After a wound has been stitched, your cat may scratch the incision site because the shaved area starts to get itchy when the hair grows back. Your cat may scratch a neck wound as a natural response to reduce irritation. However, scratching can remove sutures or cause bleeding.
Your vet will recommend that your cat wears an Elizabethan collar (e-collar) to stop your cat from scratching, biting, or licking its head and neck during the healing process. Distraction and making a loud noise whenever your cat attempts to scratch its neck are also effective.
If your cat is able to scratch its neck too aggressively, this will likely lead to an open, raw neck wound. If this happens, you should look for signs of a bacterial infection, such as swelling and redness.
Why Won’t My Cat Stop Scratching Its Neck Raw?
In most cases, cats scratch their necks constantly because the affected area starts to feel very itchy. Common reasons for itchy wounds include:
- A bacterial infection
- Formation of scabs
- Hair growing back, if the area was shaved prior to stitches
- Fleas, mites, or ticks
- Allergies from food, dust, or environmental irritants
- Discomfort in the throat
- Stress due to pain or discomfort
While a cat may scratch the area to alleviate its itching, incessant scratching can jeopardize the healing process. It can also introduce bacteria to an open wound, making it larger or removing sutures (if present).
Neck Collar to Prevent Cat from Scratching
You can temporarily stop your cat by moving its head or using commands (such as “STOP”). However, this doesn’t work when you’re not around because you’re at work or asleep.
VCA Animal Hospital recommends that a cat should wear a collar to stop a cat from scratching its neck raw.
Your vet will find the right fitting collar during your visit. The collar should fit snuggly around your cat’s neck so that your cat doesn’t have access to its wound. There are two types of collars that are used for this purpose:
- The Elizabethan collar (or e-collar)
- A bandage
1/ Elizabethan Collar (E-Collar)
This collar resembles a cone and surrounds the cat’s head, preventing it from reaching its wound. The e-collar is sturdy and cannot harm your cat.
Because the collar is cone-shaped, it prevents your cat from scratching or reaching any wounds on its neck and face. Your cat won’t be able to scratch itself by rubbing its body or head against the ground with the cone on.
Wearing a collar can take several days for a cat to get used to. Your cat may roll around on the floor, act aggressively, and/or attempt to remove the collar. E-collars also affect your cat’s peripheral vision and hearing.
Your cat may bang into things, the floor, your legs, and the walls. It will have to learn how to eat and sleep with its collar on. Some cats may refuse to eat because they feel stressed.
Talk to your vet before using an e-collar. If the collar is too close to the neck wound and is in a position to exacerbate the injury further.
The good news is that the majority of cats will quickly adjust to wearing an Elizabethan collar. Your cat just hasn’t got used to it yet.
How to Stop Your Cat from Taking it’s E-Collar Off
The e-collar is the best way to stop a cat from biting at and chewing a neck wound. Here are some creative ways to keep the collar on:
- Put a regular cat collar on your cat before tying the e-collar. This will make it harder for the e-collar to be pulled off.
- Tie a bandage through the loops of the cone around the neck and then crossing down on your cat’s chest, behind the front legs and once more on his back. Connect to the cone loops and tie a bow on the back.
You can also use calming pheromones, such as Feliway, if your cat is stressed or sensitive about the change. This will help to relax your cat.
2/ Bandaging the Neck
Bandaging the neck can prevent your cat from inflicting any further harm to its existing injury when it tries to scratch itself.
You can bandage your cat’s neck wound using stretch gauze and some self-sticking gauze. Both items are available over-the-counter.
Be careful not to tie the bandage too tightly. A light bandage is an effective barrier against your cat’s paws, so make sure it is applied loosely.
You should be able to slide in two fingers under the bandage without trying to squeeze them through. If it isn’t easy to pass two fingers through, the bandage is applied too tightly and is not safe for your cat.
However, the presence of a bandage will push your cat to scratch even more. Some cats don’t want anything on their skin and will continuously chew, scratch, and lick until the foreign item comes off.
You can also use a sock as a bandage for your cat’s neck wound:
- Cut the ankle off the sock, making the hole the size of your cat’s neck.
- Slide the sock over your cat’s head. If the sock is tight, stretch it out to loosen it before putting it over your cat’s head.
Whether you’re applying a bandage or using a sock, it’s imperative that you keep the material dry and clean. Change the bandage every day.
When you take the cone or bandage off, offer your cat a treat from your hand as a reward for wearing it. Play with toys your cat cannot resist.
Is There Another Reason for the Itchiness?
After surgery or an injury to the neck, some cats scratch themselves for short periods. This is because of the temporary discomfort or because they feel like there’s something on their fur.
However, if your cat scratches the same area compulsively, there could be a second issue at play that’s gone unnoticed. Causes for itchiness in cats include fleas and ticks, allergies, throat discomfort, and anxiety.
Will fleas are the most common explanation, there are other reasons why a cat can be really itchy. You can only control your cat’s scratching by finding out the underlying cause and rectifying it.
If your cat is scratching its neck due to a food allergy, your vet will introduce an alternative diet with completely different food.
Cutting off your cat’s exposure to any potential allergens (dust, mites, chemicals, and pollen) will reduce its risk of scratching significantly.
Your vet may also prescribe antihistamines to relieve the itchiness that your cat is currently experiencing.
Fleas gather around a cat’s head and neck, causing itching in these areas. The same goes for mites and ticks. You may notice black scabs forming.
Prevention is key to keeping ticks away. Use an anti-flea treatment regularly, but avoid flea collars unless your vet recommends them.
Flea collars contain chemicals that may lead to allergic reactions in cats.
3/ Stress and Anxiety
Some cats may scratch their fur compulsively because they’re anxious or stressed. Think about any recent changes in your cat’s lifestyle.
- Has its food been changed?
- Did your cat recently lose a close member of its family?
- Is its resting environment too loud or unclean?
Addressing the source of the stress and anxiety will prevent your cat from scratching its neck constantly.
4/ Throat Discomfort
Your cat will scratch its neck, even if the source of the discomfort is inside the throat. You can detect a sore throat from your cat’s vocalizations.
Thin and raspy sounds, or sudden silence or passiveness, are common signs of throat discomfort in cats. Your cat may also show some behavioral changes, such as a reluctance to eat.
It’s most likely that your cat’s neck is just itchy due to the natural wound healing process. However, you should check for and eliminate any other medical problems as a precaution.
If your cat’s neck wound isn’t healing, schedule an appointment with your vet. There may be an illness or an immune system problem that isn’t allowing your cat’s wound to close or heal properly.