10 Common Cat Skin Problems


Skin disorders are common in cats. They can be caused by parasites such as fleas or mites, fungal or bacterial infections, allergies, stress, injury, or more rarely, by hormonal imbalances. Here are 10 skin conditions commonly found in felines:

  1. Abscess: A painful collection of pus at the site of a bite or puncture wound. Abscesses form a firm swelling that becomes soft with time and can rupture and spill out purulent discharge. Although most fight-related abscesses are found on a cat's forequarters or abdomen, they can sometimes appear near the tail if a cat is bitten while trying to flee. The best way to prevent abscesses is to keep your cat indoors.

  2. Ear Mites: If your cat is tilting and shaking her head, scratching at her ears, and has excessive brown or waxy material in her ear canal, she may have ear mites. This condition causes tremendous itching and irritation, and if left untreated can lead to bacterial infection. Ear mites are treated by applying ear drops that contain a mite-killing chemical and cleaning the ears with a cotton ball.

  3. Contact Dermatitis: Symptoms of this condition include red, itchy bumps and inflamed skin at the site of contact with a chemical or other irritant. It can also be caused by rubber or plastic food dishes. The best way to prevent contact dermatitis is to keep cats away from areas where chemicals are being used and to feed your cats with glass, stainless steel, or lead-free ceramic dishes.

  4. Feline Acne: In this condition, comedones (also known as blackheads) form on the underside of the chin and edges of the lips. This condition may be associated with plastic or rubber food and water dishes. In severe cases, antiseborrheic shampoos, such as those containing benzoyl peroxide (at a concentration of 3% or less), or benzoyl peroxide gels are used to break down the excess oils. Supplementation with Omega-3 or Omega-6 fatty acids may be beneficial, but check with your vet first.

  5. Flea Allergy Dermatitis: This is characterized by itchy pimple-like bumps that form over the base of the tail, back of the rear legs, and inner thighs. Although many cats can get fleas and not have any reaction, in sensitive cats it can take just one flea bite to cause hours or days of symptoms. The best way to prevent flea allergy dermatitis is with good flea control. "Spot-on" treatments sold at veterinarians' offices and reputable online outlets are typically the most effective, but there are a number of chemical-free methods that can be effective when used properly.

  6. Food Allergy Dermatitis: Some cats are very sensitive to certain ingredients or preservatives in their food. This sensitivity can result in severe itching over the head, neck and back, and swelling of the eyelids. It is often complicated by hair loss and oozing sores from constant scratching and biting. Treatment for this condition typically involves an elimination diet to see what ingredient(s) the cat is reacting to. Some vets may give steroid shots to ease the swelling and itching and give the skin a chance to heal from any damage.

  7. Psychogenic Alopecia: This is the thinning of the fur in a stripe down the back or on the abdomen caused by compulsive self-grooming. Compulsive grooming behavior is often caused by stress, so treatment involves minimizing the affected cat's stress level through use of feline pheromone diffusers, creating a calm environment, and redirecting the cat's nervous energy through play. In severe cases, vets may recommend a short course of anti-anxiety medication.

  8. Ringworm: This is a fungal infection that is highly contagious to other animals and to humans. Symptoms of ringworm include round patches that show central hair loss with a red ring at the periphery. In some cats, it only shows as broken hairs around the face and ears. Ringworm requires veterinary treatment with antifungal medications and extensive cleaning and sterilizing of the home.

  9. Stud Tail: This is caused by glands near the tail that excrete excessive oils. The result is a greasy, rancid-smelling waxy brown material at the top of the tail near the base. This condition is most often often found in un-neutered toms, but fixed males and females can get it, too. Treatment involves neutering if needed, and twice-daily washes with an antiseborrheic shampoo to break down excess oils.

  10. Sunburn: Cats with light-colored fur and hairless breeds such as the Sphynx are very prone to sunburn and should be kept out of direct sunlight between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. to reduce the risk of sunburn and minimize the long-term risk of developing skin cancers such as melanoma.

If you suspect your cat has a skin problem, examine the affected area, take note of the symptoms you see, and contact your vet. Any of these conditions, as well as unexplained nodules, bumps, or open sores on your cat, should be checked by your veterinarian for accurate diagnosis and treatment.

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