Cat scratching neck and head

Key takeaway

Cat dermatitis is an inflammation of the skin caused by fleas, food allergies, or environmental stimuli. Dermatitis typically manifests as itchiness and discomfort for your furry friend. Approaches to treatment include antibiotics, ointments, medicated baths, antihistamines, dietary changes, and allergen avoidance.

Cat Dermatitis: How You Can Help Your Itchy Cat

Has your cat been itching like crazy? Your furry friend may be struggling with cat dermatitis. This condition is an inflammation of the skin that can result in itchiness and discomfort, which can range from mild to severe. Luckily, it’s a very treatable condition with a wide range of available treatment options. 

To learn more about what cat dermatitis is, what causes it, and how it’s treated, read from start to finish. Or, if you’re interested in a particular section, feel free to skip to it using any of the links below. 

What Is Cat Dermatitis?

Dermatitis is a general term that describes inflammation or irritation of the skin. Thus, cat dermatitis—also known as feline dermatitis or feline miliary dermatitis—refers to the inflammation of a cat’s skin that may result in rashes, scabs, or other forms of irritation. 

If you’re wondering what dermatitis looks like on cats, it can present itself in a number of ways. Feline dermatitis commonly appears as clusters of small red bumps or as a rash. As your cat scratches the irritated areas, this can lead to scabs, lesions, and bald patches. 

Cat dermatitis can stem from a variety of causes. In general, feline dermatitis results from an allergic reaction to food or indicates the presence of fleas. However, there are a number of other environmental factors that can cause feline dermatitis as well.

If your cat has been showing signs of feline dermatitis, you should take action as soon as possible. Feline dermatitis can cause your cat to feel very itchy and uncomfortable. Additionally, when dealing with cat dermatitis, a simple rash can quickly turn into scabs, lesions, and pustules. If your cat’s skin does form lesions and pustules, oral medication is generally the next course of action for treatment. 

Signs and Symptoms of Feline Dermatitis

In order to spot feline dermatitis early, you have to know which signs and symptoms to look for. Feline dermatitis is a general term that broadly refers to skin inflammation affecting your cat, so symptoms can present themselves in a variety of ways.  

Six symptoms of cat dermatitis

Cats that are suffering from feline dermatitis may show symptoms such as: 

  • Continuous itching or scratching 
  • Noticeable hair loss
  • Lesions or patches of small bumps on the skin (especially on the head, neck, and back)
  • Redness, swelling, or hardening of a patch of skin 
  • Barbering (hair pulling)
  • Raw skin as a result of persistent scratching 

When it comes to feline dermatitis, it’s important to keep in mind that the symptoms may not always present themselves in obvious ways. Rashes, redness, and bumps can easily be concealed by your cat’s hair. Thus, it’s important to keep an eye on your cat and stay up-to-date with veterinary visits. If you notice that your cat is scratching itself more often than usual, consider using a flea comb or running your fingers through their coat to scan for signs of feline dermatitis. 

Causes of Cat Dermatitis

Cat dermatitis can result from a number of different conditions. However, the following are the three most common causes of feline dermatitis: 

Common causes of cat dermatitis: fleas, food, environmental factors
  • Fleas: Some cats are particularly sensitive to flea bites. If your cat has fleas, the flea bites can contribute to feline dermatitis. In this case, an effective flea treatment will be required (note: many OTC flea products are not actually effective enough to prevent these skin flare ups). Keep in mind, when one pet in your household is being treated for fleas, all pets must follow suit. It is recommended that all household pets be on an effective treatment for a minimum of 3 months.
  • Food allergies: Cat dermatitis can also develop as the result of a food allergy. Oftentimes, small bumps and rashes will appear on your cat’s head and neck areas if the dermatitis is due to a food allergy. In this case, identifying the relevant allergen and removing it from your cat’s diet by using an elimination diet can help to soothe the symptoms of feline dermatitis. Elimination diets aim to identify food intolerances and allergies by adhering to either a novel protein diet or a hydrolyzed diet. Novel protein diets work by incorporating new, rare proteins (i.e. rabbit or kangaroo) into your cat’s diet to see how they react. Novel diets can be an effective route for identifying allergens, but they require a thorough understanding of what ingredients your pet has been exposed to already. Hydrolyzed diets, on the other hand, can be prescribed by a veterinary professional and are often more effective. Hydrolyzed diets break down common ingredients (i.e. chicken, fish, soy) into very small pieces to make potential allergens more easily digestible for your pet and less reactive to their immune system. Prescribed hydrolyzed diets typically run for a diet trial period between 8 and 12 weeks.1
  • Environmental factors: An array of environmental factors can spark an episode of feline dermatitis in your cat. For instance, if your cat is inhaling allergens in the surrounding environment, this can be a contributing factor in a case of feline dermatitis. Environmental allergies are difficult to treat, however, by using HEPA air filters, keeping your pet indoors, and working with your vet, allergens can be identified and managed with a prescribed treatment plan.

