My cat has been excessively chewing and licking his tail and hip area. What is the cause and treatment?

Original Question: My cat Ray has been chewing and licking excessively on his back/base of his tail and hip area. At first I thought it was skin allergies, but after spraying anti-itch on him he still does it. I'm wondering if it’s arthritis? I would really like to stay away from medication and try herbs or dietary supplements. He doesn't take any medication but he does have asthma. Would devils claw be an okay thing to try? Or maybe a hip/joint treat? - Emily

My cat has been excessively chewing and licking his tail and hip area. What is the cause and treatment? Jan 20, 2019

Hi Emily,

Thanks for your question.

The most important thing here is to stop guessing. We need to start determining what’s going on. The first thing I want you to do is visit your veterinarian and have a skin scraping performed. This is a quick inexpensive test where they scrape the top layer of the affected skin and look at it under a microscope. This is then evaluated for bacteria, yeast and ectoparasites. During this test, your cat’s coat should be examined for evidence of fleas or flea dirt. If they are present then some evidence should be easy to find. If we perform tests then we can eliminate the guesswork. This needs to be done before any discussion of allergies or diet is entered into.

Make sure you speak to your veterinarian about a reliable treatment plan for any of the infectious agents found on the skin scraping. Keep in mind that an underlying disease could be present with one of these infectious agents as a concurrent condition. If a treatment for the cause is unsuccessful, then I would investigate the possibility of an underlying disease that allowed the infectious agent to become a secondary issue.

I recommend you perform blood work and urine testing to make sure there are no underlying health issues that could interfere with the body’s ability to fight an infection. If this is negative as well, then you could consider a skin biopsy as the next step. Many cats will have skin lesions due to complicated immune conditions that biopsies could diagnose. You have to remember that a diagnosis of allergies is really something that should occur after all other causes are eliminated since there is no confirmatory test for it. As a side note, you could always consider requesting a referral to a veterinary dermatologist. They deal with complicated dermatological cases such as these that have been difficult to diagnose and that have not responded to recommended treatments.

When you mention arthritis, I have seen this type of behaviour with it, however, it is usually accompanied by other symptoms that make it more obvious such as leg stiffness and weakness. An X-ray would help you evaluate this as a cause.

If you perform these tests and don’t achieve a diagnosis, only then would I consider allergies. I would recommend that you look at our resources about allergies and I encourage you to check out our article, “How to Treat the Different Types of Allergies in Dogs and Cats” for more information about this topic.

I hope this helps.

Dr. Clayton Greenway

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My cat has been excessively chewing and licking his tail and hip area. What is the cause and treatment?
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My cat has been excessively chewing and licking his tail and hip area. What is the cause and treatment?
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The most important thing here is to stop guessing. We need to start determining what's going on. The first thing I want you to do is visit your veterinarian and have a skin scraping performed. This is a quick inexpensive test where they scrape the top layer of the affected skin and look at it under a microscope.
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