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Ask the Veterinarian/12 year old cat scratching and gouging herself


I have an otherwise healthy 12 year old calico female cat. She had fleas some years back, and then developed flea allergy dermatitis, I think. Though her fleas were gone, she still itches and scratches herself for a few weeks after the flea season.

But over the past year, the scratching is worse and has continued long after and through out this winter, which did not happen in previous years. (I live in Chicago.)

No matter how much I wash, shampoo her, she still itches and scratches and gouges herself with her back legs until she scabs quite a bit, or bleeds, usually around her head and neck area. When one area eventually heals over 1 to 2 months, another area becomes a fresh area for her to scratch herself. Other than this scratching and gouging of herself, she is a healthy, lively, spunky, affectionate cat who eats well.

I know you do not diagnose, but might she have dermatitis? Could it be a nervous tic? Are there any anti-itch shampoos for cats that may help? Any other suggestions you might have for me?

You're right Ben, I don't diagnose, but I can speak from experience!
I had a cat for 15 yrs that had the same condition. Even without noticeable fleas, she would develop what we call "Scabby Cat" which in fact is Milliary Eczema.

Most vets call it Milliary Dermatitis or just FAD- Flea Allergy Dermatitis.

The thing is, animals that are allergic to fleas do not have to have one on them to have a break out. If they get bit by just one flea, it can cause a breakout, itching, scratching and digging that can last for weeks.

What I did for my cat was put her on Science Diet Adult food (she was 5 at the time) and gave her a short course of prednisone from the vet. That is about all you can do, other than keep her and the yard and house free of fleas.

I started giving my two cats and two dogs (at the time) Sentinel tablets for heartworm prevention and in a few months my cat had no more allegy attacks. As a matter of fact she rarely had a scab for the following ten years of her life.

You have to have your cat seen by a vet but you need to ask them if you can keep a small supply of the pred on hand in case she has another attack.

Keeping the house free of fleas is paramount but a great diet is also essential. Once all of my pets were on SD only they lived much longer and none of them ever got sick.

Shampoos don't work for this problem, they can make it worse by drying out her skin. Get her on some Sentinel or some  Revolution which is what I use since Sentinel is very hard to get right now.

But make her an appointment first and have her looked at and get some pred. Having her looked over will also rule out any other skin condition she might be having.

Let me know how she does.  

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Jana Connell RVT, CVT


PLEASE READ BEFORE SUBMITTING TO ME: I am NOT a vet and do NOT diagnose diseases. That is only for a licensed Veterinarian to do. I will give you suggestions and steer you toward calling your vet for help. You can call the vet's office and talk to the technician there or the vet at times. Don't be afraid to call them! If you have a serious issue with your pet please post it to one of the veterinarians in here- I will tell you the same thing in my answer. IF your pet is injured or in an emergency situation, CALL YOUR VET- Do not wait and post in here. Just call the vet's office and get them in to see the vet right away. Critical treatment time is lost if you seek answers here when you should have your precious pet at the vets!! Don't sit at home waiting for an answer when your pet is critically ill or injured!! I can answer most questions about small animal and wildlife care as well as small animal nutrition. I can also answer questions about all phases of dental care for small animals. I DO NOT answer questions about birds (unless it is wildlife or songbirds) or HAMSTERS/GERBILS/CHINS/GUINEA PIGS/REPTILES/FROGS/RABBITS/PET BIRDS OF ANY KIND so please submit these questions to the appropriate sections. I, as well as other experts in here, do NOT do homework questions- that is for YOU to do! Please respect these rules for all of us. Thanks!


I have over 42 years experience in the field of veterinary medicine. I specialized in small animals and did wildlife rehab for over 25 years, mostly raptors, squirrels and opossums. I am a Small Animal Nutritional Consultant with 6 certificates from Hills Pet Foods, CNM and Purina. I also specialized in Small Animal Dentistry which is a field I truly love. I also Teach Veterinary Technology to working technicians who are studying to take their California Tests to become Licensed Technicians. They have to take both the VTNE (Veterinary Technician National Exam) and the California boards.

Audubon,World Wildlife Federation, American Society of Veterinary Dental Technicians.


Licensed with California and Oregon, RVT and CVT. Certified Veterinary Dental Technician Have over 1500 logged hours of Continuing Education Credits(that means I keep up to date!).

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Nominated for Expert of the Month for the last 5 years.

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