleas are far and away the most common cause of itchiness and overgrooming in cats. Even if your cat spends most or all of their time indoors, they can still get fleas because they can be brought in on our clothing. Fleas tend to cause most irritation around the head, neck and the base of the tail, so if you notice these areas being tended to most, fleas may well be the issue. Fleas actually spend most of their time off the cat, so for every flea you see on the cat there will be at least another hundred in the house! Bald patches and scabs, especially in the areas we mentioned are common, especially if your cat is allergic to fleas. In these cats, just one bite can cause huge reactions and severe itching and irritation.
Other parasites like mites may also be an occasional problem.
Atopic dermatitis (atopy). Some cats are allergic to things in the environment such as pollen, grasses, dust mites and so on, and often they have multiple allergies. In the case of pollen and plants, you may notice that your cat is worse at certain times of the year.
Food allergy. Just as with atopy, food allergies can cause skin irritation and itching, too. The most common food allergies in cats are beef, fish, chicken and dairy products.
Skin infection. Skin infections aren’t very common in cats and are often secondary to other things. For instance, if your cat has been scratching and overgrooming so much that they’ve damaged the skin, bacteria from their mouth and skin can penetrate and set up infection in the deeper layers of the skin. This becomes a vicious itch/scratch cycle.
Stress. Stress is a really important cause of overgrooming and hair loss in cats and can easily be confused with a genuine skin problem. Usually, hair loss due to this kind of grooming doesn’t result in skin damage the way that the intense itch of allergies does. .
What can you do to help your cat?
Keeping parasite control up to date is the very first thing you can do. If you can prevent fleas and other parasites from multiplying, you will be one step ahead of the game.
If you do notice problems such as excessive licking or scratching, then it’s best to see your vet, and sooner rather than later. The treatment your cat receives will vary depending on the cause of the irritation, and your vet may also want to do a food elimination trial to rule out an allergy while other tests are ongoing. For skin cases, these food trials may need to go on for 8-12 weeks. If stress is found to be the cause of the overgrooming, your vet or nurse team can give you some great tips about how to reduce stress at home and reduce or avoid possible conflict between your cats.
Skin issues can be difficult to diagnose, so the sooner your vet can get on the diagnostic road, the sooner your cat will get relief from that ever-annoying itch.
Reviewed by Dr. Hein Meyer, DVM, PhD, Dipl-ECVIM-CA