Have an Itchy Cat? We can help.

Have an itchy cat?  VetLIVE 24/7 veterinarians can help you narrow down the cause and help your cat become more comfortable.

Possible causes of feline pruritis (itchy cat):

  • Allergies:  flea allergy, insect hypersensitivity, food allergy, atopy, contact dermatitis
  • Mites: demoex, notoedres cati, cheyletiella
  • Bacterial pyoderma
  • Pemphigus (auto-immune)
  • Drug reactions
  • Paraneoplastic sydrome
  • Psychogenic alopecia
  • Viral infections

This list is daunting but we can help.  Here is a transcript of an pet parent with an itchy cat that VetLIVE veterinarians helped:

response by Pet Parent on 2010-11-12 00:45:08

Approx. 9-10 yr old female cat about 3 months ago began licking (and chewing) at her abdomen and now her back legs. Belly has no fur left. She incessantly licks, grooms (pulls hair?) from affected areas. Is this an allergy? Is there anyway to avoid taking her to a vet? What might symptoms indicate? She eats only kibble – Royal Canin Indoor Adult 27 about 2/3 cup per day. She’s given flea med Advantage APPROX EVERY 2 months as directed. She’s mostly indoors but does go outside occasionally, woodsy area. She lives here at home with a second cat (who she adores) who shows no symptoms. No lesions or scabs.

response by Dr. Jed Schaible on 2010-11-12 00:54:18


I am Dr. Jed. I will be answering this question. We need to write about the possibilities, the treatment, and diagnostics for what is going on. A couple of questions:

1. Does she focus on licking and chewing her nipples?

2. Has there been a change in the household she lives in- did someone move out, did an unknown person move in, did something happen prior to the start?

3. Does she scratch or is it just hair plucking/biting skin?

Thanks. This will help us hone in on the problem.

Dr. Jed – more to come

response by Pet Parent on 2010-11-12 01:00:03

1. No specific focus on nipples, Began around groin area and progressed over abdomen and this week onto inside of back legs.

2. No! No trauma, no changes.

3. Mostly scratching and licking – appears as preening but isn’t, it’s way, way beyond that. no real biting per se.

response by Dr. Jed Schaible on 2010-11-12 01:19:15

What can I say…cats are strange creatures. Most cats are sensitive beings, easily stressed out, and like a routine. I have diagnosed my own sister’s cat with similar symptoms, and the good news is that if it is psychogenic alopecia, response is usually good with behavioral drugs.

Feline psychogenic alopecia is characterized by chronic licking, and is thought to be an anxiety neurosis. Various patterns of alopecia may occur as long as the alopecia is in a place the cat can reach with it’s tongue. Usually the skin is intact and no soars are seen, but they can be if it progresses.

Almost any change in the environment may cause stress, a new house, a new baby, packing for a trip, a new food, a new cat roaming the neighborhood, a new work schedule, a new romance…cats are VERY sensitive and easily upset.

Before making a diagnosis of psychogenic alopecia, other causes must be ruled out: mites, fleas, metabolic disease, etc. If hair regrows with an e-collar (the big cone head collar often put on pets after surgery), psychogenic alopecia has a good chance at being the diagnosis.

Psychogenic alopecia is a recently recognized condition affecting cats, and not a tremendous amount is known as how to arrive at the diagnosis, other than history, ruling out other causes, and response to treatment. Many cats respond well to behavioral drugs–yes, that’s right, drugs like Prozac are prescribed for this condition.

The good news is that cats can get generic Prozac available from a human pharmacy, Target, Wal-Mart, etc, for far less than $4 / mo. A vet in person will have to write you a prescription. You don’t have to purchase from your vet. This may involve halving or cutting the pills into quarters, depending upon the dose the vet prescribes. Your vet may also recommend having the drug compounded into a gel at a “compounding pharmacy.” Prices around the country vary, but my sister’s is $11/mo. This gel is rubbed into the inside of the ears daily, and my sister finds it much easier than shoving a pill down her cat’s throat.

You should go to the vet and get an exam. Talk about what it could be and figure this out before your cat develops an infection from all the licking.


Disclaimer: we can’t diagnose over the Internet or be sure what it is. But we can give you a bunch of possibilities that it could also be…Although your description points to psychogenic alopecia, the other things it could be is a long list:

Flea allergy dermatitis: if she is itchy, this would be considered. Affects the belly and thighs, and the tail base

Atopic Dermatitis (“catopy”)- Rare:

Most commonly affects the outside thighs, entire belly, forelegs. May mimic the distribution patterns of flea allergy or food allergy. Usually still have hair.

Demodicosis : short stubby mite. Symmetrical hair loss of the belly

Cat fur mite: affects primarily the back. ‘Salt and pepper’ like scale There are too many to mention: Etc…etc…..

Keep in mind, psychogenic alopecia is recently recognized. If the vet is not staying current or reluctant to learn of new conditions, they may not know of this, and be reluctant to do things other than dips, flea baths, etc. Calling ahead and asking if the vet recognizes this condition is something I would recommend.

Getting on top of this before your cat develops scabs and secondary bacterial infections is important. If it is psychogenic alopecia, it is one of the less severe diagnoses and I wish you and your cat the best of luck. I have attached the $4 prescription list for Wal-Mart.

I hope this has helped you in, and thank you for using our services. Good luck! Just be glad your cat isn’t peeing in your house- often that is the way it goes instead of what you are seeing.

I hope this helps.

My very best,

Dr. Jed

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