HELP! Cat has a serious scratching problem-- he scratches his own FACE until it bleeds.
August 11, 2009 4:53 PM   Subscribe

Cat has been wearing a cone on and off for about a year while we've taken him to a series of vets and specialists who -- after plenty of wasted time and dollars as most of these people just shrugged and said they couldn't figure it out -- eventually concluded that Cat suffered from allergies, as well as acne on his chin.

At last, we have gotten both problems under control. The acne has cleared up, and Cat gets an injection once a week that has miraculously cleared up all the allergy symptoms (itchy rashes, etc). On top of this, our other cat is his brother, and he has never shown a single one of these symptoms, EVER.

However, if we take the cone off, without fail, Cat will scratch himself until he's bleeding again. Last time he got the cone off, he ripped a jagged slash along his throat! And that's since he's been "better."

With the cone, everything has been allowed to heal, and he looks like a million bucks. (When he's not well, even with the cone protecting him, you can see the symptoms all over his face: blackheads, rashes, excessive eye mucus, etc.) He looks happy and healthy now but we're terrified to take off the cone.

Cat cannot like this anymore. We are at our wits end and every vet we see fails to offer any new information at this point. We were even considering having his rear paws declawed so at least he wouldn't be able to damage himself anymore. Other than that, we can't think of a way for him to lead a normal cone-free life.

(Both cats are on flea control, both are strictly indoor cats and have been since birth.)

Can anyone help us? Thank you so much in advance.
posted by eric1200 to Pets & Animals (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Would it help to get those little claw covers?
posted by pseudostrabismus at 4:57 PM on August 11, 2009

Have you tried changing his food?

Also, I know it sounds weird, but do you have him eating out of plastic or ceramic bowls? If plastic, try switching to ceramic and see if that helps. There is a correlation to plastic causing acne outbreaks in animals.
posted by dancinglamb at 5:01 PM on August 11, 2009 [4 favorites]

This happened to my dog - he would rub his eyes until they were swollen and bumpy. He was wearing a cone through about 8 months of non-diagnoses. Eventually, I changed vets and the new one said that it was most likely OCD. The scratching starts off as a natural response to, in your case, allergies, in my dog's case, anxiety. Then it becomes an OCD. My dog was prescribed Prozac, and now he's about 90% better about it. He still goes to lick his paws/scratch his eyes sometimes, but he can actually be stopped if I interrupt him.

Basically, without the Prozac he has to wear his cone all the time; with the Prozac, he's coneless and happy.

If this doesn't work, and you need to keep using the cone, I suggest the Comfy Cone.
posted by melissasaurus at 5:02 PM on August 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

Poor kitty! I sympathize. In our old residence, there was a 2nd floor ledge about 1.5 inches wide that beloved feral cat loved to threaten her life on. Fun.

Just curious....Why do your cats get regular flea control if they are indoors?
posted by jbenben at 5:46 PM on August 11, 2009

We had a similar problem with our dog years ago. He turned out to be allergic to the filler that was in the canned dog food he was eating. Switching to another brand fixed the problem and he stopped.

However, our ginger tom pulls chunks of fur out of his back whenever he's stressed. He had a cone for a while, stopped yanking out fur, and lived without cone for a couple of years. Now that big brother is back to his feisty self and bossing everyone around, the poor baby is pulling fur again. As much as I hate giving anyone meds, I vote for kitty prozac or whatever will help. We recently got puppy benedril for our dog who loves to eat bees and wasps and sometimes gets stung for her trouble, and who is terrified of thunder storms. Sees to work on both problems. If that doesn't work, you just might have to remove his rear claws, but I'd call that an absolute last resort.
posted by x46 at 6:00 PM on August 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

We have a big orange cat with similar issues. Turns out he's allergic to plastic: We can't use plastic food bowls or toys that he'll spend a lot of time with because he gets itchy welts on his face & lips. Cortisone shots from the vet will treat the swellings when they occur, but removing the plastic dishes & hard plastic toys from his environment prevents the problem. He (and our other 3 cats) all eat out of ceramic or metal dishes. The plastic litter boxes don't seem to cause a problem (but he's not licking those). I also really recommend the Soft Paws claw caps: he recently went through a spell where he was scratching his face with his back claws so harshly that he kept cutting himself. So we put the claw caps on him and Neosporin cream on his booboo, and his face completely healed up in a week or so. He didn't even notice he had the claw caps on. They are affixed with superglue and will stay on for a few weeks. Many cats use them permanently; you just replace the individual caps when you notice he's lost one. This same cat has had lifelong issues with anxiety and goes through periods where he'll obsessively lick one of his legs until it has a bald spot: so he regularly takes Amitriptyline which effectively calms his anxiety. So talk to your vet. For our Sol, lack of plastic + claw caps + meds are very effective in making him a happy healthy loving housemate.
posted by cuddles.mcsnuggy at 6:08 PM on August 11, 2009

Just curious....Why do your cats get regular flea control if they are indoors?

