As a human being with a complex nervous system, you know exactly how annoying it is to have a constant itch. The incessant desire to scratch an itch is a great annoyance. While it can mean little more than having an itch at times, it can also be a sign of a skin condition or another disease. Likewise, if you own a cat that spends a significant amount of time each day itching, this excessive itching could be more than just a desire to scratch an itch.
Excessive itching in cats, known as pruritis, occurs when chemical reactions in the skin stimulate nerves that cause the brain to feel the itch. Your cat will start scratching itself to relieve the sensation, but in many cases that can stimulate an inflammatory reaction in the skin and make things worse.
Your cat is not simply itching itself constantly because it is bored. All cats have an itch threshold. There are normal, everyday triggers that can cause itching. However, your cat won’t necessarily feel the urge to itch until those triggers pass this itch threshold and irritate the skin enough to stimulate the nerves, sending messages to the brain to scratch. When excessive itching sets in, your cat can end up scratching its skin until painful lesions develop. Those painful lesions can, in a worst case scenario, become infected.
There are numerous conditions and diseases that can lead to pruritis in your cat. Some of these conditions may lead to mild forms of pruritis, while others lead to severe pruritis and excessive itching.
Skin allergies Fleas are the most common source of allergic skin diseases in the United States. If your cat suffers an allergic reaction to fleas it will likely scratch its backside excessively, leading to lesions on its bottom, tail, belly, and hind legs.
Atopy is the term used to refer to an allergic reaction to airborne allergens in the home. These include allergens such as pollen, house dust, dust mites, and mold. Your cat would react to these allergens by scratching its ears, face, and paws. You may notice an uptick in atopy-related conditions in the summer months when mold and pollen levels are higher.
Food, insect, and contact allergies are less common, but far from rare in cats. Food allergies cause a reaction similar to that of atopy in cats. Insect allergies result in lesions that occur near the bite site, which most commonly affects cats on the ears and bridge of the nose. Finally, contact allergies are the result of interactions with irritants that come in contact with your cat’s skin.
Skin parasites Scabies is the most prevalent parasitic skin condition in cats. This condition is caused by the sarcoptic mange mite and results in lesions on the ears, elbows, and hocks of your cat. Fleas can also cause excessive itching in your cat as a parasite, but the condition is less intense than it is for those cats that are allergic to fleas.
There are various other mites that can trigger different levels of parasitic skin conditions in your cat. Demodex mites cause demodectic mange, a condition which causes hair loss and dermatitis. The condition itself does not often lead to excessive itching, but the secondary bacterial infection it can cause in the skin results in itching.
The cheyletiella mite can lead to cheyletiellosis in your cat, resulting in lesions along the top of your cat’s back. Ear mites, as the name suggests, can lead to excessive itching in and around the ears. However, ear mites have been known to cause itching elsewhere on a cat’s body. Notoedric mange is a contagious skin condition in cats that is caused by a mite related to the sarcoptic mange mite. This disease is highly contagious in cats and is spread by direct contact.
Relieving the itch If you notice excessive itching in your cat that occurs over an extended period of time, you should bring your cat into the veterinarian. Treating the itch alone with any topical medication available from retail pet stores may not be enough to treat the underlying cause. For example, in the case of food allergies, providing itch relief requires a change in diet in order to solve the problem long term. Parasitic conditions require diagnosis and treatment from a vet to rid your cat of the cause of the itch, rather than simply treating the itch.