Intense itching making kitty crazy? Check these 5 things

Analysis by Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

cat itchy skin

Story at-a-glance -

  • Both cats and dogs get itchy skin, but often the underlying cause is different
  • Dogs typically itch due to allergies; however, the cause of your cat’s itching is just as likely to be something else
  • Skin conditions that commonly cause itching in cats include parasites, ringworm and feline acne
  • Helping your itchy cat means getting an accurate diagnosis of the underlying cause, an effective wound-healing protocol and an anti-inflammatory diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids

Some pet parents tend to think of kitties as small dogs, but in reality, cats are physiologically unique creatures, different in almost every way from their canine counterparts.

For this reason, it’s always best to assume nothing that applies to your dog automatically also applies to your cat. For example, a medication you give to your canine companion should never be given to your cat unless or until your veterinarian gives you the go-ahead. The same goes for chemical flea and tick preventives.

You should also avoid feeding dog food to your cat (and vice versa) unless you’re really in a bind and it’s a one-time thing. And while dogs and cats today develop many of the same health problems, for example, dental disease, or diabetes in overweight pets, often what causes a specific disorder in dogs is different than the underlying cause of the same disease in our feline friends.

One condition in which this is often true is pruritus, which is the medical term for severely itchy skin. Itchy skin in a dog can almost always be traced to an allergy to either something in his diet, or in the environment. Cats, like dogs, can certainly develop allergies that make them itchy (and once in a while, it’s actually a dog the cat is allergic to!), but there are a number of other conditions that are just as likely to cause itching in kitties.

5 conditions that cause itching in cats

1. Parasites — Pests, including fleas and mites, are a very common cause of itching in cats. If you have an itchy cat who goes outdoors at all, she could have a flea allergy even if you don’t find evidence of fleas or flea dirt. Some cats are such efficient groomers they can remove all traces of fleas and their dirt before they have a reaction.

It’s safe to assume that if your cat is itchy, she’s sensitive to fleas. If she has flea allergy dermatitis (FAD), she’s super-sensitive, and the bite of just one flea can leave her scratching and miserable.

2. Ringworm — Another quite common reason for itching in cats is ringworm, also called dermatophytosis, which is a fungal infection that can affect the hair, skin or nails. Ringworm is actually the most common contagious skin infection in kitties. The classic appearance of ringworm is a small, round, hairless sore on the skin.

The sore may have a scaly appearance at the center, and also small abscesses. These lesions are most often seen on the head, ears and tail.

3. Feline acne — A third, also common itchy condition in cats is feline acne, also called chin acne or kitty acne, in which blackheads develop on the chin. Hair follicles become clogged with oil (sebum) from the sebaceous glands, which results in blackheads. The blackheads can turn into red, itchy bumps, which can progress to pimples that turn into abscesses that rupture and become crusty. Once the condition has reached this advanced stage, it's called furunculosis.

In severe cases of chin acne, swelling, hair loss and draining tracts can develop. The area can be very itchy, and cats can cause additional trauma by scratching. Secondary bacterial infections are common with this condition.

4. Pemphigus foliaceus — One of the most common manifestations of allergies in dogs is severely itchy, inflamed feet or paws, a condition called pododermatitis. However, if your kitty has itchy feet, the underlying cause is more likely to be pemphigus foliaceus, which is an autoimmune skin disorder. Pemphigus foliaceus causes scaly, crusty skin, as well as pustules, mild ulceration, and footpad overgrowth and cracking.

5. Feline eosinophilic granuloma complex — This is a condition in which excessive numbers of eosinophils (a type of white blood cell) are produced. The disorder in cats is actually three different syndromes that cause inflammation of the skin:

Eosinophilic plaque, which features defined, raised, round or oval-shaped sores that are often ulcerated. These lesions are typically found on a cat’s abdomen or thighs and contain eosinophils.

Eosinophilic granuloma, which describes a mass or lumpy sore containing eosinophils, is usually found on the back of the thighs, the face or inside the mouth.

Indolent ulcer, which is a defined, abscessed lesion that is most often found on the upper lip.

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How to relieve your cat’s itching

To successfully alleviate your cat’s itchiness, it’s necessary to accurately identify and treat the underlying cause. Your first stop should be your veterinarian’s office for a thorough workup and hopefully, a quick and definitive diagnosis.

Regardless of the underlying cause, the next thing you’ll want to do is begin healing your cat’s wounded skin. This means she’ll need to wear an E-collar to interrupt the itch-lick-scratch cycle. An alternative might be a light, nonstick bandage or even an infant-sized T-shirt. Keeping the wound clean is absolutely essential. I recommend disinfecting the area with dilute Betadine (povidone iodine) twice a day. Topical remedies I recommend for wound healing in kitties include:

  • Manuka honey applied to the area twice a day
  • Dr. Willard's Water or colloidal silver sprayed on the wound several times a day
  • Essential oil of lavender diluted with coconut oil
  • Fresh aloe gel
  • Hypericum or calendula cream or tinctures

The E-collar, nonstick bandage or infant T-shirt should be ready to go before you put the healing balm on your cat to prevent her from immediately licking it off.

There are also a number of homeopathic remedies that can be very beneficial for itchy cats, so I encourage you to work with a homeopath to find the right one for your kitty. Detoxing from vaccines and avoiding further unnecessary vaccines is also very important to prevent the recurrence of skin disorders in cats.

Cats with itchy skin conditions should eat an anti-inflammatory diet

Regardless of the underlying cause of your kitty’s skin condition, I always review a pet's diet as part of my workup to see what changes might promote healing and prevent a recurrence. Sometimes an improvement in the quality and type of cat food being fed is all that’s needed to resolve the problem. Pets with itchy skin should be fed an anti-inflammatory, minimally processed diet.

Since diets that create or worsen inflammation are high in carbohydrates, I find that removing unnecessary grains and carbs from the diet, as well as giving cats a break from both seafood and poultry as protein sources, can help prevent a recurrence. If you follow Chinese food energetics and principles, you'll also want to avoid feeding "energetically warm" or hot foods during flare-ups caused by a skin disorder. This means avoiding chicken and beef as protein sources.

If your cat has year-round skin issues, a NutriScan test (that can be completed at home) may provide insights into pet food ingredients contributing to sensitivities causing inflammation in the body. Avoiding allergenic foods, but also dyes, flavorings, synthetic nutrients and AGEs (byproducts from the extrusion and canning process) may radically improve your cat’s irritated, itchy skin.

Omega-3 fatty acids help decrease inflammation throughout the body. Adding them into the diet of a cat with a skin disorder can be very beneficial. The best sources of omega-3 are krill oil, salmon oil, tuna oil, anchovy oil, sardine oil and other fish body oils. If your cat is sensitive to seafood, using algae oil can add beneficial DHA to the diet.

I also recommend coconut oil because it contains lauric acid, which helps decrease the body's production of yeast. Using fish body oil with coconut oil can help moderate or even suppress the inflammatory response.

+ Sources and References