by Amber Drake

Why is my cat itchy? And other cat skin problems

Why is my cat itchy? And other cat skin problems

Published: June 2021 | Updated: July 2022

Most cats scratch on occasion, but if you find that your cat is scratching more frequently or scratching is becoming excessive, your cat may be suffering from skin problems, and you should consult your veterinarian to determine the cause.

Though cat skin conditions are rarely an emergency, an uncomfortable cat will have a hard time getting through the day until the symptoms are alleviated.

Types of cat skin disorders

In contrast to dogs, cats' coats and skin usually need less attention. Skin disorders in cats are significantly less common than they are in our dogs. To help prevent skin conditions, you should brush your cat's coat and skin once a week. 

In addition to helping spread the oils in the skin throughout the fur, it will make it easier for you to spot any skin issues in your cat early on. It's important to note, even with preventative measures, your cat can still obtain some type of skin condition. 

The most common skin conditions in cats include:

1) Parasites

Fleas and other external parasites, like ticks, can cause itchy skin and allergic reactions in cats. Excessive scratching and gnawing can cause additional irritation and can result in secondary infections.

Ticks can leave a raised bump or cause localized swelling on your cat's skin. The bump is the cat's defense mechanism against the tick that’s lodged its way into your cat’s body.

A cat’s itchy ears may be caused by mites, also known as ear mites. Kittens are more likely to have this problem. The cat will turn his head sideways in an odd manner in many cases indicating he is in pain. Ear mites can also result in chronic ear infections in cats and should be handled by your veterinarian as soon as possible.

Cat Itching

2) Miliary dermatitis

Miliary dermatitis is a common feline skin disease characterized by multiple tiny, grainy bumps on the skin's surface. Miliary dermatitis is a symptom, not a disease, named after the texture of the skin, which resembles millet seeds.

Hypersensitivity to flea bites is the most common cause of miliary dermatitis. Bacterial diseases, ringworm infections, other parasitic infestations, autoimmune disease, and certain cancers can be possible causes of miliary dermatitis.

This may also be caused by other allergies, such as adverse food reactions or atopy.

Cat Dermatitis

3) Excessive oil in fur and dandruff

When our hair appears greasy, most of us will take a shower to remove the excess oil. Cats, on the other hand, should be able to preserve the look of their fur coat on their own. When the fur appears greasy or sticky, it means that a phase in the oil production and removal process has been interrupted.

Oily cat fur is a common symptom of miliary dermatitis, but it may also be the only symptom. Oily hair, like dandruff, can be caused mainly by skin disease or can be linked to other issues, such as obesity and thyroid disorders.

Specially designed medicated shampoo for cats can help in many situations, but testing is needed to get the correct diagnosis and decide the best course of treatment.

Cat oil and dandruff

4) Lumps and bumps

Cats, unlike dogs, do not normally develop skin tumor factories after a certain age. Although a geriatric dog's skin is bound to be riddled with skin tags, soft fatty tumors, and warts, a cat's skin isn't nearly as vulnerable to growths. As a result, if you find a growth on your cat's skin, it's important to get it checked by your veterinarian.

Almost always, microscopic testing is advised. The first step in determining whether or not a growth is troubling is to collect cells from it with a fine needle aspirate (FNA) and examine them under a microscope (cytology).

The growth will need to be removed and sent for a biopsy, after which a pathologist may determine the exact cause of the growth. They will then decide which therapies, if any, are needed. Firm lumps under the skin of the belly in older female cats, in particular, should be checked right away to rule out mammary tumors.

Cat lumps and bumps

Preventing cat skin conditions

When we can, as pet parents, we should do our best to prevent illness and infection. As responsible cat owners, there are multiple steps we can take including:

  • Help with Grooming: Although "assisted grooming" can be an effective treatment for cats that are unable to groom themselves, especially those who are older or overweight, you should not bathe or groom your cat excessively, as this may lead to its own set of issues. Using materials like a damp rag and a rubber grooming brush, every few weeks, help your kitty get herself nice and clean.
  • Minimize Stress: Overgrooming can be caused by psychological skin problems, so reducing tension for your cat can help. Look for stress-relieving items from your veterinarian or the local pet shop, such as cat pheromone diffusers specifically designed for stress relief. Determine the cause of her anxiety if possible, and alter accordingly.
  • Invest in High-Quality Food: To keep your cat's skin healthy, start by asking your veterinarian or feline nutritionist for a high-quality diet recommendation. Poor diets may result in a cat’s dry flaky skin and overall reduced skin and coat health. 

Probiotics promote healthy cat skin and coat health

Since the gut contains about 70% of the immune system, it's possible that your cat's skin disorder is caused by a condition known as gut dysbiosis

Essentially, the cat's digestive system could be unstable or imbalanced. The right probiotic can help. And, be certain to choose one that's resistant to antibiotics to ensure it will continue working should your cat need to take additional medications.

S. boulardii tends to be the most highly recommended strain. It’s a yeast-based probiotic that’s resistant to antibiotics and helps balance the body.

Food allergies, which are a common cause of skin disorders in our cats, can be reduced or eliminated with a veterinarian-formulated probiotic like Daily Cat. Probiotics help our cats battle infections by improving digestion and balancing bad bacteria in the gut, thereby increasing the colonies of healthy bacteria in the digestive tract.

The bottom line

Your cat’s quality of life could dramatically decrease if or when she has a skin condition. Imagine when you’re itchy or your skin is sensitive; it’s not a pleasant feeling! And, if she stops grooming, this could be detrimental to her mental health. 

If you have a cat with itchy skin or any other type of skin condition, it’s important to make a trip to the veterinarian to determine the cause and get it addressed. Once the cause is discovered, or even before the cause is determined, you can implement a daily probiotic to help balance the cat digestive tract and immune system. 

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