Why Is Your Cat Scratching?
20 March, 2017
cat scratching

Our cats are excellent groomers and keep their fur, nails and body clean on a daily basis.  As part of their grooming, they will scratch themselves to help the cleaning.  And, of course, scratching is a normal behavior in cats.  However, if you notice your cat scratching excessively, it is a behavior that needs to be addressed as it could lead to lesions, compulsive behavior or they can hurt themselves.

If you do notice your cat scratching excessively, it is always best to seek your vet’s advice on how to remedy it.  The below can help you pinpoint what might be the cause of the itching:

Your cat might have pruritus

If your cat spends a large portion of his time scratching, he may have a condition known as pruritus, or itching, an unpleasant sensation that causes your cat to scratch or bite at himself. It is caused by chemical reactions that occur in the skin and stimulate the nerves, causing the brain to feel the itch. Any skin condition that causes inflammation can cause pruritus.

Fleas are the most common culprit of scratching in cats

Even if you don’t see any fleas on your cat, they are usually the culprit of scratching in cats. Because cats do groom themselves so well, they could remove all traces of fleas. If you notice your cat licking his lower back obsessively, with or without scabs on the neck, it is a sign that fleas might be causing the problem. Ticks, mites, and ringworm, can also prompt scratching, licking, or chewing.

Allergies – Food or Environmental

Just as we can develop skin irritations in response to certain foods or environmental triggers, even just pollen, cats may have itchy, irritated skin if they are allergic to something in their environment.  If you have just changed your food or if your cat is eating too much dry food, this could result in itching.

Dry skin can also cause scratching

Dry winter air or nutritional inadequacies can contribute to dry, flaky skin that gets your cat started licking or scratching in search of relief.  Once your cat starts itching, this can become a pattern.

Pain can cause a cat to scratch

If you notice your scratching the same area over and over again, your cat could simply be having pain or itchiness in that area.

Boredom or anxiety can cause scratching

Compulsive scratching behaviors can develop in cats who are bored, stressed, or anxious.  Indoor cats tend to have more behavioral issues such as compulsive scratching because they don’t exercise as much as outdoor cats.  Compulsive disorders usually start when there are changes in a cat’s environment. Some behaviors that star in response to a medical problem can persist as compulsions after the condition is resolved, such as excessive scratching/grooming.  (See our article: Excessive Grooming in Cats)

How to remedy some of the scratching:

Flea medication is the best way to combat fleas

Because it can be difficult to diagnose fleas in cats, some veterinarians recommend trying reliable flea control products for six to eight weeks to see if it reduces scratching.  There are many different flea medications on the market and your vet will give you some recommendations.  There are also many natural flea medications on the market that can help too or some home remedies you can try.

Changing your cat’s diet can help to determine if your kitty has allergies

Putting cats that are scratching on an 8 week exclusion diet is a good way to find out whether food allergies are the problem. You may have to try several diets before you find one that works.  When going this route, no treats or other food can be given to your cat.  Adding Omega acids or other nutritional supplements can help dry skin allergies.

If you think your cat is anxious or bored, you can help your kitty with love and stimulation

If your vet rules out any medical issue, then your cat could be scratching because she is bored or anxious.  If this is the case, to calm your cat’s anxiety, make your cat feels safe, loved, and comfortable in your home.  You should also make sure your cat is stimulated and getting enough exercise. Counter-conditioning, by training your cat to associate something pleasurable, like a treat or a rub down, with something he fears may also help reduce stress and anxiety.

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