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Why is she such an itchy cat?

Q My six-year-old indoor cat frequently scratches her right ear - the outer rather than the inside.

I have taken her to the vets and they say she hasn't got ear mites or fleas, and she seems to be happy. Although her ear looks red and has some fur loss, she does let me touch it and doesn't seem to be in pain.

With the guidance of my vet, I have tried switching her food to a low allergen one in case it's a food allergy, but this hasn't made a difference. She has always been an 'itchy' cat, and I was wondering what else could be to blame?

Vet Elise Robertson answers: From your description, I would agree it sounds like your cat could be suffering from an allergic skin condition. Allergic skin disease in cats can be caused by parasites (fleas and mites), pollens and even food intolerances.

I will always advise for my clients to use a prescription-strength spot-on flea preparation every three to four weeks (all year round), in combination with environmental sprays (effective against fleas and house dust mites) every six months.

Your vet may choose to do a more thorough ear examination under sedation to rule out ear polyps, masses, an odd foreign body (unlikely), or even harvest mites which can affect the ear fold (known as 'Henri's pocket').

At the same time, your vet can collect a deep swab from the ear canal for cytology. This will help identify any yeast/bacteria responsible for the itchy ear. Your vet can also send this swab away for 'culture and sensitivity' looking for the correct antibiotic for the bacteria isolated from the swab.

A veterinary hypo-allergenic diet may be prescribed by your vet; however, strict food trials for six to eight weeks can be extremely challenging in many cats. I'm afraid with allergies it can often be a case of tests, trial and error, so bear with it and keep up to date with all parasite treatments.