Why Do Cats Scratch, Lick & Bite Themselves?

Written by maggie bradburn
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Why Do Cats Scratch, Lick & Bite Themselves?
Some licking is normal for a cat, but there are limits (Martin Poole/Digital Vision/Getty Images)

Cats lick, scratch and bite themselves for a range of reasons, some of which are benign and some aren't. For instance, your cat may have an itch or he may be grooming himself. A bored cat may lick and scratch himself just to have something to do. An anxious or fearful cat may lick and scratch to soothe himself. Also, a cat suffering from allergies or a health condition may scratch, lick and bite himself.

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Behavioural Causes

Cats lick, scratch and bite themselves for several behavioural reasons. For instance, cats lick and scratch to groom themselves. When the behaviour becomes excessive, resulting in dry or hairless patches, the cause may be more serious. Stress, boredom, anxiety or even obsessive-compulsive disorder may be to blame. Cats need stimulation. If you suspect boredom is the cause, try spending a few minutes playing with your cat, or provide him with new, interactive toys.

Medical Causes

Flea infestations cause the majority of excessive licking, scratching and biting. If you don't see evidence of fleas -- the bugs or their small, black droppings -- the cause could be another medical condition. Hot spots, skin infections, parasites and immune deficiencies are medical issues that could cause licking and scratching. Also, skin problems like cysts or tumours can become inflamed, causing itchiness, which cats combat by licking, scratching and biting. Check your cat's skin carefully, and schedule an appointment with a veterinarian if you see a spot, rash or bump.


Just like people, cats can experience seasonal and food allergies, all of which will cause your cat to scratch, lick and bite himself excessively. Symptoms of seasonal allergies include infected ears, diarrhoea, bumps and hair loss. Food allergies cause red bumps that can appear on the cat's head, back, tail and feet. With licking, scratching and biting, the lumps can open and become infected. If you spot any of these symptoms, schedule an appointment with a veterinarian to begin an allergy trial or treatment.


Because there are so many causes of excessive licking, scratching and biting in a cat, it's important to see a veterinarian as soon as you notice the problem. In the days leading up to your appointment, take notes on your cat's behaviour. Do you notice it worsening after he eats or after he has been outdoors? Is there a spot on his body that seems to bother him most? Sharing detailed observations can help a veterinarian nail down the cause more effectively.

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