What are Itchiness?
Pruritus can be a symptom of several conditions, including skin parasites like fleas, or more severe medical problems, like immune disorders. If your pet is exhibiting signs of excessive scratching or grooming, seek medical attention to aid with proper diagnosis of the itching and appropriate treatment.
Itchiness, medically referred to as pruritus, is a condition generally caused by skin irritation. Itchiness can affect any breed, sex, or age of cat or companion animal. Its most common symptom is excessive scratching or other general signs of skin irritation. Regular grooming, including licking and some scratching, is common in cats and not generally a cause for concern. When the behavior becomes excessive, it can be an indication of a more severe underlying condition.
Symptoms of Itchiness in Cats
When itchiness is severe cats may display various symptoms, the most obvious of which being excessive scratching or licking. The itchiness and related symptoms may occur seasonally or could happen year round. Additional symptoms unrelated to itchiness may also be observed depending on the underlying cause of the cat’s condition.
- Excessive scratching
- Excessive licking
- Biting or chewing at one or more spots
- Alopecia or hair loss
- Red or inflamed skin
- Bumps or blisters on the skin
- Self-inflicted wounds or sores
- Open sores
- Pus or oozing from the skin
- Greasy coat
- Excessive dander
- Matted fur
- Behavioral changes, like depression
Causes of Itchiness in Cats
The most common causes of itchiness in cats are skin parasites, like fleas, or an allergic reaction. It is also possible for general itchiness to be psychosomatic, usually occurring with severe emotional reactions or during times of change in the cat’s living environment. It is also possible for pruritus to be a symptom of some underlying condition. Some of the common causes of itchiness in cats include:
- Skin parasites
- Flea bites
- Food or food additives
- Environmental causes (dust, pollen, etc.)
- Neurological disorders
- Strong emotional reactions
- Bacterial infections
- Yeast or other fungal infection
- Immune disorders
- Dry skin
- Poor nutrition
- Feline miliary dermatitis
- Certain cancers
Diagnosis of Itchiness in Cats
Any cat exhibiting symptoms of itchiness should be examined. A full physical examination will identify most parasitic skin infections. This process can also quickly rule out the possibility of fleas, mites, or other common skin parasites. Depending on the findings from the physical examination, your veterinarian may be able to confirm a preliminary diagnosis and recommend appropriate treatment for the pests causing the cat’s itchiness. If fleas, mites, and associated pests are ruled out during the initial examination, further diagnostic testing will be required to determine the underlying cause of your pet’s condition. Allergies are generally diagnosed using a skin test. Food allergies may require dietary trials to determine what is responsible for your cat’s allergic reaction. During this process, veterinary staff may also draw blood and collect a urine sample for analysis. Common laboratory testing will include a complete blood count, biochemistry panel, electrolyte panel, and urinalysis. In some cases, additional diagnostic methods like x-rays may also be employed.
Treatment of Itchiness in Cats
The treatment prescribed by your veterinarian will depend on the underlying cause of the itchiness. Treatments may vary considerably depending on what is causing the animal’s itchiness. Some of the common treatments for itchiness include:
Flea or Pest Control Treatments
If fleas or other skin parasites are determined to be the cause, treatment will focus on eliminating those pests. Your veterinarian may recommend several different treatment methods, including those for the cat and the living environment. Eliminating fleas is especially important if your pet is having an allergic reaction or sensitivity to their bites. Some flea treatments include topical medications, medicated shampoos, and powders or sprays to use around the house. Most pest control methods recommended by your veterinarian will be considered safe for pets, but take care when using any insecticide in your home.
If a food allergy is identified, the most successful treatment method will involve eliminating that food from your pet’s diet. Changing pet food brands may be required depending on the item determined to be causing your cat’s allergy. Dietary changes carry very little to no risk to your pet.
This category of drug is used to control the release of histamine caused by allergies. It can help reduce the itchiness, inflammation, and other symptoms associated with an allergic reaction. It is also prescribed for some types of cancer that can release histamine in the body. Proper dosing for your cat’s size and health is essential to minimizing the risk associated with this drug type.
This steroidal treatment is commonly used to reduce itching and associated symptoms. It may be given orally or topically. In more severe cases it may be given as an injection. This treatment carries a low risk of side effects.
Adding fatty acids as a supplement or through dietary changes is also commonly used to treat itchiness and may be included in addition to other treatments. This method is considered low to no risk.
If the cause is determined to be psychosomatic, anti-anxiety medication may be prescribed to assist with your pet’s mental state. This type of medication carries a moderate to low risk of side effects, although common side effects are not life-threatening.
Recovery of Itchiness in Cats
In most cases, the prognosis for recovery from itchiness is good. Once the underlying cause is determined, proper treatment will commonly resolve the issue completely. Some animals may continue to exhibit signs of itchiness more than others, but it is generally not life-threatening. In some cases, the underlying cause may be a more serious condition, which can affect your pet’s prognosis. While your cat is receiving treatment and recovering, be sure to follow all instructions provided by your veterinarian. This includes proper dosing of prescribed medications and returning for any requested follow-up visits. If fleas or other skin parasites were determined to be the cause, continue to manage the condition by using regular pest treatments for both your pet and its living space.