Because they are cats and one of them has what sounds like a pretty severe allergy! Indoor cats need flea treatment too! It's a myth that indoor cats don't/can't get fleas. Fleas have legs and can certainly walk into your house (or you might bring them in yourself, on your clothing). In fact, indoor cats can be at an even higher risk with flea-related complications like allergies, because they are in a confined space with the fleas (which could be living in the carpet, blankets, stuff like that).
posted by so_gracefully at 6:10 PM on August 11, 2009

With very allergic cats, especially if you live in a flea-happy climate, you have to treat even if they never go outdoors. Fleas will hitch rides on your shoes, come in around the windows, etc.

This will suck, but you may need to have your cat put under (maybe have dental work done at the same time, since you're at it) and his chin and neck shaved down to make sure he doesn't have extensive scar tissue, mini-abscesses, or anything else uncomfortable that might be making him scratch. Cats don't respond very well to a lot of medications, including most of the ones that will mellow out a dog. They can end up stoned out of their minds and kind of psychotic.

Soft Paws are definitely an option for his back claws, and also make sure he's not eating out of any plastic, or anything else you can't wash at least twice a week. I feed my cat off glass salad plates, one a day, so there's not much for his chin to touch and so I can put them through the dishwasher. The bacteria that cause acne and abscesses are pernicious.
posted by Lyn Never at 6:13 PM on August 11, 2009

Oh, pobrecito kitty. Weekly shots are no good :( Have you actually taken the cat to a dermatologist? I only ask because I had to do the same thing for my cat. She had her follow up last weekend. We not only had to change her diet -- allergy to the grains, etc -- but she had to have medication for her ears because they got all infected. The dermatologist was ecstatic because her allergies were just to the food, but she told me that if it hadn't been they have lots of options to rule out what the allergy actually is. I only mention this because perhaps there's a way to get him off the injections completely.

Good on you for working to figure out what went wrong, though. We've been dealing with Mabeline's ear issues literally from the time we adopted her from a shelter. That was six years and five vets ago. Only my current vet referred us to a specialist.

Where are the pictures?
posted by sugarfish at 6:16 PM on August 11, 2009

if all else fails, declawing the rear claws does work. i had a cat who was ripping her skin off in this way, and after surgery to repair her infections, we finally made the decision. she lived a long full life with no rear claws.
posted by RedEmma at 9:52 PM on August 11, 2009

Lyn Never's answer is excellent.

Feline Orofacial Pain Syndrome causes cats to scratch their faces and mouths until they bleed. Read this page by Claire Rusbridge (a specialist working on this syndrome which little is known about) The acne and rashes may be a result of the scratching. It may be that the problem is neurological in origin.

With long term problems like this where standard veterinary treatment is not resolving the issue, please consider asking your vet (or another vet) for a referral to a qualified pet behaviourist. Cats are very easily stressed and often develop behaviours (over grooming/over scratching/acne/urinary tract infections) as a result - these are frequently diagnosed as allergies by vets.

It does sound as if there is a large stress element to these problems - it may be impossible to work out what came first - itching or stress that in turn causes itching - many vets will diagnose allergies as it's an easy port of call. You may need to make environmental changes and a good behaviourist will observe your cat at home and make suggestions accordingly - if a behaviourist just prescribes Prozac et al without a serious in person consultation - run a mile and find another one. It isn't just environmental events that can cause stress, pain can too - big time. Pain may be the root cause of his behaviour.

I think a referral to a dermatologist is also in order - long term skin infections and damage, need specialist consideration and treatment.

Whatever you do, please don't even consider declawing your cat's rear paws (are the front ones declawed already?) the pain from the mulitple amputations (which is what declawing actually is) is very likely to add to your cat's stress levels and cause a veritable tsunami of other problems, such as chronic pain, biting, innapropriate elimination, pain/fear aggression, arthritis etc - it's illegal in 38 countries.

If your cat has an itch, he is going to find a way to scratch it, and will probably damage himself as much, whether his claws are there or not.

I wish you the best of luck in helping your cat.
posted by Arqa at 3:36 AM on August 12, 2009

Thank you everyone for your thoughtful responses! You've given me a lot to process before we decide how to proceed.

(Just to clarify, we have been to a dermatologist on multiple occasions, which is how we landed on the solution of these weekly injections in the first place. I have to say, they have been incredibly successful not just in clearing up almost all his symptoms, but he barely seems to notice the actual injections- which was SUCH a relief because he is generally pretty skittish.)
posted by eric1200 at 11:24 AM on August 12, 2009

My wife and I were wondering if you've had any success with your cat problem? Our cat suffers from the exact same problem. Your description was so familiar to us; we had actually thought for a second, we had prepared it ourselves. Please keep in touch and let us know how your cat is doing. Thank you.
posted by DavidS354 at 11:46 PM on September 6, 2009

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