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The skin is the largest organ a body has and that goes for cats as well as humans. The skin can be directly affected by disease and parasites or it can display symptoms that are related to a disease in another body part. Here's a quick overview of feline skin conditions and what you can do to keep your cat's skin healthy and itch-free!

Symptoms of Skin Conditions in Cats

A cat's skin can display a variety of symptoms and then there are the skin-related behaviors such as biting the skin or scratching. Skin-related symptoms can indicate a skin problem but they can also indicate a more systemic issue. Skin symptoms include -
  • Constant scratching
  • Pulling out hair
  • Biting the skin
  • Excessive grooming
  • Red or swollen areas
  • Rash
  • Lumps, bumps or discoloration
  • Open sores
  • Dry, flaky skin or rough patches

Potential Causes of Common Skin Issues in Cats

Ringworm

Dry, red, scaly patches of skin and hair loss are signs of ringworm, a fungal infection. It can be transmitted not only to other pets (dogs and cats) but to humans as well so a trip to the vet is in order. Sometimes it’s hard to see the red spots so if the itchy behavior keeps up, head to the doctor just in case.

Read more about Ringworm In Cats

Cat Fleas

Either you’ll see the fleas when you part Kitty’s hair (easiest to see on the stomach and in the armpits) or you’ll see little black specks. Dampen them and if they turn a rusty red, it’s flea dirt. The redness is from Kitty’s blood that the flea has ingested. You’ll need to treat all areas Kitty’s been to avoid an infestation.

Read more about cat fleas

Skin and Ear Mites

Most common are ear mites which will cause head shaking and scratching around the ears and on the head in general. An ear infection and ear mites call for two different salves. A trip to the vet to get the proper medication will be necessary either way. If you wait for too long, there is likely to be some fur loss on the outer ear and the sides of the head, due to excessive scratching.

Read more about ear mites.

Skin mites are called Cheyletiella mites. They cause a skin infection commonly known as mange, often manifested in scaly patches on the skin and dandruff. This parasitic infection of the skin needs to be treated ASAP, as it's not only extremely uncomfortable but also very contagious.

Skin Allergies and Food allergies

Just like their humans, cats can be allergic to mold, tree pollen, or even grass. Notice when the problem occurs - seasonal weather changes, when the grass is cut, when flowers bloom or trees leaf. Allergens can be carried inside on your clothing and shoes.

Have you used wipes on Kitty’s fur or any kind of shampoo or grooming products? These can all irritate a cat's gentle skin. Only use products that were formulated specifically for cats, and if need be, switch to cat-formulated hypoallergenic products. It’s not just Kitty’s immediate world that can cause problems. If you changed fabric softeners, detergents, bought new pillows, sheets or rugs, Kitty may be reacting to the fibers or added chemicals used to make them stain proof or wrinkle resistant.

Food allergies can also be expressed in the form of skin irritation, scratching and bald patches. Any protein in the cat's food can trigger an allergy and no one knows why some cats develop the food allergies they have. Common allergens are chicken, beef or types of grain. Your vet needs to rule out other causes for irritated skin and work with you on food elimination trials to find the type of food Kitty is allergic to.

General Infections

Healthy cats normally do not develop skin infections but elderly, sick or very young cats can be susceptible to any form of bacterial, viral or parasitic infection. Skin irritation and infection can be a primary of secondary result.

Wrinkled cats, like the Sphinx or Rex, can develop yeast infections between the folds of skin. Medication will be needed to get rid of the yeast infection; after that, regular cleaning should keep the problem under control.

Stress-Related Skin Problems in Cats

Stress-induced behaviors can include hair pulling, licking and scratching, eventually to the point of breaking the skin or creating bald patches (alopecia). You need to treat the stress in order to allow the skin to heal.

Read more about stress in cats and how to deal with it.

General Suggestions for Preventing Skin Allergies and Disorders

Some cats are more prone than others to developing rashes and skin conditions. This is often related to allergies, stress, or both. Here are some general suggestions for helping these cats -
  • Vacuum regularly and throw away the bag immediately after. If fleas get into the house (on the dog, on your clothing), this will help you head the problem off before it starts. It also reduces dust and mites.
  • Brush Kitty on a regular basis. This lets you see any changes as they happen and prevents hair matts.
  • Feed a healthy food that has no coloring, filler or grain listed in the ingredients.
  • Provide a calm environment for Kitty. Added enrichment like a cat tree for climbing and jumping, a scratching post, hiding places, a soft bed, toys and people who play with Kitty all make Kitty’s life better - and yours too as a result.
Since skin problems can become serious trouble quickly, it’s always a good idea to check Kitty’s fur, skin, ears, eyes and teeth on a regular basis. Changes warrant a visit to the veterinarian sooner rather than later so Kitty’s not in the habit of chewing on her hair once the allergy is gone. Topical medications can usually solve the problem once it’s diagnosed. Never try to treat a sick cat at home without consulting with a veterinarian. You can easily do more harm than good.

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