Username (email) Password
vetask vetask
topleft | home | about vetask | your pet healthcare questions answered | register | topleft

Parasites on the Skin- an Itchy Problem

In small animal practice I see a large number of cats which are suffering from itchy skin (pruritic skin). In the vast majority of cases the problems are caused by external parasites, most commonly the flea.

When faced with a cat which is suffering from itchy skin I always look for external parasites which may be causing the irritation before I do any further investigations. In the vast majority of cats suffering in this way I will find fleas are the cause of the problem. A cat with itchy or pruritic skin may spend an excessively long time grooming or scratching itself and sometimes very observant owners may notice this. In many cases the cat seems to hide this activity and the problems are only noticed when skin rashes (miliary eczema) or bald patches appear. Even then owners may still be unaware that excessive grooming is occurring.

When a cat is presented to me with bald patches or miliary eczema (named because the scabs on the skin feel like millet seeds when you run your hands along the cat's skin) I always ask if the cat is being treated for fleas. Even if the owner has never seen fleas on the cat it is still possible that they are present and causing the cat to itch due to an allergic reaction to their bites. If your cat has bald patches of skin, especially along the back or the groin and inner thighs then always consider fleas to be a potential cause. Likewise, if your cat has miliary eczema most vets will suggest a flea control regime be implemented regardless of whether you have seen fleas or not. (There is a very simple test which you can perform at home to check if fleas are present on your cat. Put a large piece of damp, white tissue paper under your cat. Comb your cat's coat thoroughly, especially the back and rump areas over the tissue paper. Search for brown specks of debris on the white paper which absorb water and produce a reddish ring around them. These specks are flea faeces and indicate the presence of fleas on your pet.) For much more information about fleas and their control see the sections on fleas and on Program.

Although fleas are the most frequent parasites to cause pruritus (itchiness) in cats there are a number of others which often cause problems. Ticks often cause localised itching and may also cause other problems since they are capable of spreading several diseases including haemobartonella and Lyme disease. Granulomatous lesions may also form where a tick has bitten a cat.

Lice are seen less commonly than fleas or ticks. The biting louse Felicola subrostratus may cause pruritus in cats. Often the whole body is affected and some areas of inflammation and hair loss may be noticed. The lice themselves are only about 1mm in length and it is often easier to spot the eggs which are attached to the base of the hair shafts. The eggs are an off white colour and look a bit like dandruff or scurf, but they are stuck to the hair and will not come away from the shaft as dandruff would.

Cheyletiella is a mite which may cause intense itching, together with dandruff and scaling skin. It seems to particularly affect the back. Otodectes cyanotis or the ear mite may also cause your cat some irritation. Surprisingly it may affect areas of the body other than the ear. Neotrombicula autumnalis or the harvest mite is another external parasite which may give your cat itchy skin.

There are many external parasites which cause cats to have problems with itchy skin. The product I generally choose to control such parasites is Frontline which comes as a spot on preparation or a pump action spray. I find it very effective if it is used according to the manufacturers instructions. There are also other products on the market which are very effective against external parasites and your own vet will be able to give you more information and direct you to a product which is suitable for your pet. If your cat has very sore patches of skin or hair loss associated with external parasites then further medication to relieve the itching and also possibly to treat secondary bacterial infections may be necessary. Your vet will be able to give you further advice.

© Samantha Coe. All rights reserved. Further information, news and pet-related healthcare articles are available at

Questions Answered

dog skin problem (na) (12-Feb-07 07:10PM)

Edward asks: Hi. My dog has been scratching himself lots, his skin is pink in colour. He scratches his nose just below his eyes until it draws blood, and has made his armpits ... view

Dry skin (dog) (25-Jan-07 08:43AM)

Sam asks: When i groom Zeus, i can feel like dry flaky skin on his back, more towards the tail, and he tends to get agitated when i brush this area, you can ... view

skin problem (na) (20-Apr-07 09:58PM)

Tori asks: My West Highland Terrier is scratching and rubbing the base of her tail on her back. There is nothing to see; no redness or anything. ... view

Skin and ear problem (dog) (29-Jan-07 08:02PM)

Audra asks: Dylan has had a problem with a rash, which is mainly on his stomach and an ear infection since October. He has had three lots of antibiotics and one course of ... view

Itching head and chewing paws (na) (09-Feb-07 09:10PM)

Jakki asks: Both dogs keep itching and it is driving me mad one black lab and other a boxer have been treated and also bedding and surrounding areas but can't find anything. ... view

Cat skin problem (na) (01-Feb-07 01:42PM)

Emma asks: My cat who is 8 months old has been continually scratching. I assumed it was fleas and recently got him a flea collar. However since he has had the collar his ... view

Large red blisters appear with dry skin (dog) (28-Jan-07 03:09PM)

Elizabeth asks: My dog's skin seems to be infected with round red blisters that dry and the skin flakes off. His skin also feels very bumpy below these blisters. Is this a ... view

Itching (dog) (27-Sep-07 02:00AM)

Marie asks: Jasper has itching on his lower back above the base of his tail. He has a large scab about 4 inches in diameter but he doesn't have fleas. What causes this ... view

Skin problem (cat) (01-Feb-07 08:35PM)

Caroline asks: Tigger has got some really red sores all over him and he will not stop cleaning them. I really would like to know what they could be before I take him ... view

flakey skin (dog) (18-Feb-07 09:41PM)

Michelle asks: Be Be is a healthy 3 year old female cocker, but has flakes in her coat which I assume is from her skin? Use a nurtraderm shampoo but does not clear ... view

dog chewing his leg (dog) (26-Feb-07 09:53PM)

