So much scratching!
November 10, 2020 11:32 AM   Subscribe

Why does my cat scratch himself when we scratch him?

YANMV, and I will be asking the vet this question at some point, but this doesn't seem to be an urgent medical issue so I'm starting here. We have a 15 year old cat who loves getting his chin scratched, and always has. Other than belly rubs, chin scratches are his favorite form of affection. Lately, though, whenever one of us tries to scratch his chin, he immediately also tries to start scratching his chin.

He's not trying to stop us; he's trying to scratch as well, in that way that a seated cat scratches their face rapidly with their back paw (no video of that, sadly). As soon as we stop scratching, he stops trying, but it's like he wants to join in the chin-scratch party once we've started, for some reason.

Like I said, this is new behavior; he had a minor URI a couple weeks ago but is otherwise in reasonably decent health for an old cat (he has some longstanding kidney issues, but I'm not sure if those would relate to this at all). He doesn't appear to be in pain or discomfort - he still eats/drinks/cleans as normal, and his voice is back after the URI.

I'm just not sure if this is something that should raise alarm bells, or whether it's just a reflex we're hitting or something. Has anyone seen this type of behavior in their cat?
posted by pdb to Pets & Animals (12 answers total)
 
we have a cat that reacts to affection with embaressed self grooming, but she's always done it... I'd ask the vet. maybe skin irritation? is it an indor/outdoor or indoor only? maybe try frontline.
posted by evilmonk at 11:34 AM on November 10, 2020


Response by poster: Indoor only, always has been.
posted by pdb at 11:35 AM on November 10, 2020


does he have a scratch or something there that might be bothering him? It could be that you scratching him makes him itchy, and so he scratches to help
posted by FirstMateKate at 11:43 AM on November 10, 2020


this is kind of left field, but to me this sounds like it might be an expression of that thing where when someone starts scratching your back you immediately start wanting them to scratch slightly different parts of your back (a little to the left... up... no a bit down... more to the left... etc). cats are pretty great, generally, at communicating those desires with tiny movements, as every cat person knows--given his age, is it possible that he's getting a bit less smooth with his movements and is frustrated and trying to take control of the scratch direction in a different way? just a thought, it's something I can see myself doing tbh so maybe he would do it too.
posted by some_kind_of_toaster at 11:56 AM on November 10, 2020 [4 favorites]


My cat does this and has for years, the best conclusion the vets have come to is that he has an allergy to something that manifests as dermatitis/skin issues. It's really hard to pin down more specifically than that without lots of time, money, and stress for both me and the cat. Maybe if this is a new behavior it's something more identifiable like chin acne?
posted by carlypennylane at 12:01 PM on November 10, 2020


One of our cats does this and always has. In fact, he'll rub his head/ears on something while lying down, or clean his face and ears, and his back foot will start scratching the air. I think it's reflexive (dogs seem to do this more than cats). And, ya know, cats are weird.
posted by XtineHutch at 12:51 PM on November 10, 2020


When we scratch our cat's butt, she automatically starts licking. She'll lick whatever is in front of her - if no one is within the reach of her licks, she licks her own feet. Not an answer, but seems related.
posted by latkes at 12:55 PM on November 10, 2020 [4 favorites]


If this is a new thing, it might be time for your cat to get a dental checkup. My eldercat started doing that when her teeth hurt - she still wanted the scratches but they caused her teeth to twinge, too.
posted by restless_nomad at 12:59 PM on November 10, 2020 [3 favorites]


My cat licks (and drools So Much omg) when i scritch her, sometimes actually grooming herself and sometimes just rhythmically licking into space. She often does the licking-into-space thing while she is scratching herself with her foot, whenever it looks particularly satisfying.
posted by janell at 2:04 PM on November 10, 2020


Response by poster: @restless_nomad: He only has about four teeth left and he's never exhibited this kind of behavior prior to any other tooth extractions, but that's definitely something we'll keep an eye on.

@carlypennylane: No visible acne or other skin issue, nor does the area feel inflamed or otherwise abnormal. Could be an allergy, we'll keep track of what he consumes just in case.
posted by pdb at 2:14 PM on November 10, 2020


The Scratch Reflex. It’s a vertebrate thing I believe- not just cats.
posted by rongorongo at 3:39 PM on November 10, 2020


(just to clarify: the chin acne you'd probably be able to see in the form of "dirt" or red bumps, but my cats allergy is likely systemic and of undetermined origin - food, seasonal, environmental, etc. Fleas have been ruled out. Other than the itchiness and twitching when someone touches him, he doesn't show ANY signs of skin irritation/troubles. As my vet said with a shrug at his last visit, "cats are just inflammatory creatures...🤷🏻‍♀️")
posted by carlypennylane at 7:40 PM on November 10, 2020


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