Cat itching due to skin condition

Key takeaway

Cat skin conditions can be the result of a number of underlying issues, such as mange, fleas, feline acne, and allergies. Depending on the root cause, these skin conditions can be treated with a combination of medication and preventative care.

Many cats struggle with a variety of skin conditions. A Cornell University Hospital for Animals study found that 22% of cats that presented to the dermatology department had evidence of two distinct skin diseases. An additional 6% had evidence of a third skin disease.1

Statistic regarding cat skin conditions from Cornell University Hospital for Animals

Cat skin conditions can range from mild irritations to serious bacterial infections, and it’s essential that you work with a veterinary professional to determine the appropriate course of treatment. A cat’s skin serves as the protective barrier that keeps your cat safe and comfortable as they explore the world around them.

In this post, we’ll explain how you can identify common cat skin issues and conditions and describe some of the most common treatment methods:

Signs and Symptoms of Cat Skin Conditions

Skin irritation may be the result of a variety of factors. You might notice redness, irritation, bumps, hives, scabs, blood, and lumps depending on the cause of the illness and your cat’s particular immune response. 

Some of the most common symptoms of a skin condition include:

  • Hair loss: You may notice excessive shedding, hairless or hair thinning patches, or even your cat scratching hair away from his or her body. Cats with skin conditions may also over-groom, causing larger patches of fur to fall away as they obsess over a particular patch of fur. 
  • Itching: Cats often start to scratch excessively when they develop skin conditions. A little bit of scratching is normal, but if you notice your cat scratching excessively, it may be a sign of a skin condition. 
  • Scabs: Cats, and especially outdoor cats, may naturally have scabs from small cuts they sustain while exploring their surroundings. However, excessive scabbing and scabbing that occurs in multiple parts of their bodies can be a sign of an underlying skin condition. Scabs often form after cats begin seriously scratching thusbreaking the skin. 
  • Sores, rashes, and red spots: These conditions usually precede scabs. If you notice your cat obsessively scratching, you may find that they have an open sore, bright red rash, or even red patches and bumps ( called miliary dermatitis). These are all symptoms of other underlying conditions, and if they persist, they should be looked at by a vet.
  • Oily fur and dandruff: Cats produce natural oils that protect their fur, but at a certain point, excess oil production can be a sign of a skin condition, especially when paired with dermatitis or other skin symptoms. Excess dander can also be a sign of dry skin caused by an underlying condition. 

Common Causes: Cat Skin Conditions

There are many possible causes of common cat skin conditions. If you notice worrying symptoms in your furry friend, it’s best to get them seen by a professional veterinarian. They can help you determine if your cat’s skin ailment is a result of:

  • Feline acne: Feline acne is common in cats. It usually presents as blackheads or bumps on the chin and under the lips. It can be triggered by environmental irritants and bacteria. 
  • Ticks and fleas: Fleas and ticks are parasites that are often causes of irritation in cats and dogs. Treating ticks and fleas is simple with the right set of medications, but untreated flea and tick bites can be highly irritating to cats. 
  • Mange: Mange is an inflammatory skin condition caused by many species of mites, some of which are undetectable to the naked eye and require the use of a microscope to identify. Mites reside in the skin and fur of cats, causing persistent scratching, puffiness, and hair loss around the face, eyelids, neck, and back. 
  • Ear mites: Ear mites are prevalent in cats, especially in kittens (which may have contracted them from their mother), but they can affect cats of any age. Excessive itching and scabbing around the ears are possible side effects. Ear mites can cause ear irritation, which can progress to a bacterial infection if left untreated.
  • Environmental allergies: In some cases, your cat may be allergic to something in his or her environment, like dust, pollen, other animals’ dander, mites, and other elements or agents he or she encountered if allowed to be outdoors.
  • Food allergies: In addition to reacting to environmental allergens, cats can also have allergic reactions to foods. Cats may be allergic to certain food proteins. It’s a good idea to consult with your vet to determine the source of allergies.
  • Alopecia (stress-induced): Cats can become stressed and lose fur due to excessive scratching. When your pet is anxious, his or her behavior alters, resulting in increased grooming, napping, and a depressed mood. Environmental changes can cause pets to get stressed, leading their fur to thin along the back and abdomen as a result of repeated licking.
  • Abscesses: Cuts, grazes, or bites from other animals can burgeon into significant skin problems. As a cat scratches at an itchy wound, her or she breaks the skin and irritates the healing area. Their strong claws can pierce the skin, causing additional open wounds through which germs can enter, resulting in pus-filled abscesses. 
  • Fungal infections: Skin conditions can be a result of fungal infections, like ringworm. Because ringworm is very infectious in people and other animals, it's critical to call your veterinarian as soon as possible if you see any of the symptoms. Ringworm on a cat's skin appears as a crusted lesion that is often associated with hairloss. 
  • Stud tail: Excessive oil excretion in your cat's tail might result in a bad-smelling, waxy material. Around the base of the tail, feline acne (blackheads) might form and the fur can become oily.
  • Endocrine dermatosis: Dandruff, itching, and dry fur or hair loss in cats can all be signs of an underlying skin problem caused by a hormone imbalance.

Graphic listing common cat skin conditions

The presence of one or more of these symptoms may indicate your cat is struggling with a skin condition. Consult with a licensed veterinarian who can rule out other causes of these symptoms and better pinpoint your cat’s ailment.

Treatment

Because feline skin conditions can be caused by such a diverse array of underlying diseases—or can simply be a minor, passing irritation—it’s important to get a professional opinion before administering any treatment. Providing the wrong treatment for your cat could result in worsening his or her condition, or leaving the true cause(s) of his or her condition untreated. 

Common treatments for cat skin issues and conditions include:

  • Flea medication
  • Tick preventatives
  • Antibiotics for bacterial infections
  • Anti-fungal medication
  • Topical treatments and ointments
  • Anti-itch balms and creams
  • Oral medication

In some instances, you may be directed to simply monitor your cat’s skin to determine whether the dermatitis is a minor, passing condition or something more serious. Whatever the situation, it’s always a good idea to document your cat’s symptoms. Take a few photos or a video to monitor how the symptoms progress before and after speaking to your vet.

Cat Skin Conditions: Frequently Asked Questions

Why does my cat have scabs all over his body?

There are many different reasons your cat may have small scabs. They may have gotten in a fight with another cat or other animal, they may have been obsessively scratching, or they could have a more serious underlying condition. If your cat’s scabs persist over a few weeks, it’s a good idea to talk to a licensed veterinarian. 

What does dermatitis look like on cats? 

Dermatitis can look like a number of different things in cats: bumps, lumps, rashes, sores, scabs, redness, and more. If you suspect your cat has a persistent dermatitis conditions, getting them the treatment they need is critical to ensure their health. 

Image of cat and owner bonding

Final Notes

Feline skin conditions can be effectively addressed, whether they are chronic allergy-related symptoms or related to an underlying hormone imbalance. We believe that your cat should be able to enjoy his or her life to the fullest, free of dermatitis, allergies, and itching.

We'll quickly connect you with a licensed veterinarian who can help you determine what's causing your pet's scabs, hives, or other symptoms. If your cat has an allergic response, medicine recommended by a Dutch-affiliated veterinarian may be the most convenient and cost-effective solution.

Your cat deserves a pain-free and itch-free life. With Dutch, you can figure out what's causing your cat’s skin condition and discover the most effective, science-backed treatment.

References

  1. “Feline Skin Diseases.” Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, 3 May 2019, https://www.vet.cornell.edu/departments-centers-and-institutes/cornell-feline-health-center/health-information/feline-health-topics/feline-skin-diseases.