7 Common Skin Problems in Cats and Their Treatment

Cats, like humans, also have sensitive skin and may have cat skin conditions that no grooming could ever cover or correct, unlike humans who can hide them with makeup. 

It would be great if a physical examination for our furry friend is due in the next few days. But what if the poor feline is not up for another visit to the vet in the next couple of months?

Here are some common cat skin problems we may need to look out and the things we can do to help them:

two kittens

Dermatitis

Dermatitis is a general term for irritation of a kitty’s skin due to contact or exposure to agents and/or substances that can cause allergic reactions.

There are several forms of dermatitis:

  • Atopic Contact Dermatitis is characterized by red, bumpy, itchy, and inflamed skin caused by exposure to certain chemicals or other external irritants. This can be prevented by keeping household chemicals in properly stored containers away from your feline’s reach as well as feeding your kitty using glass, lead-free ceramics, or stainless steel bowls that are properly cleaned using non-allergic cleaning materials.
  • Flea allergy Dermatitis is a type of allergic reaction to flea saliva that can usually be seen on your kitty’s inner thighs, the back of her hind legs, and the base of the tail. It is characterized by itchy bumps called papules. While flea allergy dermatitis can be treated with appropriate medication, using a flea preventative regularly is the best way to keep your cat free from this problem to begin with. Indoor cats have fewer chances of acquiring flea problems but this does not mean that your house is flea-proof since humans and canine housemates may still unknowingly bring fleas indoors. Flea preventives like Advantage, Revolution, and other anti-flea topical solutions are recommended but may require a prescription from your veterinarian. The Seresto collar is an effective alternative to topical solutions that also works well.
  • Food allergy dermatitis is a form of allergic reaction caused by ingesting a certain food or ingredient. Rashes and severe itching usually appear on your cat’s head and eyelids, neck, and back and can also include hair loss. Like any form of allergy dermatitis, the best way to treat this is preventative medicine. An elimination diet will help identify which food or ingredient you need to avoid feeding your cat in the future. Your veterinarian may also consider steroid therapy to help relieve itching and inflammation.
  • Diabetic dermatitis – yes, you read it right, cats can become diabetic. A diabetic cat usually has dry, scaly, thin, and very sensitive skin that can easily result in skin irritation and wounds. The way to prevent diabetes in your cat is to keep her at a healthy weight and look to feed a diet lower in carbohydrates and higher in protein.
  • Eosinophilic Granuloma Complex is a syndrome where an allergic reaction to food, fleas, or other environmental factors leads to skin ulcers and similar red lesions on the cat’s body particularly on the face, thighs, and on the pads of the feet. This syndrome can be complex and lesions often become infected. If you feel your cat may have an eosinophilic granuloma lesion, it’s best to consult with your veterinarian.
dermatitis disease on cat skin

Acne

Whenever we think of acne, we are reminded of the sadder aspects of our teen years. Feline acne, however, does not look like those red bumps and asteroid-showered moon craters on our faces. They look more like blackheads. These dark spots are usually found on the cat’s chin and near the nose.

Acne among cats is linked with various possible causes like bacteria, yeast, and mites, as well as stress, poor grooming, allergic reactions, and even poor hygiene on the human side. This is why it’s always important to make sure your kitty’s food and water bowls are cleaned regularly.

There are various medications as well as topical ointments and shampoo your cat’s vet may use to treat feline acne. To aid in treatment and to prevent future breakouts, consider feeding your cat using clean ceramic, glass or stainless steel bowls.

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Feline Skin Infections

Skin Infections among cats are caused either by fungi or bacteria.

  • Bacterial infections are commonly a by-product of another skin problem like an untreated wound, feline acne, or wound caused by excessive scratching on allergy rashes. Some common symptoms of this type of infection are skin inflammation and redness, abscesses, lameness, red and runny eyes, fever, pain, and lethargy. If you find your cat suffering from a bacterial infection it is advisable to consult with your vet for proper diagnosis and antibiotic prescription. Another reason why it is better to consult with the vet is to identify any underlying cause of the infection in order to keep the infection from recurring.
  • There are various fungal infections that may affect felines. Yeast infection, like bacterial infection, commonly occurs as a by-product of another medical problem and must be consulted with the vet for proper diagnosis and treatment. Common areas to check for yeast infection are your kitty’s ears – abscesses, black or yellow discharge, rashes on the ear flaps, and habitual ear scratching are indications of possible yeast infection.
  • Ringworms 

Despite the name, it’s not caused by a worm at all, but by a type of fungus that can infect all mammals, including cats and humans. Cats, in particular, are more susceptible to ringworm at an early age.

Signs of a ringworm infection include a rash-like ring on the skin, flaking and hair loss within the area of the ring, broken patches of fur especially on the face and ears, and sometimes forelimbs.

Ringworm is zoonotic, meaning it can be transmitted from animals to people. If you are concerned your cat may have ringworm, it’s very important to have him examined by your vet. A blacklight may sometimes be used as a screening test, as the infected hair follicles will fluoresce in about half of all cases. More commonly, hair samples for fungal culture are taken to try to confirm diagnosis. Your vet may recommend shampoos, topical ointments, and oral medication as potential treatment options.

If your cat does have ringworm, it’s important to use good hygiene when handling him to ensure you don’t get it as well. If you develop any similar itchy lesions on your own skin, it’s important to be examined by a physician and let him or her know your cat is being treated for ringworm.

  • Sporotrichosis

It is a rare type of fungal infection that is also another source of public health safety and concern. Also called “rose gardeners disease” this fungal infection is typically contracted from the environment by people working with plants and soil.

