Repeated Scratching But No Fleas!

Scratching is a common behavior among felines. Whether to relieve a random itch or to enjoy the sensation of scratching, this instinctive behavior isn’t usually a cause for concern.

But when your cat is scratching more than a couple of times a day, then he may be suffering from pruritus.

Pruritus is a medical term that describes a cat’s urge to itch. Fleas are the most common causes but there are other potential reasons.

Before jumping to any conclusions about the causes, you should examine your cat to see if he’s got fleas.

Assuming he’s free of these pesky parasites, why is your indoor cat so itchy?

My Cat Keeps Scratching But Doesn’t Have Fleas – Potential Causes

There are a number of reasons why your cat may be scratching excessively, despite not having fleas. Ear mites, ticks, ringworm and allergies are typical culprits.

Bacterial infections such as abscesses, fungal infections and food intolerances are also known to make cats feel itchy.

The following table presents the potential causes of excessive scratching without fleas along with accompanying symptoms.

Itching No Fleas – Symptoms and Treatments

Potential CauseSymptomsPotential Treatments
Ear MitesBrown Debris in Ears, Ears Held at Unusual Angle, Head Shaking, Red/Raw Skin Around EarsCleaning of Ear, Topical Ear Drops
TicksDepression, Lethargy, Localized Hair Loss, Loss of Appetite, Sore/Broken SkinMedicated Shampoos, Topical Treatments (Frontline Plus)
Food IntoleranceAudible Stomach Sounds, Diarrhea, Excessive Gas, Itchy Rash Around Head, Skin Sores
Avoidance of Food, Exclusion Diet
Environmental AllergiesEar Infection, Hair Loss, Hives/Swellings on Skin, Itchy, Watering Eyes, Red Skin on Head, Face, Ears, Paws, Running Nose/SneezingAvoidance, Oral Medication (Antihistamines, Corticosteroids)
Insect BitesBiting/Licking of Sting, Crying, Drooling, Hives, Limping, SwellingApplication of Baking Soda and Water Paste, Application of Ice, Oral Medication (Antihistamines)
Fungal InfectionsAnaemia, Blindness, Bloody Discharge from Nose, Circling Cysts, Sneezing, SwellingOral or Topical Antifungal Ointments
Bacterial InfectionsInflamed Skin, Patchy/Missing Hair at Site, Pus or Blood, Discharge at Site, Red, Swollen SkinAntibiotics, Topical Ointments

Ear Mites

Eat mites are microscopic parasites that feed off of a cat’s skin tissue. They live and breed in the ear canal and are known to cause a lot of skin irritation.

The main symptoms of an ear mite infestation include excessive scratching, often accompanied by head shaking.

Your cat may also hold his ears at an unusual angle. So what do skin mites look like on cats?

Ear mites in particular are white in colour. However, close investigation usually reveals dry, dark/brown debris that’s similar to coffee grounds.

This debris is digested wax and material that’s been expelled by the mite.

Additional Symptoms to Look Out For

  • Brown Debris in Ears
  • Ears Held at Unusual Angle
  • Head Shaking
  • Red/Raw Skin Around Ears

Potential Treatment – Cleaning of Ear, Topical Ear Drops


Ticks attach to and bury themselves into a cat’s skin. They’re often found on a cat’s head, ears or neck – anywhere that’s inaccessible to the host.

Tick saliva can be extremely irritating to felines, causing them to stcratch furiously.

The cat may also have sore/broken skin and even localized hair loss.

When not attached, ticks resemble tiny spiders. But once they’re fully burrowed, they look more like skin warts.

Additional Symptoms to Look Out For

  • Depression
  • Lethargy
  • Localized Hair Loss
  • Loss of Appetite
  • Sore/Broken Skin

Potential Treatments – Medicated Shampoos, Topical Treatments (Frontline Plus)

Food Intolerance

It’s possible for a cat to become allergic to some foods. This can occur even if the cat has eaten that food for many years.

Most allergens include pork, dairy, beef, wheat, corn and fish.

Cats that develop an allergy to food may suffer from an itchy red rash (miliary dermatitis) around the head, as well as skin sores brought about by excessive scratching.

In addition to itching, other signs of an allergic reaction include diarrhea, vomiting, audible stomach sounds and gas.

