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Why is my cat scratching above the eyes?

Heathy cats don’t scratch above their eyes. Scratching hair away and even scratching the skin raw is never normal feline behavior. Itchy skin diseases, however, are very common in cats, and with the right treatments, you can help your cat overcome them.

Why is my cat scratching above the eyes?

There are two groups of feline health conditions that can cause your cat to scratch above the eyes. One group of cat health problems involves watery eyes, and the other doesn’t.

When there is watering of the eyes, your cat scratches above the eyes to relieve itching or pain in the eyes caused by primary eye disease. If your cat’s eyes aren’t inflamed or watery, then the problem is more likely to be skin parasites.

Three Common Primary Eye Diseases in Cats

Eye disease is less common but more serious as the reason your cat is scratching above the eyes. Your cat cannot the scratch the eye itself, so she rubs above the eye to put traction on the eyelids (cats have more than one eyelid per eye) to relieve itching or distract from pain.

Cat Eye Scratches

We all know that cats get into fights and scratch each other. Scratches to the eye cause watering, inflammation, and pain, and sometimes infection.

The very first thing to check when you notice your cat is scratching above the eyes is making sure that there has been no eye injury. If the injury does not get better in 48 hours, take your cat to the vet.

Feline Uveitis

Cats can also suffer a painful condition known as uveitis. Some cats with uveitis will paw above their eyes constantly, and others will avoid any kind of touch at all. Uveitis is an inflammatory condition of the iris (the colored ring in the center of your cat’s eye), the ciliary body (the part of the wall of the eye that makes the fluid that fills the eye), or the choroid (the middle layer of the eye).

Feline uveitis can be either a symptom or a disease. It can be a sign that your cat has advanced diabetes. Uveitis can also result from infection or injury. If your cat’s iris changes color or becomes permanently constricted, like your cat were in bright light all the time, veterinary care is a must.

Feline Chlamydia

Cats can and do get chlamydia. This is not the same infectious microorganism that causes chlamydia in people. In cats, chlamydia causes runny nose, sneezing, watery eyes, and eye irritation. It needs to get treated so it does not spread to the lungs.

Primary eye diseases aren’t something you can treat on your own. But itchy skin diseases that also trigger scratching above the eyes are usually amenable to home treatment.

Itchy Skin Diseases That Cause Scratching Above the Eyes in Cats

House cats are much more likely to suffer from itchy skin diseases than they are to suffer eye injuries, uveitis, or (especially if they have had their shots) chlamydia. By far the most common itchy skin disease in cats is parasitic ectodermatitis, caused by fleas, mites, ticks, or lice that live on the skin.

The itching a cat suffers because of flea bites can linger long after the flea has been killed by monthly flea treatment. Some cats will have an itchy skin reaction after just one flea bite, while other cats can be covered with fleas and have no itching at all.

You aren’t likely to see a flea on your cat’s coat, but you may find evidence they have been there. Flea droppings look like black sand on a cat’s coat. When they are wetted, they turn bright red because of the blood inside them.

Mites are more likely to be visible in a cat’s ears than above the eyes, but mite infestations can cause itchiness in both places. 

Adult mites are visible to the naked eye. These eight-legged relatives of spiders look like grains of salt moving inside the ear or on the scratched skin above your cat’s eyes. Mites prefer a high relatively humidity, so they are more likely to be found in the ear than over the eye, but cats that live in conditions of high humidity may have them in both places.

Lice are also visible to the naked eye. You may see nits (larvae) or eggs hanging on the skin.

What About Allergies as a Cause of Scratching Above the Eyes?

Cats can be, and often are, allergic to fleas and mites. Bites from these parasites provoke the allergic reaction that causes an itch above your cat’s eyes.

Cats can also experience itchy skin as a result of food allergy. Feline food allergies are more likely to occur when you switch your cat’s brand of food back to something he ate earlier in life but hadn’t eaten lately. Cats can also have ongoing food allergies to almost any protein food, but the itchy skin reaction won’t be limited to the skin above the eyes.

How to Get My Cat to Stop Scratching Above the Eyes?

There is a sequence of steps you can take to relieve your cat’s need to scratch above the eyes. There are things you need to do first to make sure you prevent any possible long-term damage to the eye itself, and then are things you can do to treat itchy skin conditions.

Make sure your cat has not suffered an eye injury

Pupils that are always constricted may be due to uveitis. An iris that changes color may also be due to uveitis. Any oozing or pus on the eye needs immediate antibiotic treatment, preferably from your vet.

Make sure the problem isn’t cherry eye

You can’t really miss cherry eye. Your cat will have a red bump in the corner of the eye. It’s caused by an extension of your cat’s second eyelid, which protects the eye when the upper eyelid needs to be open and the cat is in a situation where injury can occur. This condition is most common in cats with narrow faces, like Burmese, Siamese, and Himalayan cats. This is also a condition that needs to be treated by a veterinarian.

Look for evidence of flea allergy

As mentioned earlier, you aren’t likely to find any actual fleas on your cat. But the itching they cause lingers long after the flea itself is dead. If your cat has gone outside (especially in the summer) or come in contact with other cat that have fleas, it is time for combing. Comb your cat’s fur over white paper and look for black fleas to fall out—and then dispose of the paper and the fleas outside. Make sure all of your cats are getting regular flea treatment. In the meantime, make sure your cat gets some kind of topical steroid treatment, recommended by your vet, to stop the itch.

Look for evidence of mites

The tell-tale sign of mite infestation is a kind of red crud in your cat’s ears. Don’t try to remove it with a Q-tip! This can do serious injury to your cat’s ear canal. Getting rid of the mite infestation in the ears will get rid of the problem over your cat’s eyes. Mite treatment in the ears and a gentle shampoo for your cat will help.

Look for lice

Comb your cat’s hair over white paper and look for brown or tan eight-legged creatures to fall out. Be ready to dispose of the lice where they won’t be transferred to another et or to yourself.  Frontline® (fipronil) and Revolution® (selamectin) will get rid of lice, but it may take as many as four treatments, one to two weeks apart.

If you go through all of these steps, and your cat is still scratching above the eyes, then it is time to test for food allergies. Unfortunately, there aren’t any reliable blood tests or scratch tests for allergies in cats. The only way to diagnose a food allergy in your cat—which you will have to do yourself—is with an exclusion diet.

Your cat may not be very happy with the first step: Put your cat on protein and carbohydrate foods they have never eaten before. If they have never eaten a food before, they won’t be allergic to it. This step alone should bring food allergies and itching over the eyes under control in about a week.

Of course, you may not be able to find a food that your cat hasn’t eaten before. In this case, give your cat a commercial hypoallergenic hydrolyzed protein diet to stop symptoms. Your diet must stay on this diet and eat absolutely nothing else—no treats, no snacks, no exceptions—for 8 to 13 weeks.

If the itching doesn’t stop during this trial period, then food allergy wasn’t the cause. But if the hypoallergenic diet stops the itching and scratching, then you know the underlying problem was food allergy.

At this point, you can add back one food every two weeks, carefully watching for symptoms to return. If the symptoms come back, never give that food to your cat again. If they don’t, you can slowly add variety to your cat’s diet.

Itchy skin diseases are a stressful experience for cats and their humans alike. Show your cats extra love as they get over eye injuries and skin problems, and the healing process will go faster.