Cats can pick this disease up while outdoors and have been known to transmit it to people, especially those with a weakened immune system. Hallmark signs of this skin problem are small, hard nodules on the skin. If your cat is diagnosed with sporotrichosis by your vet, it’s very important to make your own physician aware and practice good hygiene while your kitty is treated.

Cat Bugs

Kitties, like all mammals, are susceptible to parasitic bugs, called external parasites. Among these bugs, fleas are the most common.

It’s quite easy to spot fleas and their excrement, called “flea dirt” on a kitty’s fur, especially if your feline friend has light-colored fur. But for cats with darker coats, you may need to search for thinning fur above the tail base and crusty lesions. In addition, these bugs are irritating and cause frequent scratching. Prevention through a monthly flea control is the way to go to prevent infestation.

It’s interesting to note that while fleas in cats are like lice in humans in that they feed on blood, feline lice act like dust mites among humans – they eat the cat’s dry skin. Cat lice are species-specific and do not target humans, but like human lice, they prefer younger versions of the species – especially neglected ones.

Symptoms of lice infestation are frequent restlessness and scratching, coat discoloration, and fur loss. Your vet may consider the use of topical powders, sprays e.t.c.

Ear Mites target your kitty’s ear wax and oils, causing irritation, inflammation, and even infection. Cats with ear mites tend to scratch their ears and shake their heads excessively. This is usually accompanied by a dark ear discharge resembling coffee grounds.

Ear mites can’t infest humans, but they can spread to other animals at home, so proper treatment with topical solutions as well as preventive measures like proper hygiene are recommended. Ear mites are typically treated with an appropriate topical solution by your vet after diagnosis.

Stud Tail

There is a portion at the top of your kitty that secretes oil called the supracaudal gland. The purpose of this gland is to produce a waxy substance called sebum, which a cat uses to keep his coat soft and shiny.

The supracaudal gland can produce excessive sebum, leading to an excessively greasy skin and coat. If left unchecked, it can lead to fur loss, crusty lesions, feline acne, and bacterial infection. This condition is called “stud tail”, or supracaudal gland hyperplasia.

While stud tail most often affects intact (unneutered) male tomcats it can also affect neutered males and female cats less commonly. If you’re concerned your cat may have this condition, see your vet so it can be treated right away. Medication may include prescription shampoo, antibiotics, and in the case of an intact male cat, neutering may help resolve the condition.

Warts, Cysts, and Tumors

Cats can also get skin warts, cysts, and tumors. Warts are usually benign bumps on the skin that are sometimes shaped like cauliflower. Cysts, on the other hand, are non-malignant lumps found under the skin filled with fluid or solid cheese-like material.

Both warts and cysts may be left as is, but you still need to check your kitty from time to time. Warts and cysts can bleed and become infected, so while it’s often harmless to leave them alone if they’re not bothering your friend, you may want your vet to take a look if this starts to happen..

If you find a skin lump or bump on your cat, it’s important to have your vet take a look. This is because it could be a skin infection like an abscess, an inflammatory lesion, a cyst, or a tumor. Tumors can be benign or malignant. Benign tumors can stay the same for years, while malignant tumors more often grow rapidly or spread to other parts of the body.

To help find out what the lump or bump may be, your vet may obtain a small sample of cells from the lesion using a needle and syringe, which is called a fine needle aspirate. Your vet can then try to identify the lump by viewing some cells from it under the microscope.

In other cases, and especially if a bump is very large your vet may need to obtain a tissue sample, called a biopsy.

Depending on the diagnosis, your vet may recommend having a lump or bump surgically removed.

Dandruff

Winter is a time for both cats and people to get dry and flaky skin, but dandruff can also be an indicator for a more serious underlying cat skin problem, so it’s still important to have it evaluated by your vet.

Therapy for feline dandruff can include omega-3 fatty acid-rich supplements and shampoos. Dandruff may also be avoided by supplying your cat with a well-balanced diet as well as time for proper grooming

Alopecia

Part of being a feline parent is dealing with cat shedding. But if your cat is losing lots of hair or bald patches begin to develop, this is a concern and should be a reason to consult with your vet. Hair loss, also termed alopecia, may be a secondary effect for a more serious illness due to allergies, infections, external parasites like fleas, or poor nutrition.

Psychogenic Alopecia is a little different. Also called barbering, this condition is indicated by compulsive grooming that leads to thinning of the fur on the back or abdomen. This type of hair loss is often caused by stress-induced factors like stresses in the home, territorial disputes with other cats, or some other anxiety or cause of discomfort.

Treatment for psychogenic alopecia may include feline pheromone diffusers, engaging the kitty in play that redirects their anxiety, and diet adjustments. Your vet may also suggest a course of medication to treat an underlying anxiety disorder.

cat hair due to shedding in comb

Sunburn

Furless feline breeds like the Sphynx as well as light-colored cats are more susceptible to sunburn because of the lack of fur protection. If kitties like these are frequently left under the heat of the sun, they could develop squamous cell carcinoma, melanoma and other types of skin cancers.

Preventive treatment like keeping these kitties indoors is preferred. Single-instance cases of sunburn should be evaluated by your veterinarian to be treated appropriately.

These are, by far some of the major cat skin conditions your kitty could experience. If you’re concerned your cat may have acquired one of these disorders, make sure to consult your vet, as many skin diseases in pets can appear similar and firm diagnosis is required for appropriate treatment. Many of these disorders are preventable as well, so, make sure to discuss with your vet the best ways to prevent your cat from acquiring some of these common skin conditions.

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