Fleas rank as one of the leading causes of itchiness in cats. And if your cat has been scratching himself incessantly, it is natural to suspect that he has a flea infestation. But what if your cat is flea from fleas?
Why your cat keeps scratching even if he doesn’t have fleas
Your cat may keep keep scratching even if he doesn’t have fleas for the following reasons:
- Food allergy
- Inhalant allergy
- Mosquito bites
- Ear mites
- Bacterial and yeast infections
Lets take a look at each reason in more detail:
1. Food allergies in cats
Food allergies occur when a cat’s immune system reacts adversely to a specific protein, usually beef, dairy, eggs, chicken, or fish. Typically, food allergies manifest when a cat is aged between two to six years old after repeated exposure to that protein.
Contrary to what some people may believe, cats are not allergic to grains like corn.
Apart from itching, the symptoms of food allergies include diarrhea, vomiting, appetite loss, flatulence, hair loss, and red skin.
To determine if your cat has a food allergy, he will undergo a diet trial where he will need to switch to a different brand of cat food recommended by the veterinarian. This trial can last from 10 to 12 weeks. During this period, you cannot give your pet any other type of food or treats unless cleared by the vet. This diet is free from ingredients that can potentially cause a food allergy in your cat.
While your cat is under this diet, you should expect to see the symptoms clear up within two to four weeks. However, skin itchiness is usually the last symptom that is resolved.
The trial runs for 12 weeks because that is usually the same time it takes for felines to grow a new layer of skin. If your cat still exhibits the same symptoms after 12 weeks have elapsed, your doctor will rule out food allergy and check for other disorders that may have affected your beloved pet.
If the symptoms are resolved, it means that your cat has a food allergy. Upon confirmation of this, the vet will instruct you to reintroduce proteins to your cat’s diet one by one. You will need to monitor your cat’s reaction to each protein until you find the specific cause of the allergy. Take note that your cat can be allergic to more than one protein source.
Once the protein that causes the allergy has been identified, the vet will recommend different cat foods that will help allergies while ensuring that your cat’s nutritional needs are adequately met.
2. Inhalant allergy in cats
Another possible cause of your cat’s severe itchiness is inhalant allergy.
Also known as atopy, inhalant allergy occurs when a cat inhales a protein that he is allergic to. Upon inhalation of this protein particle, your pet’s immune system sets off a chain reaction.
Like humans, cats can be allergic to pollen, weeds, dust mites, and molds. Apart from itchiness, a cat may exhibit symptoms like abrasions, inflammation, fur discoloration, and bald spots. These symptoms occur because the cat is constantly scratching and licking himself.
To determine if your cat has an inhalant allergy, the vet will perform a physical examination of your pet. He will also need to have a complete understanding of your pet’s medical history. Combining the information gleaned from the medical history and physical exam, the vet will proceed to the next step: rule out other possible causes.
Unlike other disorders and diseases, there is no test to determine if a cat has an inhalant allergy. One key reason behind this is that inhalant allergy shares a few symptoms with other conditions. Instead of testing for inhalant allergy, the vet will conduct tests to rule out other potential causes of itchiness like skin infections and ringworms. Your cat may even need to undergo a trial diet to rule out food allergy out of the equation.
Unfortunately, atopy cannot be cured. The symptoms can be managed but your cat cannot be cured.
The vet may prescribe immunosuppressants or antihistamines to help keep the symptoms at bay. Some cats have found great success from getting allergy shots. Allergy shots or immunotherapy introduces trace amounts of allergens to a cat’s body. Over time, the cat develops a tolerance for the allergen. However, the therapy can take some time but the results are astounding.
It may also be helpful to shield your pet from allergens in his environment. For example, if your cat is allergic to pollen, you might want to consider keeping him indoors exclusively.
3. Mosquito bites in cats
Like humans, cats are susceptible to mosquito bites, especially their body parts that are not covered by furs like the ears and nose. When a mosquito bites your pet, he begins to scratch the bite site to relieve the itchiness.
Some cats have mosquito bite hypersensitivity that can lead to other symptoms, including lesions, hair loss, fur discoloration, scaling, and skin ulcers. The pads may also become swollen, thickened, or tender. Some cats may experience fever and swollen lymph nodes.
