Why is My Cat Itchy? How to Spot, Treat, and Prevent Common Feline Skin Conditions

Posted on
February 25, 2021
An orange and white tabby cat licks its paws with its eyes shut.
Instagram Logo Fauna Care
Follow us on Instagram for the latest news, promotions, and pet pics.
Follow Us

We’ve all had days where there’s an itch we can’t scratch enough. All day long, we try in vain to soothe that strange, tickling feeling to no avail. If you think that’s hard, imagine what it must be like for your cat, especially when it’s just the symptom of a larger problem. 

It’s believed that 6-15% of cats have some kind of skin disease, causing them to spend nearly as much time scratching as they do napping and playing. Causes of skin disease in cats can vary depending on geographic location, a cat’s lifestyle, its breed, and its gender. However, there are some likely suspects to consider before jumping to conclusions about why your cat may be grooming more than usual. 

Some skin conditions require professional diagnosis and in-depth examination, but there are some common causes of skin irritation that any cat owner can spot. Let’s take a look at some of the most prevalent feline skin disorders and talk about ways to spot, treat, and prevent them!

Fleas 

One of the common, and most feared, causes of itching in cats is fleas. Just the thought of these insects can send some people running for the hills and they are certainly no picnic for your pet. 

Fleas are parasitic insects known for their ability to jump 160 times their body length and their love of drinking blood. The most common variety of flea found on cats is known as Ctenocephalides felis aka the cat flea. Your feline friend may pick up these hitchhikers when walking in the grass or after coming into contact with other flea-infested items and animals. After biting and drinking your cat’s blood, the fleas begin to breed, laying up to 50 eggs a day, some of which may fall off of your cat and onto your furniture. Yikes! Fleas are a threat to your pets all year round, but they tend to thrive during warmer months. 

Although a common problem, fleas can be potentially dangerous. Each day, fleas drink twice their body weight in blood which can lead to anemia in kittens. Their bites are also incredibly itchy, leaving your pet in a perpetual state of discomfort. Not to mention that fleas are highly contagious, with a tendency to infest your other pets, your furniture, and even you! 

Fleas are difficult to spot. Their eggs, often white and attached near the base of an animal’s fur, are so small that the eye often passes right over them. The adults are also small and quick, meaning you may not notice them on your pet right away. 

Signs that your cat may have fleas include:

  • Frequent itching and biting
  • Overgrooming and hair loss
  • Irritated and restless behavior
  • Anemia (muscle deterioration, weakness, lethargy)
  • Inflammation and small scabs
  • Flea dirt (A black debris, almost like pepper, on your cat’s skin. This is actually flea feces.)
  • Live insects or visible eggs in your cat’s fur

If you believe your cat has a flea problem, vets can recommend medications that will kill the fleas living on your cat’s body and prescribe treatments to alleviate any itchiness. But, in order to prevent a recurring problem, you will need to eliminate any fleas that may have made your furniture their home. You can hire an exterminator or try some DIY methods to get the job done. This could mean throwing away old bedding, sealing certain items in plastic for several weeks, or even using pet-safe, flea killing sprays and powders. Whatever you do, it is important to be as thorough as possible. 

It’s also a good idea to ask your vet for preventative flea and tick medicine. This will help stop your cat from ever contracting these pesky parasites in the first place.

An orange tabby cat lays down with its face hidden against its paws.
Itchy skin can make your cat seem irritable, tired, or down right grumpy.

Ear Mites

Have you ever noticed your cat scratching their ears non-stop? This habit is often an adorable sight to behold, but when done in excess it might mean ear mites. 

Ear mites are teeny tiny parasites that live in ear canals. They feast on ear wax and old skin, leaving behind their waste and laying eggs inside the ear. Ear mites are not dangerous and certainly not life threatening, but they can cause discomfort for your cat. They are also highly contagious between animals, although they rarely affect humans. 

