Feline itch, also known as feline dermatitis, is the term given to describe a large number of inflammatory skin conditions. The severity of the itch varies from cat to cat, based on the cause of the itch and the feline’s overall health. Consult with a veterinarian regarding your cat’s itchy skin.
According to the University of Tennessee, feline itch is most commonly caused by a flea allergy, but there are several potential causes. Ringworm is an infectious parasite that can result in severe itching and can also infect humans. Additional causes of feline dermatitis are allergies to foods, drugs and even household substances, such as fabrics, plants, plastics and detergents. Bacterial and viral infections are less common causes for feline itch, but are still possibilities.
Three clinical patterns of feline dermatitis are hair loss, skin crusting and plaques. Hair loss is the most common symptom and is often visible on the base of your cat’s tail, abdomen and inner thighs. Swelling and redness is often present due to irritation from the allergen or as a direct result from the cat scratching and biting at the dermatitis. Areas affected are localized to specific regions or appear on large surfaces of the cat’s body. Severely affected skin can be warm to touch, which often indicates an infection. If your cat is severely scratching or biting he may bleed or cut himself, which makes him at risk for a secondary infection.
The veterinarian starts with a physical examination of the cat in combination with a detailed history of her symptoms. The vet may use a flea comb to search for fleas or flea feces. He can determine if flea feces is present by adding water to the comb’s sample since flea feces dissolves into a red color, according to Greenbrier Veterinarian Hospital. Your vet can check for mites and bacteria by observing a skin biopsy or skin scraping under a microscope. If these tests are negative, he will remove some of your cat's hair and grow a culture in a laboratory to see if ringworm is present. The culture is usually positive within a few days, but it can take up to four weeks for a ringworm culture to grow, according to VCA Animal Hospitals.
Antihistamines, doxyclcline, steroid injections and cyclosporine control feline itch symptoms, according to ItchNot.com. Long-term steroid use increases the cat’s risk for diabetes and congested heart failure, so treatment of the underlying cause is imperative. The veterinarian will start a monthly topical flea treatment in combination with oral medication. You must treat your home and other pets for fleas. There are special dips and injections containing pyrethrin that are effective against fleas and mites. If a food allergy is to blame, your veterinarian will start your cat on a special food for up to three months to see if symptoms change. Topical medications with a fungicide treat ringworm.
Melissa McNamara is a certified personal trainer who holds a Bachelor of Arts in journalism and communication studies from the University of Iowa. She writes for various health and fitness publications while working toward a Bachelor of Science in nursing.