7 Common Skin Problems in Cats and Their Treatment

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

1. Feline Acne

Have you ever noticed black dots, pink bumps or crusty spots on your cat’s chin? It turns out that acne isn’t just a problem for teenagers – feline acne is real, folks!

Acne on your fluffy pal’s chin can range from small blackheads to infected sores. While mild cases of feline acne don’t require much management, it’s possible for impacted pores to become uncomfortable or infected. Don’t pick at or squeeze your cat’s chin because this can make matters worse.

two kittens

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.

Here are some steps you can take to help lessen the severity of kitty’s skin issues.

  • Avoid using plastic bowls as food and water dishes and run metal or glass dishes through the dishwasher frequently.
  • Gently wash your cat’s chin with warm water and mild soap regularly.
  • Wash any bedding weekly with an unscented, dye-free detergent.
  • Watch the acne for any acute reactions to new foods or treats.
  • Avoid heavily perfumed sprays or deodorizers near your cat’s favorite resting spots.
  • Don’t try to pop anything, no matter how tempting. We repeat: DO NOT POP!

Most mild cases of feline acne (no inflammation or oozing) only require minor at-home care. If you notice any sudden changes in your pal’s acne or you notice your cat pawing or scratching their chin more often, it’s time to call your veterinarian for an appointment.

Some cases of feline acne require antibiotics. In severe cases, your vet may need to perform a biopsy to determine if there is an underlying condition that requires further treatment. 

dermatitis disease on cat skin

2. 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

This 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.

Also, feeding your kitty using glass, lead-free ceramics or stainless steel bowls that are properly cleaned using non-allergic cleaning materials would be a great help.

  • Flea Allergy Dermatitis

If your kitty has been unlucky enough to pick up fleas before, you know what a nuisance they can be. For many cats, fleas can cause discomfort and itching without severe side effects.

Other cats may have a more intense reaction to the allergens in flea saliva; causing them to develop flea allergy dermatitis.

Flea allergy dermatitis or FAD can affect cats at any point during a flea infestation. However, cats with a severe flea allergy can develop FAD after being bitten by a single flea only once.

A 2001 study involving exposing cats to fleas for the first time caused 80% of the cats to develop FAD. The study lasted eight months but half of its subjects were exposed to fleas for only four months. This does seem to support the thought that FAD can produce clinical signs both quickly and over time.

Check your cat regularly for signs of fleas such as irritated skin, debris in its coat that look like coffee grounds or dirt that turns red when you wipe it with a wet washcloth. (Pro-tip: the red “dirt” is actually flea poop. Fleas eat blood so when their poop is rehydrated it turns red. Gross!)

Signs that your cat is developing FAD include severe itching – especially at the base of the tail, patchy hair loss, and patches of small pin-point scabs.

The treatment for flea allergy dermatitis can include corticosteroids, antihistamines, topical ointments, medicated shampoos, antibiotics, and/or fatty acid supplements.

Fleas happen to the best of us so don’t feel bad if you find some on your cat; especially if you let them outdoors. The easiest and safest way to treat fleas is to make certain to use a veterinarian-recommended monthly flea and tick treatment. You have options that include topical liquids, oral tablets, and collars.

Using generic store-bought medications for your cats is not recommended as cats have a more difficult time metabolizing an incorrect dosage of flea and tick medication. Your veterinarian will have medications that have been regulated to be more precise.

In the past, feline deaths have occurred due to dosing or manufacturing errors.

  • Food allergy dermatitis

This 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 it at a healthy weight and to feed a diet lower in carbohydrates and higher in protein.

  • Eosinophilic Granuloma Complex

This 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.

3. Environmental Allergies

Seasonal changes, new soaps or detergents, dust, and certain foods can cause allergic reactions in your feline pal. Which substances your cat will have allergic reactions to are just as varied as they are in people.

