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Itchy Cats: Where is the Hair?

Jun 2, 2011 by     No Comments    Posted under: Tips & Advice

One of the most appealing features of our favorite species is their sleek and soft fur (apologies to the hairless cat breeds out there!).  But what happens when your cat is itchy?  Most cats do what cats do best—they groom themselves—only their grooming goes into hyper-drive, and all that beautiful fur can vanish in an instant!

The most common reason for a cat to be itchy is allergies.  Cats have allergies just like humans do, and they react to allergic triggers by becoming itchy.  When this happens, cats scratch and lick to try to relieve that itchy sensation.  It is amazing how quickly the hair can come off!  Cats’s tongues have small barbs on the surface, and they are just as efficient at shaving as an electric razor.  Sometimes sores can develop from too much licking or scratching.

What can complicate things is that most allergic cats, just like people with allergies, are rarely reacting to only one thing.  So, your itchy cat may be affected by seasonal pollens, mold spores, insect bites and even from the food he eats.  What veterinarians try to do to minimize the level of itchiness that your cat is experiencing is to eliminate any possible allergic triggers that we are able to control.  Because we know that most cats with allergies are fiercely reactive to insect bites, we always recommend that all cats be treated with monthly topical flea control products—even in situations where it is not certain that fleas might be a factor.  It also is helpful to change your cat’s food to a special diet that eliminates any possible reactive proteins or other ingredients that might be creating problems for your cat.  Interestingly, if your cat does suffer from food allergies, it is almost always a reaction to a food that he has been eating for a long time, and not to something new.

Obviously, pollens and molds are much more difficult to eliminate.  Cats who stay indoors are just as affected by these airborne triggers as those who spend time outdoors.  We may be able to keep your allergic cat more comfortable just by following those diet and topical treatment steps because that might help minimize what he is reacting to and decrease his overall level of itchiness.  However, if your cat is still itchy and miserable after you’ve instituted those steps, and moving to an “allergy-free” state like Arizona is not an option, then medications might be beneficial.  Antihistamines and cortisol products can help control itchiness associated with allergies, and depending on how severe your cat’s allergies are, doses can be kept low.  Some cats need longer-term treatments than others do, and it is not unusual for very allergic cats to actually receive special and individualized injections of compounds that are designed to decrease that cat’s specific areas of reactivity.

Itchiness in cats is not always associated with allergies, though.  Older cats who suddenly develop unusual itchiness might be suffering from internal problems such as an overactive thyroid condition.  Cats will also sometimes lick at areas that are uncomfortable, such as stiff or aching joints or irritated urinary bladders.

Your veterinarian can help with diagnosing the problem, and with recommendations for treatment.  No cat needs to be bald if they weren’t born that way!

Dr Cathy Lund

Cathy Lund, DVM, owns and operates City Kitty Veterinary Care for Cats, a cat practice located in Providence, RI. She is also the board president and founder of the Companion Animal Foundation, a statewide, veterinary-based nonprofit organization that helps low-income pet owners afford essential veterinary care. She lives in Providence, and serves on several architectural and preservation commissions in the city, and is on the board of directors of WRNI, RI’s own NPR station. But her favorite activity is to promote the countless virtues of the “purr-fect” pet, the cat!

City Kitty
18 Imperial Pl # 1B
Providence, RI 02903-4642

Phone: (401) 831-6369
Email: email@city-kitty.com

Website: http://www.city-kitty.com/
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