Itchiness, Desire to Scratch, Chew or Lick Causing Inflamed Skin in Cats

By PetMD Editorial on Jan. 19, 2009

Pruritus in Cats

Pruritus is the medical term used to define a cat's sensation to itch, or the sensation that provokes its desire to scratch, rub, chew, or lick its hair and skin. Pruritis is also an indicator of inflamed skin. Intense scratching can eventually lead to partial or full hair loss, but with treatment, prognosis is positive.

The condition or disease described in this medical article can affect both dogs and cats. If you would like to learn more about how pruritus affects dogs, please visit this page in the PetMD health library.

Symptoms and Types

Some of the most common symptoms seen in cats include:

  • Scratching
  • Licking
  • Biting
  • Chewing
  • Alopecia
  • Self-trauma
  • Inflammation of the skin


There are many causes of pruritus, including fleas, scabies, lice, allergies, bacterial infections, abnormal cell development (neoplasia), and immune disorders.


A skin biopsy may be needed to determine the diagnosis, as there are many triggers that can cause skin itching and the desire to scratch. Allergy testing is often used to determine and localize the cause of the itching or desire to scratch.


The treatment given will be dependent upon the underlying cause for the condition. If the cat's diet is causing the skin irritation and the desire to scratch, dietary modifications will be recommended. Medicine may be given orally, by injection, or as a medicated topical (external) ointment to minimize or eliminate the desire to scratch.

Living and Management

Pruritus requires ongoing treatment and can be frustrating for the cat's owner if progress is not made. Administering the prescribed medications will help to reduce or eliminate the desire for the cat to scratch. Dietary modifications may also be called for.


There are currently no known preventative measures, but with maintenance and treatment, recurrence can be avoided or minimized.

Help us make PetMD better

Was this article helpful?

Get Instant Vet Help Via Chat or Video. Connect with a Vet. Chewy Health