Sunday, November 10, 2013

Why is my cat's skin itchy?

by Amanda L. Maus DVM
Catalina Pet Hospital

Tucson, AZ

Most cat owners notice their cats scratching or chewing their skin occasionally, just like us humans get the random itch.  If your cat starts scratching or chewing their skin more frequently, especially if they start losing hair, there may be a health problem.  The most common causes of itchy skin include parasites and allergies.  Less common causes include ringworm, poor diet, or obesity.

Skin parasites are mainly seen on cats who go outside but can also be found on indoor only cats.  In most areas of the United States, fleas are a very common skin parasite that infest pets.  Not all cats itch as much as other cats do with fleas.  There are several varieties of ticks in the US.  In addition to causing skin irritation, fleas and ticks can also spread very serious diseases.  Lice and mange are less common in cats but can also cause itching.  Your veterinarian can perform some tests in their office to help identify these parasites. 

Allergies in cats cause itchy skin, instead of the sneezing and runny eyes that people experience.  There are several categories of allergens including direct contact, inhalant, and food.  Certain laundry detergents, carpet or upholstery cleaners, and odor neutralizing sprays may cause your cat to itch when they come in contact with the chemical residue.  Outside, contact with certain grasses or weeds may cause itching.  Inhaled allergens include mold spores, pollens, and dust mites.  Food allergies can develop over time in response to certain proteins or carbohydrates.  Your veterinarian can discuss your cat's exposure to these allergens to help determine the possible cause of the itching.

Certain lower quality diets may not provide enough nutrition for your cat's skin and coat.  Optimal levels of omega 3 and 6 fatty acids are necessary to maintain proper skin and coat quality.  Certain diets may also predispose your cat to obesity.  Your veterinarian can make recommendations on brands of food that are healthier for your cat.

Obesity can indirectly cause itchy skin.  Overweight cats have trouble performing adequate grooming.  They are more likely to develop hair mats, dandruff, and poor hygiene around their rear end.  Mats are uncomfortable, itchy, and can lead to skin infections.  Poor rear end hygiene can also lead to skin as well as urinary tract infections.  There are several types of weight loss diets available that can get your cat back to their ideal body condition.

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