Top 6 Reasons Cats Scratch

Author: Maria Kuzmiak, Wellness Writer

The image of a cat raising his paw and scratching rapidly behind its ear is familiar to any cat owner. All cats do this from time to time, but if you notice that your pet is scratching herself often, there may be an underlying problem that you need to address. Cats, of course, scratch when they are itchy. Finding out what is causing chronic itching can take a bit of detective work. The reason may be obvious, or you may need to consider recent changes in the animal’s health, diet or environment.

Here are six common reasons why your cat may be scratching more than usual.

She has an allergy

Cats can be allergic to food, something in the environment or a product that you use to groom or bathe them. If your cat lounges on your bed, for instance, and you have recently changed laundry detergent, consider that as a possible allergy trigger. Similarly, switching to a new food or giving your cat table food on a regular basis may be the problem.


Fleas are the most common parasites that cause itching and scratching in cats. Ticks, mites and ringworms are other possible culprits. You can often tell if your cat has fleas or another parasite by inspecting his skin. Look for red spots or bites, especially on his neck. Another clue is that your cat licks or chews at his fur obsessively in addition to scratching.

His skin is dry

Dry skin is not just a problem for people. If you live in a dry climate or if you notice that your cat is scratching more often during the winter months, she may have dry skin. Dry skin can also be caused by certain nutritional deficiencies.

She’s bored

It may sound strange, but it’s true. If your cat is bored, she may be scratching a lot for just that reason. If you suspect that this is the problem, give her some toys to play with or, better yet, find time to play with her.


A cat that scratches a lot may also be exhibiting signs of anxiety, similar to when a person bites her nails or twirls her hair. Anxiety in cats is common, and there may be other signs that point to emotional distress in your cat. Does she hide when people come into your home? Does she cry a lot? If she is a rescue, do you know her history? She may have been mistreated by a previous owner or suffered anxiety from being abandoned or alone before you rescued her.

A compulsive disorder

Cats may scratch compulsively when a change in the environment affects them in some way. For example, a new pet or baby may have arrived or beloved older child may have left the nest. Or perhaps you’ve recently moved or you’re spending less time at home with your pet for some reason.

Once you’ve discovered the reason your cat is scratching, you can address the issue by correcting the situation that’s causing it. In some cases, such as allergies and parasite infections, you may need some additional help. You can get prescription medications for these problems or try an herbal or homeopathic formula made especially for pets with itchy skin. For example, herbs like horsetail, chamomile and calendula have skin-soothing properties and are safe to use with pets. If your pet has allergies or parasites affecting her ears, tea tree oil, rosemary and mullein are safe for internal use in animals.

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