Instead of pinpointing a single allergen, we’ll use the umbrella term “environmental allergies” to mean anything your cat comes into contact with that can cause them to have skin problems.

Unlike flea allergy dermatitis which typically causes severe itching around your cat’s rear, environmental allergies tend to cause excessive itching on their paws, face or abdomen. Your cat’s skin may begin to feel a bit thickened or leathery and it may lick an area so much that it loses its fur.

Besides skin issues, an allergic cat may experience coughing, sneezing, wheezing, watery eyes, vomiting, and/or diarrhea.

Once your cat has been evaluated by your vet for allergies, short-term treatments may include antihistamines, corticosteroids, topical medications, and hypoallergenic shampoos. Long-term treatment would be the avoidance of allergens, prescription diets, and/or specialized allergy shots administered on a strict schedule.

Allergy testing can be conducted in your veterinarian’s office with a simple blood test.

4. Mites

Want to hear something gross? Microscopic spider-cousins are crawling all over your cat (and you!) right now.

Although we might think of mites as tiny bugs or insects, they’re actually part of the arachnid family like spiders. The most common mites that cats have on themselves are Demodex cati or gatoi, Otodectes cynoti, and Notoedres cati.

Demodex look a bit like a clear carrot with eight stubby arms. They live in the hair follicles of most healthy cats with no issue at all. In fact, most mammals – including people – have species-specific strains of Demodex living on them.

Demodex don’t tend to cause skin problems unless their host has an immune issue that allows overgrowth of the population. Signs of a Demodex infection include red blotchy skin, hair loss, crusty spots, and itchiness.

Otodectes is the scientific name for ear mites. Ear mites are a common parasite for cats that are thankfully extremely difficult to transmit to humans.

If your cat has ear mites, you will see blackish-brown debris in their ears. Kitty will also be intensely itchy so it’s common for cats with ear mites to scratch their ears to the point of bleeding.

Ear mites are easy to resolve with prescription ear drops that you can get from your veterinarian.

Notoedres cati can be called by another more common name – scabies.

Don’t run away just yet. Feline scabies are obligate feeders which means they can feed only on felines.

Notoedres are highly contagious, so if your cat has scabies you may also experience some minor itching or irritation. Don’t fret though – the mites won’t be able to survive on you for more than a few days.

Signs of feline scabies include crusty skin, intense itching, scabbing, skin inflammation, and hair loss.

In order to properly diagnose mites, your veterinarian will perform a skin scraping. This procedure is quick and can be done in your vet’s office.

Your cat’s doctor will gently scrape the surface layer of your kitty’s skin with the side of a surgical blade then smear the sample onto a microscope slide. Under the microscope, your vet will be able to determine which mites, if any, are present and prescribe topical, injectable or oral medications to kill the mites and help with the itching.

Antibiotics may also be needed if excessive scratching has caused a secondary bacterial infection. Depending on the type and amount of mites present, your vet may recommend environmental cleaning as well.

5. Feline Skin Infections

  • Bacterial infections

Pyoderma is the medical term for a bacterial skin infection. Good bacteria normally live on the skin in healthy and helpful quantities, but illness or injury can cause an infection by opportunistic bacteria.

If your kitty is an adventurer and spends time outdoors, they may be more prone to circumstances that could create pyoderma. Getting into a skirmish with another cat or animal, running across a pointy stick or thorny bushes or getting caught on jagged refuse, can cause cuts, scrapes, and punctures in your cat’s skin.

When the skin has been injured, bad bacteria may begin to settle in.

Like fungus, bacteria also thrive in damp and warm conditions. If areas of your cat’s body are fluffier with extra folds, these spots are contenders for bad bacteria to colonize.

When some cats are older or have compromised immune systems, their bodies may not function in a way that can fight off bad bacteria.

Pyoderma-causing bacteria are always looking for a reason to colonize. Keeping your cat indoors, at a healthy weight, and up to date on veterinary visits can help avoid some of the causes of pyoderma.