For severe mosquito bite hypersensitivity, the vet can prescribe oral corticosteroids or inject one into your cat. For mild cases, the condition usually resolves on its own.
For ordinary mosquito bites, you can apply an antibacterial cream to prevent infections.
Mosquitoes do not just bite humans and animals causing itchiness. They also transmit diseases. This is why it is crucial to protect yourself and your pet against these pests. Make sure that you keep your home and surroundings clean and remove stagnant water. Install screens on windows and doors.
4. Ear mites in cats
Apart from being itchy and uncomfortable, ear mites can also lead to long-term damage.
Ear mites (Otodectes cynotis) are tiny insects that can live inside the ear canals of cats feeding on ear wax and debris. The insects appear like white dots.
Once inside the ears, ear mites can cause inflammation, swelling, and itchiness. Ear mites spare no cats as all breeds and ages can be infested. However, outdoor cats have a higher risk of getting ear mites.
One of the telltale signs of an ear mite infection is continuous ear scratching. Soon after, the cat will exhibit other symptoms, including shaking the head, dry discharge from the ears, redness, and inflammation of the ears, and scratch and skin lesions.
However, most of these symptoms are similar to the symptoms of other diseases. To determine if your cat has an ear mite infestation, he will use an otoscope to check the ears.
Treatment for ear mite infestation begins with the cleanup of the affected cat’s ears to remove wax. To eliminate the insects, the vet can use spot-on flea products or apply anti-parasitic ear drops.
To relieve itchiness, the vet may also prescribe medications. You can use these in conjunction with the treatment for ear mites. Usually, the treatment course lasts for three weeks which coincides with the life cycle or ear mites.
5. Mites in cats
Aside from ear mites, three other mites can infest your pet. The species of mites known as Sarcoptes scabei is known to cause feline sarcoptic mange while the Notredes cats cause notedric mange also known as feline scabies. The Demodex cati mite is known to cause demodectic mange but rarely and only when the population of these mites is significantly high.
Although all cats can be infected by mites, severely malnourished cats are at higher risk of getting these pests.
If your cat is infected by any of these mites, he will exhibit symptoms like itchiness, bald spots, and restlessness. Although the whole body can be infested, the greater concentration appears on the face and ears.
If you suspect that your cat has mange, you should bring your pet to the vet for confirmation. At the clinic, the vet will perform a skin scrape test and check the sample under the microscope.
If your pet is infected, you will need to isolate him from the rest of the household. Your vet will also prescribe medication to eliminate the mites. These can come in the form of injection, topical cream, shampoo, or dip.
Apart from these, the vet will also prescribe anti-bacterial shampoo and anti-inflammatories to help relieve itchiness.
It usually takes a month to see noticeable results on your cat. Within this period, you should isolate your pet and clean or replace his belongings.
6. Bacterial and yeast infections in cats
Your cat’s skin has ample protection to ward off microorganisms like bacteria and fungi. However, when your pet is suffering a condition that causes a break in the skin like a scratch, his skin’s defenses weaken. This allows microorganisms to infect him.
Usually, bacterial and yeast infections are symptoms of a larger problem. These conditions include food allergies, atopy, mange, and hypothyroidism
The symptoms of both types of infections differ. However, both share a few common symptoms, including itchiness and hair loss.
Yeast infections are usually caused by Malassezia while bacterial infections may be caused by E. Coli, Pseudomonas, Streptococcus, or Staphylococcus bacteria.
To confirm if your cat has bacterial or yeast infection, the vet will perform a skin scrape test. The collected sample will then be examined under the microscope.
Yeast infection is treated using antifungal medication while bacterial infections require the use of antibiotics.
But because bacterial and yeast infections are usually symptoms of a disorder or condition, the vet needs to find and treat that underlying cause.
Consult a professional for your cat’s itch
Do not attempt to treat your cat’s itch. Due to the number of potential causes, it is fairly easy to use the wrong treatment and cause additional damage. Bring your pet to the vet and follow his instructions closely.
Image: istockphoto.com / soleg