Cat itching irritated skin

Key takeaway

A cat’s skin may get irritated due to a variety of reasons. Underlying issues can include fleas, mange, feline acne, and allergies. If detected in time, these conditions can be treated through medications and other therapies.

Cats are prone to a variety of skin conditions. These can be slight irritations or become serious bacterial infections. The skin is the protective layer for the internal organs and tissue and is technically the largest organ. Therefore, damage to the skin can seriously lead to further complications and threats to the immune system. This is why it is a must to identify the causes of cat skin irritation before they get out of hand. 

In this article, we cover cat skin conditions, their causes, symptoms, and treatment in detail. We talk about:

Cat Skin Irritation: Symptoms 

So, how do you know if your cat has irritated skin? If you feel that your cat has been excessively scratching its body or licking or chewing its fur, this could be a sign that something is amiss. It is also possible for your itchy cat to develop redness, swelling, or feline skin rash. Increased fur loss and scabby, scaly, flaky skin should be causes for concern and indicate a serious underlying problem. Swollen, bumpy skin may be a sign of cat skin allergies.

Graphic with cat skin irritation symptoms

Why Is My Cat’s Skin Irritated?

Now that you know the signs and symptoms that indicate if your cat has a skin condition, it is time to answer further questions. Some questions that might come to your mind are:

  • My cat’s skin is red, what does this mean?
  • My cat is feeling itchy, and there are bumps on its body; what should I do? 
  • Is my cat flaking and looking scaly due to skin allergies?

These are only a few of the things that may pop into a cat parent’s mind if they see their cat facing skin problems. The answers to these questions are all different since irritated cat skin does not have a single underlying cause. The different factors responsible for cat skin irritation are:

Allergies

Similar to humans, cats can also face skin allergies. Atopic dermatitis and food allergies are common causes of irritated skin. Allergies may develop when the cat’s body responds negatively to certain substances that are not actually damaging to the body, like certain foods. 

Feline atopic dermatitis

Atopic dermatitis is a severe skin condition in which a cat faces extreme itchiness, redness, and even swelling. It can be caused by a variety of allergens. Some cats may be sensitive to airborne particles like pollen or dander, and dust. If left untreated, severe itchiness may cause cats to scratch and lick their body excessively. This, in turn, may result in sores, loss of fur, scaling, crusts, and inflammation which can get very painful.

Sometimes, allergens affect the nasal passages as well. This is called rhinitis. Moreover, 15% of cats that develop asthma are usually less than 5 years old. These allergies could be seasonal or non-seasonal and are widely known to affect purebreds more often than domestic cats with shorter fur. The sad part is that atopic dermatitis affects its victims for life. Regular veterinary check-ups and treatment plans are the only things that can help a cat with this condition.

The best possible treatment involves finding the actual allergens that trigger your cat’s symptoms. It is also a smart idea to2:

  • Control symptoms as soon as signs of itching appear
  • Maintain cat coat hygiene
  • Rule out flare factors such as fleas and secondary infections
  • Practice immunotherapy or get your cat allergy injections

However, it is important to note that flare-up treatment is very different from lifetime treatments used to keep the disease at bay.

Food allergies

A food allergy is as likely to happen as one caused by airborne particles. The signs and symptoms of both types of allergies are nearly the same, except for the fact that itchiness can vary with seasons. A cat with a food allergy may develop a few small crusty bumps or flat reddish skin with swelling, also known as eosinophilic plaques. Fur loss may also occur on either side of the body. Cats between the ages of 3 and 11 years may show symptoms of food allergies. Itching on the head or neck area is also fairly common.

 Graphic listing causes of cat skin irritation

Infection

Cat skin conditions may also be caused due to certain infections. These infections include ringworm, Cryptococcosis, and Coccidioidomycosis (Valley Fever).3

Ringworm

A certain type of fungus known as the dermatophyte can cause ringworm. Ringworm affects skin, hair, and claws. Symptoms of ringworm include bald, scaly, and crusty patches or tiny, itchy, solid bumps. A bad infection may cause larger bumps that look like open sores and can be painful.

Kittens and cats with longer fur are more prone to ringworm, but age, health, immune system, hygiene, and diet can also be factors that make or break the deal in this case. The fungus that causes ringworm only grows in dead skin and hair.

Ringworm infections can usually clear up on their own, but medical intervention can speed up healing. Ringworm can be spread to humans and other animals so treating it quickly decreases the risk of it spreading. Anti-fungal medication, medicated shampoos, and oral antifungal drugs are commonly used to treat ringworm.

