Why Does My Cat Lick and Scratch?

Cats over-groom and scratch due to allergies and other conditions.

Cats spend a lot of time grooming themselves, and that's normal and healthy for them. Their rough, barbed tongues remove loose hair, dirt, and parasites from their skin.

However, sometimes a cat might over-groom, licking too much and irritating themselves. This can result in skin lesions and infections. An overly itchy cat might also scratch with the hind claws at their face, ears, or neck.

Cats Lick and Scratch Due to Allergies

One of the most common causes of over-grooming and excessive scratching in cats is allergies. Cats can be allergic to many things, and the most common allergies that cause itchy skin in cats include:

Other Itchy Conditions in Cats

Some other conditions that can result in itchy skin and its resultant over-grooming and scratching in cats include:

More About Fleas in Cats

Fleas can cause over-grooming and scratching in cats for more than one reason. First, cats can be allergic to the flea saliva as described above. When that's the case, the allergic reaction can be sudden, severe, and widespread. Cats often become itchy on their rumps when they are suffering from a flea allergy.

Cats can also start to over-groom just due to the presence of fleas and flea dirt on their body. Cats like to stay clean and will diligently clean themselves when they have external parasites.

A Cat Might Lick Too Much Because of Stress

Cats sometimes develop psychologically-induced over-grooming. This is usually limited to licking and doesn't involve scratching with the back claws. It can also be limited to a specific body area like the front legs or paws.

If a cat is showing other signs of stress, like inappropriate elimination, scratching inappropriate household items, hiding, or clingy or aggressive behavior, stress might be the culprit.

Ear Conditions Can Cause a Cat to Scratch

Ear conditions like ear mites and ear infections can cause a cat to scratch their ears and around their heads excessively with their back claws. They may also hold their ears or even their whole head at a funny angle.

Pain Can Cause a Cat to Over-Groom an Area

Pain, usually from arthritis or a urinary tract infection, can cause a cat to focus on licking one area of the body—the part that hurts—to help it feel better.

Again, these cats don't usually scratch in addition to the licking and may show other signs related to the painful condition as well, such as limping or inappropriate urination.

What to Do If Your Cat Is Licking and Scratching Excessively

If your cat is licking areas of the body to the point of baldness or causing redness on their own skin or if he is scratching excessively with his back claws, make an appointment with the veterinarian right away.

Your vet will take a complete history from you of what you noticed and when and might ask some questions about diet changes, parasite control, and exposure to other cats. Then, the doctor will do a thorough physical exam. Once that's done, he or she might recommend some testing to narrow down the problem. Those tests might include:

Once a diagnosis is made, your vet will prescribe medications to help with the itchiness, treat any secondary infections caused by the over-licking and scratching, and make a plan to manage the primary cause. You might be applying topical ointment, giving oral medication, using special shampoo, or your vet might give some injections.

Follow the vet's instructions carefully, and follow up as necessary with reports and re-checks.

While you are treating your cat, Soft Paws applied to the rear claws can help decrease self-inflicted damage.

You May Also Like These Articles:

Can Special Playtime Decrease Problem Scratching?

5 Ways to Tell If Your Cat Is Stressed (and Tips for What to Do)

Cat Claw Facts

6 Common Causes of Fear and Stress in Cats

How to Ease Introductions Between Dogs and Cats

Tips for Keeping Your Indoor Cat Mentally Stimulated

How Fostering Cats Makes a Difference

Can Special Playtime Decrease Problem Scratching?

Disclaimer: This website is not intended to replace professional consultation, diagnosis, or treatment by a licensed veterinarian. If you require any veterinary related advice, contact your veterinarian promptly. Information at CatScratching.com is exclusively of a general reference nature. Do not disregard veterinary advice or delay treatment as a result of accessing information at this site.