Additional Symptoms to Look Out For

  • Audible Stomach Sounds
  • Diarrhea
  • Excessive Gas
  • Itchy Rash Around Head
  • Skin Sores
  • Vomiting

Potential Treatments – Avoidance of Food, Exclusion Diet

Environmental Allergies

Your cat may be allergic to things floating around in the environment.

This might include allergens like pollen, dust, mould, animal dander or mildew.

Inhalation of these tiny substances or direct skin contact can result in symptoms such as persistent feline scratching.

If contact-related, the cat may suffer from an itchy rash known as miliary dermatitis.

Although environmental allergies are often seasonal, they can last throughout the year.

Additional Symptoms to Look Out For

  • Ear Infection
  • Hair Loss
  • Hives/Swellings on Skin
  • Itchy, Watering Yes
  • Red Skin on Head, Face, Ears, Paws
  • Running Nose/Sneezing

Potential Treatments – Avoidance, Oral Medication (Antihistamines, Corticosteroids)

Insect Bites

Insect bites or stings from bees and wasps can lead to swollen, painful skin.

Other insects such as mosquitoes, files and midges can also cause intense skin irritation.

In many cases, the flying insect will focus on hairless areas such as the ears or bridge of the cat’s nose.

Regardless of the location, insect bites are known to cause feline pruritus.

They can often result in lesions, hair loss and crusty skin as well.

Additional Symptoms to Look Out For

  • Biting/Licking of Sting
  • Crying
  • Drooling
  • Hives
  • Limping
  • Swelling

Potential Treatments – Application of Baking Soda and Water Paste, Application of Ice, Oral Medication (Antihistamines)

Fungal Infections

Pruritus is sometimes cause by a fungal infection. Ringworm is one of the most common.

Ringworm isn’t actually a worm but a skin disorder in which the hair follicle becomes infected.

This results in a red ring which surrounds a circular patch of scaly skin.

With felines, the lesion appears as crusty skin together with patch hair loss that looks similar to stubble.

Ringworm can appear anywhere on a cat’s body but is most typically found on the ears, face or tail.

Additional Symptoms to Look Out For

  • Anaemia
  • Blindness
  • Bloody Discharge from Nose
  • Circling
  • Cysts
  • Sneezing
  • Swelling

Potential Treatments – Oral or Topical Antifungal Ointments

Bacterial Infections

Abscesses are among the most common bacterial infections particularly outdoor cats.

They’re basically pus-filled pockets that affect the skin and underlying tissue.

Most are caused by bacteria entering the skin via a puncture wound or bite.

Once infected, the cat can experience skin irritation and may scratch the site of the abscess repeatedly.

Abscesses typically resemble an open sore or swelling. The fur around the site may also be matted or missing.

Additional Symptoms to Look Out For

  • Inflamed Skin
  • Patchy/Missing Hair at Site
  • Pus or Blood Discharge at Site
  • Red, Swollen Skin

Potential Treatments – Antibiotics, Topical Ointments

What to Do if Your Cat Keeps Scratching Itself?

You should contact a vet if your cat keeps scratching. It’s the only way to precisely determine the underlying cause.

For parasites, the vet may proscribe medicated shampoos, or topical treatments such as Frontline Plus.

If it’s been found that your cat has a food intolerance, an avoidance diet could be recommended.

As far as allergy treatments go, your vet may issue an oral antihistamine or corticosteroid medication.

Antihistamines may also be used to treat insect bites, while specialist fungal medications are often used to treat things like ringworm.

Antibiotics and topical ointments are known to be effective treatments for bacterial infections.

Excessive Itching No Fleas - Potential Treatments

Potential Treatments for Feline Pruritus

  • Antibiotics
  • Antifungal Medication
  • Antihistamines
  • Corticosteroids
  • Medicated Shampoo
  • Omega-3 Fatty Acid Supplements
  • Steroids
  • Topical Ointments

What Can I Give My Cat for Excessive Itching?

Home-based flea treatments are not recommended for feline disorders such as pruritus – also, never use human allergy products or steroid creams.

You could however draw a bath for your itching cat – the warm water will sooth and moisturize his skin, reducing itchiness.

Certain over-the-counter cat shampoos containing colloidal, oatmeal or phytosphingosine also known to be helpful.

If you’re concerned about excessive scratching, consider using a cone. This will prevent your cat from further irritating the skin. However, cones work best with localised skin disorders.


iCat Care – Itchy Cat – When It is Not Fleas
PetMD – Why Your Cat Is Itchy and What You Can Do
First Vet – Why Is My Cat Itchy

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