Cryptococcosis

Cryptococcosis is a fungal disease that affects the respiratory system. It is widely known to affect the nasal cavity, but it can also affect the central nervous system, eyes, and skin. Affected skin is usually the one on the head and neck area. 

Symptoms of this condition include sneezing, bloody/clear/pus-filled discharge from the nose, polyp masses inside the nostril, swelling on the nose bridge and underneath the skin, and tiny skin bumps. Depression, behavioral changes, seizures, circling, numbing, and blindness are other symptoms that may appear if the central nervous system is affected.

This infection is caused due to inhaling spores or wound contamination. Antifungal treatments and even surgery may be required to remove lesions in some cases.

Coccidioidomycosis (Valley Fever)

Valley fever is not as common in cats and is usually caused by rain followed by drought and dust storms. Valley fever affects the respiratory system. Common symptoms include skin lesions with drainage, lumps, abscesses, fever, loss of appetite and weight, breathing difficulties, lameness, neurologic disorders, and eye defects.

Blood tests are used to diagnose this disease, and antifungal infections are prescribed for long periods. It is best to prevent the risk of this disease by keeping cats away from soil and dust.

Candidiasis

Candidiasis is a fungal disease that affects a cat’s mucous membranes and skin. It is caused by a yeast-like fungus. Although it rarely affects cats, it can cause upper respiratory diseases, eye lesions, lung and chest wall infections, intestinal diseases, and bladder infections. Injury to mucous membranes due to catheters, antibiotics, immunosuppressive drugs, and certain diseases cause candidiasis. Ointments, topical treatments, drugs, and injections are used to treat this infection.

Parasites

Fleas are the most common parasites that attack cats. Fleas are actually tiny insects that do not have wings and feed on animal blood. These blood-sucking parasites can cause skin irritation and anemia. They can also transfer diseases like tapeworm infections, bacterial infections, and typhus-like rickettsiae to the cat’s body.4

Fleas are contracted by cats through the environment and places like carpets, grass, and organic debris. Antibiotics are used to treat diseases transferred by fleas, while corticosteroids are used to treat flea dermatitis. It is important to clear flea manifestations on your pet and in its surroundings to actually stop fleas from hurting your pets.

Vet examining cat fur

Treating Cat Skin Irritation

As discussed earlier, various cat skin conditions require different kinds of medical help. For example, you need antifungals to kill off fungi and antibiotics to ward off bacteria. Therefore, visit your vet to devise the best possible treatment plan for your pet.

Cat Skin Irritation: Frequently Asked Questions

What causes skin irritation in cats?

Skin irritation in cats has a variety of causes that range from fungal infections to parasites and even skin allergies. Different kinds of skin conditions show different symptoms and require different treatments. Always make sure to visit a vet to discuss signs and symptoms that you notice. Get a suitable treatment plan and follow it regularly to help your cat.

How can I treat my cat’s irritated skin?

The primary cause behind your cat’s irritated skin might be different each time. It is best to let a qualified vet diagnose the condition and prescribe proper medication. 

What does dermatitis look like on cats?

Atopic dermatitis is a severe skin condition in which a cat faces extreme itchiness, redness, swelling, sores, fur loss, scaling, crusts, and inflammation. Nasal passages may also be affected and may cause abnormal nasal discharge.

Cat owner cuddling with cat

Final Notes

Cat skin irritation can be a cause of great concern, and there could be various underlying problems at play. All of these require different treatments, and it can be challenging to look after a cat that shows any skin irritation symptoms. This is where you can reach out to Dutch for help! 

Our expert vets can help you find the cause by looking at your cat’s symptoms in detail. Moreover, they can help you come up with the best, affordable treatment plan for your pet without having to leave your home. Plus, our telemedicine feature will allow you to get the necessary medicines delivered right to your doorstep!

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

  2. White, Stephen D., and Karen A. Moriello. “Allergies of Cats - Cat Owners.” Merck Veterinary Manual, Merck Veterinary Manual, 15 Dec. 2021, https://www.merckvetmanual.com/cat-owners/skin-disorders-of-cats/allergies-of-cats?query=cat+allergies

  3. Taboada, Joseph. “Fungal Infections in Cats - Cat Owners.” Merck Veterinary Manual, Merck Veterinary Manual, 15 Dec. 2021, https://www.merckvetmanual.com/cat-owners/disorders-affecting-multiple-body-systems-of-cats/fungal-infections-in-cats?query=bacterial+infection+cats

  4. Dryden, Michael W. “Fleas of Cats - Cat Owners.” Merck Veterinary Manual, Merck Veterinary Manual, 15 Dec. 2021, https://www.merckvetmanual.com/cat-owners/skin-disorders-of-cats/fleas-of-cats?query=fleas+cats