Scabs on Cats – Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

Have you ever sat down to pet your cat only to be surprised by the dry and crusty bumps on its skin? If so, your furry friend likely has a condition called Miliary Dermatitis.

Don’t panic! Miliary Dermatitis is usually treatable. The condition is actually a symptom; meaning, there is an underlying cause which must be determined and dealt with before the more obvious skin issues clear up.

The safest and most effective course of action for these issues is to bring your cat to your veterinarian. These doctors are trained to diagnose the cause of the symptoms and can prescribe a treatment plan which could include medication and instructions for changes to your cat’s environment.

cat seated upright

Symptoms to Spot Before Scabs Appear

Before you’ve seen or felt scabs, your cat may try to tell you there is a problem. Keep an eye out for some of these common symptoms of skin conditions:

  • Scratching
  • Excessive grooming
  • Focusing attention on specific areas of the body
  • Inflammation
  • Hair loss

These are some of the ways that your cat will clue you that something is wrong. When you spot these signs, you should take a closer look as it may be time for a trip to the vet.

Potential Causes and How to Avoid Them

There are a number of reasons for the presence of miliary dermatitis on your cat. Here are a few brief examples, along with where you’ll find some of these signs.

  • Fleas

Fleas are insects that consume blood. They live in food-rich environments and visit or even live on your pets.

Symptoms will include itchiness and dry or raw skin. Flea-related scabs commonly appear in the area where the tail meets the back.

  • Mites

There are many different kinds of mites, but believe it or not, they are all members of the class Arachnida. They are cousins to spiders.

Ear mites are common in cats and symptoms are seen typically around the ears and neck.

Mange or demodicosis, which is actually caused by a mite infestation, can present as dry skin and hair loss all over the body.

  • Allergies

Cats are just as susceptible to allergies as you or me and can be managed through medication or diet under a veterinarian’s guidance.

Food allergies can cause gastrointestinal symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhea. Food allergies may also manifest itself as scabs or lesions in the mouth, on the chin or neck(1).

Environmental allergies caused by things like grass or pollen can manifest itself as general itchiness and scratching or licking and even inflamed skin or scabs if left untreated.

  • Cancer

Cats and dogs are vulnerable to almost any cancer that a human can have. This includes skin cancer which could appear anywhere on the body and in many different forms.

  • Ringworm

You may or may not already be aware that ringworm is actually a highly infectious fungal infection. This infection is zoonotic; meaning, it can jump between species.

Don’t stress too much or jump to conclusions over potential causes as most of these are rare. Fleas are the most common reason a cat will have scabs.

These are a few examples to give you an idea of what’s out there and why it is important to treat the cause rather than just the symptom.

There are many more potential causes of skin conditions; far too many to type in one article. Which is why it is so important to consult a veterinarian to obtain a diagnosis.

cat caressing itself

Why You Should Seek Out Treatment Quickly?

It’s important to address these symptoms early, rather than waiting until the problem becomes worse. Even though your cat can’t actually say, “this doesn’t feel good” out loud, it will be in discomfort or even pain from the first onset of symptoms.

Please schedule an appointment with your veterinarian quickly after noticing the first symptoms to avoid having your cat’s quality of life diminish.

Aside from your cat’s discomfort, these symptoms can lead to much more serious concerns. Scabs and itchiness can quickly become full-blown infections.

Fleas can take over your home. Cancer can spread. Ringworm can infect you and your family.

Although the symptoms may appear to be minor at the moment, they will only get worse until properly treated.

Treatment

Now that you have an idea about the drastic range of causes for miliary dermatitis, you’ll understand that proper treatment will vary.

It is vital that you do not attempt to treat the issue with home remedies. Attempting treatment without proper medical training is dangerous and often results in injury or death, especially when you’re treating the wrong ailment.

Contrary to the belief of some, essential oils are not a medical treatment and tea tree oil is actually toxic to cats. In fact, many essential oils are extremely toxic to cats.

A proper treatment plan can be administered by your veterinarian and will be based on the underlying cause of symptoms that you most likely will not be able to see.

For allergies, a diet change or medication may be prescribed and further testing may be recommended. For ear mites, a topical medication may be the answer.

Fleas

Fleas, by a large margin, are the most common cause of miliary dermatitis. Flea bites cause significant itching and can lead your cat to inflicting pretty severe wounds on its own body by scratching.

You may not see fleas with your own eyes, but this is often because fleas may not live on your pet. They live and lay eggs in the environment and typically only go to your pet when it’s time to eat.

Sometimes all it takes is one bite to cause all kinds of problems. Flea bite hypersensitivity or flea allergic dermatitis can cause your cat to break out with dramatic skin issues.

In some cases, the results may be severe enough to warrant immediate medical attention.

Prevention

Remember the saying, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” When you see adult fleas the situation is already very serious.

The best way to stay ahead of fleas is to keep all your pets on preventative medication year-round.

Taking Care of Fleas

If fleas are the source of your problem, here are some tips to help you combat these invasive insects:

First, use a flea comb to greatly reduce the number of live fleas actively living on your cat. After combing, dunk the comb with fleas and their eggs into hot and soapy water.

Next, use a flea shampoo that’s safe for your cat and recommended by your vet.

Finally, once your pet is dry, apply a safe and effective preventative medication.

There are companies that truly care about your pets. These companies devote years and great sums of money into formulating products that will effectively kill fleas while remaining safe for your cat.

  • Cheristin has been a veterinarian favorite for some time now. It quickly and reliably kills fleas with few reported side effects.
  • Revolution Plus is a fresh update for the long available Revolution. The manufacturer boasts the fastest time to kill fleas that you can get. In addition, this medication kills ticks, intestinal parasites, and even ear mites.
  • For cats that wear collars, Soresto, is another great option for flea control. It is also a safe product available over the counter.

Beware of over the counter products available in pet stores. Many of these products have a disturbing history of injury and death for cats. Ask your veterinarian before buying an over the counter product.

They are not regulated, dosed or prescribed by medical professionals; resulting in a dangerous drop in quality control as well as increased accidental misuse by pet owners. Hartz and Sergeants are two brands notorious for poor quality control. 

Taking Care of Fleas in Your Home

If your home has been taken over by fleas, don’t give up hope yet!

The common vet recommended method for taking care of a flea infestation is to keep all pets on a proper preventative for a minimum of three consecutive months while removing flea eggs from the environment.

Ridding your house of fleas and their eggs includes vacuuming every surface of your home many times over. This includes carpets, couches, and even your mattress. Don’t forget to quickly dispose of your vacuum bag.

You’ll need to do extra loads of laundry using the hot setting on your machine. Fortunately, fleas don’t tend to survive the hot and soapy water.

Preventing the Spread of Diseases

If the cause of your cat’s scabs is determined to be infectious, you’ve got some work to do at home.

Follow the recommendations put forth by your vet as they will be catered to the specific cause of your concerns. Separating pets may, unfortunately, be necessary.

If the issue infects you or any other humans, make sure the infected person sees a medical professional. Ringworm would be the most common skin disease that both humans and cats can get.

Hygiene is always a top priority when it comes to controlling the spread of infectious diseases. Be sure to regularly wash your hands when handling animals, especially the ones with ongoing medical issues.

Happy Days Are Ahead!

While it is, of course, an inconvenience to have to deal with problems that break up your daily routine, remember that the sooner you tackle these issues, the sooner you and your cat can get back to happy and healthy cuddles!

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