The above list represents the three most common causes of feline dermatitis. Yet, these are not the only causes of feline dermatitis. Other factors that can lead to a case of feline dermatitis include: 

  • Adverse reaction to drug or medicine
  • Poor diet
  • Mites 
  • Ringworm
  • Bacterial infections
  • Hormone disorders 
  • Immune disorder 

If there’s no obvious cause for your cat’s dermatitis, a veterinarian may be able to help you narrow down the possible culprits. With Dutch, you can quickly schedule a telehealth visit with a qualified veterinarian, who can help you get to the bottom of your cat’s dermatitis and recommend a customized treatment plan. 

How Is Cat Dermatitis Diagnosed?

A veterinarian can diagnose a case of feline dermatitis by looking for common symptoms and reviewing the cat’s medical history. From there, a veterinarian can recommend a treatment plan that addresses the root cause of feline dermatitis. If fleas are present, then flea medicine will likely be administered. On the other hand, if your cat has a known food allergy, a dietary change may be recommended. 

If initial treatment doesn’t have a significant effect on your cat’s dermatitis, then a veterinarian may conduct other tests to determine a more conclusive diagnosis. Some of these tests may include:

  • Biopsies 
  • Skin swabs
  • Skin scrapings
  • Fur plucks 
  • Allergen-specific immunoglobulin E (IgE) testing 
  • Elimination diet trial 
  • Fecal analysis

How to Treat Dermatitis in Cats

As far as treatment for cat dermatitis is concerned, there are a wide range of options available. The best treatment option for your cat will typically vary depending on his or her needs. However, the most effective treatments aim to directly eliminate the source of feline dermatitis, whether it’s fleas, a particular food, or some other allergen that’s irritating your cat’s skin. 

Image shows three ways to treat cat dermatitis: eliminate allergen, treat injuries caused by itching and scratching, and avoid allergens in the future

Beyond removing the agent causing dermatitis in your cat, steps must be taken to remedy any injuries that may have occurred as a result of the condition.

In any case, there are many different cat dermatitis treatment options available. Some possible treatment options for your cat may include: 

  • Antibiotics: Antibiotics can fight infections in cats by preventing the growth of harmful bacteria or by killing it off entirely. 
  • Corticosteroids: Oral and injectable steroids can help reduce swelling and inflammation, thereby lowering the negative impact of severe dermatitis in cats. 
  • Antihistamines: If your cat’s dermatitis stems from a particular allergen in the environment, antihistamines can provide relief from allergic reactions. 
  • Topical ointments: Some topical ointments can soothe irritated or inflamed areas on your cat’s skin. 
  • Medicated shampoo: A medicated shampoo can potentially soothe inflamed areas on your cat’s skin and provide relief from itchiness and discomfort. 
  • Dietary supplements: Fatty acid supplements and other dietary adjustments may help your cat avoid contracting feline dermatitis due to a food allergy. 

Not sure which treatment option is right for your cat? Dutch.com can connect you with a veterinarian that can assist you in narrowing down options. Schedule an online visit today and get started in building a custom treatment plan that effectively addresses your cat’s feline dermatitis. 

Cat Dermatitis: Frequently Asked Questions

Noticing the signs and symptoms of feline dermatitis can leave pet owners with a lot of questions. To help you navigate treatment and next steps, we’ve answered some frequently asked questions below.

How can I tell if my cat has dermatitis?

There are a number of signs that may indicate your cat has dermatitis. Primary symptoms include inflamed skin and clusters of small bumps around the head, neck, and back areas. If you notice that your cat is itching and scratching unusually often, this can also be a sign of feline dermatitis. Excessive scratching can lead to hair loss, scabs, and lesions on your cat. 

Why does my cat have scabs? 

Feline dermatitis can lead to scabs, as your cat may scratch any irritated areas to the point of bleeding. However, it’s hard to give a definitive answer as to why your cat has scabs without knowing more information. Scabs can point to a range of health problems, which is why it’s a good idea to consult with a veterinarian and get their opinion. 

Is dermatitis in cats painful?

Mild cases of feline dermatitis can be uncomfortable but not necessarily painful. At the same time, untreated feline dermatitis can lead to infection, lesions, and further irritation, all of which can be painful. 

Is cat dermatitis curable? 

With proper treatment, cat dermatitis can typically be taken care of with little trouble. Once the source of irritation is identified and removed, the condition is usually resolved fairly easily. However, if the root cause is due to an underlying allergy, you will need to monitor for flare-ups as allergies can only be managed, not cured outright.

 

Owner scratching cat’s chin

Final Notes: Treating Your Cat’s Dermatitis

Feline dermatitis can cause problems for your cat. In addition to itchiness and irritation, the condition can lead to more serious health issues if left untreated. That’s why you should take action and seek treatment for your cat’s dermatitis. 

When you use Dutch, you can consult with a qualified veterinarian without having to leave your home. Simply schedule an online visit and receive a customized treatment plan from an expert. Best of all, we’re the only company to deliver prescriptions straight to your doorstep. Get started today to make sure your pet gets the specialized treatment they need. 

References

  1. McNabb, Melissa, Reyes, Mariana, Gibson, Jordan, and Merriam, Kelsey. “Let’s Break It Down: Hypoallergenic Protein Diets.” NC State Veterinary Hospital. https://cvm.ncsu.edu/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/Hydrolyzed-Diet-Brochure-FINAL-1.pdf