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How to Stop a Cat From Scratching Itself – Is It Normal?

All cats scratch themselves at one time or another throughout their lives. Scratching is a natural response to irritants of many kinds. Scratching should not be a regular or consistent occurrence, but occasional scratching is typically nothing to worry about. Excessive scratching, referred to as feline pruritis, is not normal and should not be overlooked. There are a few reasons that your cat might be scratching themselves excessively. We discuss these reasons and whether there is anything that you can do to alleviate your cat’s scratching.

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Flea Allergies

Many cats are allergic to fleas. When a flea bites them and their skin and bloodstream are exposed to the flea’s saliva, their immune system overreacts. An overreactive immune system can result in extensive episodes of itching and scratching. The scratching may be accompanied by other signs of flea allergies, such as skin rashes, hair loss, and raised bumps.

What You Can Do About Flea Allergies

If you spot signs of flea allergies, you should be able to inspect your cat’s fur and skin and find at least a couple of fleas lurking about. If this is the case, treating your cat for fleas is the best way to get rid of their allergy symptoms. You can give your cat a flea bath using a store-bought treatment shampoo for immediate relief. Your veterinarian can also prescribe a monthly medication that will help keep fleas from biting your cat for the long term. You can use apple cider vinegar baths and interim treatments too.

woman bathing a cat
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Airborne Allergies

Another reason that your cat might be scratching frequently is airborne allergies. Cats can be allergic to pollen and other airborne allergies just like humans can. They can sometimes show symptoms in the form of runny eyes and sneezing, but they typically show their discomfort by scratching themselves, sometimes incessantly.

What You Can Do About Airborne Allergies

The most effective way to deal with airborne allergies in cats is to see a veterinarian and inquire about a prescription for allergy medication. You can also keep your cat inside, where they will have less exposure to airborne allergens overall. Making sure that your cat gets a bath after long outdoor adventures will help get rid of any allergens that they bring inside the house with them.

vet checking cat's ear
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Food Allergies

Food allergies can affect cats, and when it does, excessive scratching tends to be a prime sign. Some cats are allergic to wheat, while others are allergic to fish. Other common allergens include chicken, beef, fish, and dairy. Specific proteins found in these foods are responsible for the allergy reactions that cats may have. The major signs of food allergies in cats are chronic skin inflammation and scratching.

What You Can Do About Food Allergies

The food allergy symptoms in your cat will not go away on their own. The scratching and inflammation will stay active until the problem food is removed from your cat’s diet. Your veterinarian may be able to do testing to isolate the specific protein that your cat is allergic to, so you know what to eliminate from their diet. Otherwise, they can help you create an elimination diet for your cat to figure out which foods your cat should not be eating.

cat sniffing food
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Scabies

Scabies is a skin disease brought on by parasites. It is extremely contagious, and if left untreated, it can result in the development of crusty lesions anywhere on the body, along with consistent scratching. This disease will not go away on its own, and until it is eradicated, the lesions and scratching will not only stick around but also get worse.

What You Can Do About Scabies

You can treat your cat with a topical itch-relief cream until the scabies are irradicated and the lesions and scratching disappear naturally. Your veterinarian can prescribe medication and topical solutions to kill the parasites that are causing scabies. The process can take several days, if not a couple of weeks, to complete.

cat with scabies on its ears
Image Credit: NovArt, Shutterstock
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Mites

Both ear and burrowing mites can cause scratching problems for your cat. Ear mites live inside the ear canal and can be extremely irritating. The irritation drives cats to incessantly scratch at their ears as time goes on. Burrowing mites eat the surface of a cat’s skin away, which causes irritation and scratching. Both types of mites can be transferred to other animals and even humans, so your cat should be treated as soon as possible after the first sign of mites is noticed.

What You Can Do About Mites

Medication can be purchased over the counter at drug stores and pet shops, then topically applied daily for several days until the mites are eradicated and your cat stops scratching themselves. If the mite infestation is severe, your veterinarian may have to prescribe more effective medication that cannot be purchased in the store. It is a good idea to try a store-bought option before resorting to more intense treatments.

cat scratching ear
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Pyoderma

Pyoderma is a condition that involves puss buildup in the skin. This illness may be the result of various health conditions, including infections, allergies, and even cancers of many kinds. Luckily, this is not a common condition in cats. But if it does develop, it typically results in bacteria overgrowth on the skin and symptoms of consistent scratching. Hair loss and scaling behind the ears and on the tail are other symptoms of pyoderma to keep an eye out for.

What You Can Do About Pyoderma

Antibiotics are necessary to treat the onset of pyoderma in cats. A simple visit to your veterinarian’s office will provide you with an official diagnosis and the antibiotics that you need to treat your cat at home. Symptoms of scratching should start to dissipate within just a few days.

bald spots behind cat's ear
Image Credit: Nataliia Dvukhimenna, Shutterstock

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Final Thoughts

There are many different reasons that your cat might be scratching. If you cannot determine the root cause yourself, it is important to schedule a checkup with your veterinarian as soon as possible so you can get to the bottom of the problem once and for all. Do you have any tips or tricks to share that could help an itchy cat get some relief? Share them in our comments section!

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Featured Image Credit: Susan Santa Maria, Shutterstock

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