Thank you,As I am sure you appreciate, the mystery of what makes a cat incessantly itch or chew can be a real challenge to get to the bottom of. This is because overgrooming can be caused by a number of things. The most common reasons are either stress based or allergy based. To make it even more difficult for us, allergies can be to literally anything in their kitty world. This includes food, parasites (like fleas), pollens, and anything that they essentially come into contact with.
Now based on your history, we can rule out a few potential triggers for his signs. First, if he is licking his belly/chest region and there are no changes to the back, then flea allergy dermatitis is less likely here (though do note that it only takes a bite to set allergy cats off so seeing no fleas doesn't necessarily mean that this can be ruled out). Furthermore, with no changes to the food he is fed (including treats or human food tid bits), food allergies are less likely. Therefore, this leaves us to consider environmental allergies (ie household contact allergies, pollens, etc), and stress.
As I mentioned before, kitties can also have allergies to the world around them. I have had patients that have been allergic to grass (which I think is such a cruel joke of the universe). Sometimes these animals will only show signs during particular seasons, so if you have noticed it being worse at different times of the year then this could be a hint that an environmental allergy is a distinct possibility. Other animals will have non-seasonal allergies and this can be caused by anything in the house (ie. laundry powder, carpet cleaner, etc.) With environmental allergies, they will have target itch areas will be those 'easy to reach places (the chest, inside of the thighs, and forelegs the popular regions to groom), though in some of the non-seasonal allergies, we do see a contact allergy pattern, where only the bits of the animal that come into contact (laying, walking, etc) are affected.
If he is still grooming all the time, it does raise concerns of irritation precipitating him to do so. As well if you are seeing red swellings, we do have to tread carefully since these may be the start of bacterial infection of the skin (which will make him even itchier). So, I would advise approaching the situation as I am outlining but you will also want to salt water bathe (1 tbsp salt to a pint warm water) those irritated regions of skin. If these lesions don't settle or worsen, then he may need to see his vet for a course of antibiotics.
Otherwise, to help reduce the potential itchiness and irritation, you can consider treating him with an antihistamine. Typically in these cases, we will use Piriton for these wee ones (ie 1-2mg or 1/4 – 1/2 tablet of a 4mg Piriton tablet up to twice daily). Do note that while anti-histamines will break that itchiness cycle and give his skin the chance it needs to settle, it can make kitties drowsy.Therefore, we do like to keep the dose low in kitties (and if they are still itchy with this, then we will use non-drowsy treatments like steroids). And of course, this medication shouldn't be used if your kitties have any pre-existing conditions or are on any other medication without speaking to your vet
And finally, stress. Now while I cannot rule out allergic disease without having had a peek at him and his overgrooming in front of you does raise allergy concerns (or at least complication of the picture by secondary bacterial infection); I would still be a wee bit concerned about the potential for stress based overgrooming here. The reason why this would be suspect is because these cats will again groom those 'easy to reach' places and also it does sound like there is a lot of stressful triggers afoot.
While it can be hard to think of a cat as ‘stressed’ when they have no job and just sleep all day, they can get very anxious about situations they cannot get their heads around or solve on their own. Therefore, the chewing/grooming becomes an outlet for their frustration of being powerless to change their situation. In a way it is the cat sending us message (since cat’s don’t do email) or chewing their nails in frustration.
To get an idea of the kitty mind set, I like to think of cats as little hermits, animals who like their routines, and their environment as stable and unchanging as possible. This desired lifestyle becomes a problem when the humans they live with make changes that they can’t readily accept. This can include changes we will notice but more often the trigger will be subtle and we might miss them (ie like outside cats spraying the house/loitering in their garden, etc)
If it is stress based, this can be addressed by eliminating the trigger and using de-stressing tools to help provide a general peaceful environment for our cats. Of course, often the trigger is not something we can remove (like the neighborhood cats) but we do still find de-stressing treatments to be helpful in these cases. Often we will use Feliway, which is a synthetic cat pheromone that helps to relieve stress. This can be used as a spray or a plug-in diffuser. There is also a diet on the market called Calm by Royal Canin. This contains a number of supplements that have been found to provide stress relief to cats. As well, there are nutritional supplements like Kalmaid (LINK) or Zylkene , that we often use to soothe anxious cats. All are available OTC at the vets, most pet stores, and some are available online. And as these are not drugs per say, they can be used together as needed.
The key thing to tackling kitty skin disease of this nature is to figure out what is setting off his irritation, so that we can alter his life in a way to avoid this entity. Do try to address the points above, one at a time to help you get to the bottom of what is setting off his over grooming. Monitor his interactions with the world, and hopefully the culprit will become clear. Even though fleas are less likely here, it would be ideal to keep up on the flea medications, since its an economical way to rule this differential out. And you may also consider an anti-histamine trial to block the 'allergic response' while you try and determine if this is allergy based. And since he is in a potentially stressful situation, then do consider a trial on the Feliway to cover your stress based differentials.
Overall, skin disease in the cat requires us to be bit like Sherlock Holmes, but with good detective work, hopefully the villain will be discovered, and you will then be able to help adapt his environment to stop this overgrooming
I hope this information is helpful.
If you need any additional information, do not hesitate to ask!
All the best,
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