Pyoderma can also be a secondary infection caused by scratching at the primary infection. Fungal infections, fleas or other ectoparasites can feel itchy and cause your cat to scratch themselves to the point of bleeding.

This is why any suspected pyoderma should always be tested by a veterinarian to ensure there isn’t more than one type of infection needing treatment.

Signs of a bacterial infection are itchiness, redness, hair loss, crusting or scabbing, pustules, abscesses, and/or fever. Bacterial infections almost always need oral or injectable antibiotics, but prescription ointments, sprays or shampoos can also be beneficial in helping to soothe pyoderma at the source.

  • Fungal Infections

Malassezia pachydermatis, a.k.a yeast, can be part of your cat’s normal skin and ear microbiome. However, an abnormal overgrowth of yeast can cause infections of your cat’s skin or ears.

Yeast thrives in warm, moist environments. If your cat is a super chonk and has the tummy fluff to prove it, Malassezia may overgrow within these belly folds. Ears, feet, and the perianal area (around-the-bum zone) are also places to watch for yeast infections.


Signs of a yeast infection include an unpleasant smell; damp discharge from the ears; red, inflamed skin that may have oozing sores or look darkened; scaly skin; greasy fur; and hair loss.

Treatment can include ear drops, ointments, creams, oral medications, shampoos, sprays or oral medications. Yeast overgrowth in cats can also be indicative of other more serious conditions so your veterinarian may choose to run further testing if they feel at all suspicious of your cat’s health.

  • Ringworms

Another fungal infection that is quite common among cats – especially shelter kittens – is feline dermatophytosis. You’ll recognize the layman’s term: ringworm.

Despite its name, ringworm has nothing to do with worms. It is actually a highly-contagious fungal infection.

Ringworm typically presents as irritated, itchy, scaly pink rings on the skin. In cats, it also includes hair loss, stubbly patches, and overgrooming of the infected sites.

Ringworm can infect cats, dogs, and people, too. If you have children or other pets in your home, it is best to temporarily quarantine your infected kitty to a small area of your home until the infection is cleared up.

In severe cases, it may take several weeks to months for a ringworm infection to clear up, so use caution when handling your infected cat.

Treatment for ringworm can be lengthy and includes the use of oral and/or topical antifungals.

  • 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.

6. Overgrooming

We’ve already discussed that hair loss can be a clinical sign of bacterial, fungal or parasitic infections. Hair loss, known as “Alopecia” can also be a sign of allergies or underlying illness.

Beyond these common causes of feline hair loss, some cats can develop a behavioral habit of overgrooming because of a trauma, boredom, anxiety or an obsessive disorder.

If your cat is still spending long periods of time grooming and licking itself, even though it has been seen by its veterinarian and completed treatment, it’s time to make another appointment. When cats overgroom themselves to the point of creating bald spots and patches of broken, stubbly fur, it’s called “psychogenic alopecia”.

As reported by Dr. Lisa Maciorakowski of the MSPCA, psychogenic alopecia is considered a stress-related disorder. Kitties with this kind of behavioral grooming tend to focus their attention on their bellies, inner thighs, and front legs – though overgrooming can happen on any part of a cat’s body.

Apparently, overgrooming can release endorphins that make your cat feel happy. Endorphins are chemicals your body releases in response to certain triggers.

In people, endorphins are responsible for “runner’s high”; the joy created from eating chocolate and other happy feelings. The endorphins released during overgrooming can create a cycle in your cat that can be difficult to break.

Since your kitty can’t tell you what their triggers are or the best way to treat them, it may be worth consulting a veterinary behaviorist if overgrooming didn’t begin with a skin infection. Take note of any changes in your home or of any strange events that may have happened recently to help your cat’s doctor provide with the best care for its condition.

Treatments for overgrooming can include removing stressors, anti-anxiety or anti-depressant medications, and behavioral modification therapies.

7. 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 a 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. They 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.

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