Symptoms of ear mites are:

  • Head shaking
  • Obsessive ear scratching
  • Dark discharge inside the ear, similar in appearance to coffee grounds
  • Redness or itching in the areas surrounding the ears

You will want to consult with your vet if you suspect your cat has ear mites. If the diagnosis is confirmed, they will prescribe medicine that will eliminate the infestation. They’ll also show you how to properly clean your cat’s ears to remove any debris. 

Bug Bites

Just like humans, cats can suffer from mosquito and spider bites and even wasp stings. All of these events can cause areas of sensitivity, inflammation, redness, or hair loss. A cat may repeatedly lick or itch these spots. While in most cases a bug bite is nothing to worry about, if the bite seems to worsen, appears infected, or your animal has a fever, a vet should be contacted. 

A brown cat and a white dog snuggle outside on green foliage.
Insects like fleas and mites can be transferred from one animal to another, so it’s important to check all your pets regularly.

Allergies

Nobody likes allergies, including cats. Our feline companions can be just as susceptible to allergens like pollen or peanuts as any human being. 

With so many possible allergies, ranging from environmental to diets, it can be difficult to know what your cat is sensitive to without the aid of a vet. But, there are several indicators to watch out for if you suspect your cat has an undiagnosed allergy, such as:

  • Overgrooming (licking their legs, paws, belly, ears, face, groin, or armpits to the point of hair loss or skin irritation)
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Weight loss
  • Lack of appetite
  • Coughing

In the case of food allergies, your vet will be able to conduct tests and provide a recommended diet for your cat that will nourish them and save them from an upset stomach. There are also ways to test for environmental allergies. Treatments can range from using medicated shampoo to being given a life-long prescription of medication. There are also hyposensitisation vaccines available in some cases that can help soothe symptoms of asthma and insect bites.

A long haired brown tabby looking up and rolling playfully.
The sooner your cat’s skin is soothed, the sooner they can get back to being their goofy, sassy self.

Dandruff

If you’ve ever been petting your cat and found white flakes on your lap, your cat may be suffering from dandruff. Dandruff is often indicative of dry skin, leading to frantic itching and it’s signature white debris left all over your cat, your hand, your clothes, and your furniture. 

Like people, cats often experience dry skin in the wintertime, resulting in dandruff, but dry skin can also be a sign of a nutritional deficiency, arthritis (from decreased grooming), or using the wrong shampoo during the occasional bathtime. 

Rehydrating your cat’s skin will keep them calm and comfortable. A few ways to go about doing so include:

  • Using a humidifier to return moisture in the air (A method that’s good for you and your cat!)
  • Consulting your vet about any potential diet issues, especially a lack of omega-3 fatty acids which can lead to dry skin and a dull coat
  • Grooming your cat using a slicker brush, a great way to pull up loose fur and lightly exfoliate their skin, removing any skin buildup
  • Using hypoallergenic shampoos with ingredients that soothe skin, like oatmeal. There are also special no-wash conditioners/moisturizers that are pet-safe and will leave their fur feeling silky smooth.

While there are many more skin conditions and diseases that can inflict cats, such as fungal infections like Candidiasis, they are much more uncommon. If you find your cat to be exhibiting any of the symptoms listed above, there is a good chance their condition is no more serious than a bug bite. Still, if you ever have a concern regarding your pet’s behavior or their health, it is best to contact your vet and get a professional opinion. 

Vets can also recommend preventative treatments that will keep your pet’s skin hydrated and itch-free. They may even recommend one of Fauna Care’s wide variety of products that are safe for use on cats, as well as any other furry or scaly friend you may have at home. A great option is Fauna Care Protect & Condition which moisturizes your pet’s skin and protects their fur, leaving them with a shiny coat and supple skin. The Anti-Fungal Spray provides similar benefits, using zinc and ketoconazole to stop the spread of fungal growth while soothing any itchiness.

But, in the end, it doesn’t matter what they recommend for your kitty, as long it leaves them healthy, happy, and comfortable.

Questions? Interested in being featured on this blog? Click here to get in touch!
Posted on
February 25, 2021
in
Advice
category

You Might Also Like

Enjoy this article? We've covered more topics like this one on the Fauna Care pet care blog!