Colin asks: My dog will not stop chewing at one of his rear legs. He has broken the skin. I had a 'lampshade' on him for about 3 weeks at a ... view

hot spots (dog) (26-Mar-07 05:41PM)

Tobi asks: Breed: Australian shepherd-Heeler Age: 8 years old Issue: He's had hot spots on his abdomen/groin area for a few years now. They are now blackened. ... view

loss of fur & eye discharge (cat) (30-Jan-07 09:37AM)

Rachel asks: My cat has lost fur around her tail and back as well as her belly. She also has a black crusty discharge from both eyes that looked as if it could ... view

SKIN PROBLEM (dog) (27-Jan-07 09:44PM)

Peter asks: Scabs under stomach area. ... view

Change in behaviour (dog) (10-Feb-07 08:47AM)

Renette asks: For the past 2 weeks my dog has been acting strange and unacceptable. He is very aggressive towards us; attacks us. He wants to hump our little jack ... view

Overgrooming (cat) (26-Feb-07 09:59PM)

Michele asks: Why is my cat over-grooming. She does not have flea problem. Have tried Feliway but she runs off. How can I cure her ... view

Skin problem on snake (reptile) (30-Jan-07 09:49PM)

Asha asks: The skin on my royal python's belly is dry, brown and flakey and seems to be dead. ... view

What are these spots on her back? (dog) (01-Feb-07 09:15PM)

Jemima asks: My dog has had these spots for a couple of months now and they are lumps cross spots. We are not sure if it is the new Frontline that we are ... view

Hasn't gone toilet in nearly 2 weeks (reptile) (05-Apr-07 02:12PM)

Owen asks: Hi there, My Northern Pine Snake hasn't gone to the toilet for almost 2 weeks. Am starting to worry about him, He has had 3 small Rats and a Chick in ... view

Stitches after spaying (cat) (31-Jul-07 07:22PM)

Michele asks: My cat has just been spayed today and she was fine on the journey home but when I let her out of the cage for a drink she went wild. Tried ... view

Your Questions Answered

Injured Wild Owl 30-Nov-07

Kelly asks: I found an owl this morning, very small but adult. It flew into a power line. It's still alive. ... view

swollen hind leg 20-Nov-07

Zshai asks: I have a 6-day-old bunny who has a swollen hind leg. I saw her mama step on her but ... view

Sick syrian hamster 08-Nov-07

Sara asks: Hi. My syrian hamster is 2 and half yrs. old. The last 24 hrs I have noticed a big ... view

lack of sleep 07-Nov-07

Bill asks: We have a 14 month old Yorkshire terrier, which goes to bed at around 6.30pm, because I have MS ... view

wet tail 06-Nov-07

Evelyn asks: Can a young hamster be successfully treated for wet tail and what would it roughly cost? ... view

Alfie 06-Nov-07

Elaine asks: Hi Sam Thank you. Alfie has no feeding time he just has food in his bowl when he wants it ... view

Guarding problem 05-Nov-07

Elaine asks: Alfie is a terrible guarder and will take your hand off if you try and retrieve an object he ... view

White Gums and Dark Stool 02-Nov-07

Leslie asks: My 8 week old American Bulldog has really white gums, around the eyes is also white. She has dark ... view

Dog's Health 01-Nov-07

William asks: My dog is around 11 years old, possibly older (we received her as she was taken from a bad ... view

behaviour 31-Oct-07

Debby asks: Hi Max is very lively of course but he seems to get very excited and bites the children, not ... view

Blood in dog's stools 31-Oct-07

Lee asks: Hi. We recently got a 3 year old Labrador from a friend. From what we can see she has ... view

upset stomach 30-Oct-07

kat asks: About three days ago my dog started acting like she was sick; diarrhoea and vomiting along with excessive sneezing ... view

Blood in Poo 28-Oct-07

Mandy asks: Treacle is now 9 wks old and had her first vaccination two days ago. I have noticed that at ... view

neutering 27-Oct-07

ashen1956 asks: 3 days ago Molly-Mae gave birth to 5 kittens. How long should I wait before having her neutered and ... view

Ordering Insulin Online 26-Oct-07

Purdie asks: Purdie is diabetic and I'm keen to find a way of reducing the cost of the treatment. Currently ... view

Fleas and skin problem 26-Oct-07

Joanne asks: I have two cats, a neutered tom and his sister. They are 6 and a half yrs. old. They ... view

My cat has a hole in its stomach! 23-Oct-07

Sarah asks: My cat has a hole the size of a dime in its stomach. He doesn't seem to be ... view

labrador vomiting bile and nearly passing out 22-Oct-07

Paul asks: Hi there - our five year old male labrador is generally in very good health - excellent appetite, plenty ... view

Guinea pig fits 22-Oct-07

Renate asks: My guinea pig is acting strange. I've only had him around a week and he's running as if spooked ... view

feeding 22-Oct-07

Terry asks: Is it safe to feed my GSD raw chicken wings, he is 16 months old and is 37 kg? ... view

© Springing Dragon Limited 2012 | Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policy | All Rights Reserved | All Trademarks observed | No responsibility taken for links to external sites or any content beyond our control | Views expressed by contributors or forum users not endorsed by Disclaimer: The content of this website is based upon the opinions of the authors and contributors, unless otherwise stated. Individual articles, extracts, and any links to external sites are based upon the opinions of the respective author(s). The purpose of this site is the sharing of knowledge and information and you are encouraged to make informed healthcare decisions for animals in your care based upon your research and in consultation with your vet.