Updated: Mar 8
Does your cat itch and scratch, rub and chew or spend hours over grooming and licking?! Read on to find out what could be the causes. Beware, cats are notorious for hiding illnesses and conditions so you need to be vigilant.
Signs of skin problems can vary depending on whats causing the skin condition. When you first notice a skin problem you should contact your vet for investigations so the correct treatment can be started.
What are the top skin conditions?
Fleas: Just like dogs, cats are prone to picking up these horrid little bugs, even house cats can get fleas. These bugs crawling over the skin can be irritating and their bites can trigger allergic reactions in some cats which can cause terrible scabbing and itching particularly around the head, neck and lower back .
If you suspect your cat has fleas use a flea comb and check over their coat. Fleas are more commonly found at the base of the ears and where tail meets the body. When using a flea comb you may pick up live fleas and will see them crawling, you may also pick up tiny black specks- flea dirt. If you place flea dirt on a damp tissue it will dissolve and turn red as is full of blood.
Cats can be very sensitive to flea treatments- NEVER USE A DOG FLEA TREATMENT ON A CAT. If your cat has fleas it is best to use a flea treatment prescribed by your vet. The flea eggs can survive up to a year in the environment so flea treatment should be repeated as directed- often monthly. If one pet has fleas you must treat all the animals in the house.
If you have a flea infestation on your cat if is really important to treat the environment too. Only 1% of the fleas are on the cat, the other 99% are living in the environment. Over the years I have found this house spray to be by far the best.
If your cat is really bothered with the fleas and skin is in a bad way your vet will likely give them steroids and antibiotics to relieve the discomfort..
Allergic skin reactions: Cats can develop allergies at any point in their life, They can be triggered by
a variety of things, for example dust mites, foods, grass, pollens, cleaning products, fleabites and the list goes on! If you suspect your cat has an allergy they should have a check up with their vet and you work together to see if you can determine the cause, this may involve further tests such as bloods, skin biopsies etc. Once the allergy is determined you can discuss the options for treatment. This could involve medication, change in diet or allergen avoidance.
Skin Lumps: Just like other animals and humans, cats can develop abnormal lumps on their skin. They can be a variety of shapes, sizes and textures. Any abnormal lump should be checked by a vet. The mass may be nothing to worry about, for example a wart or fatty lump but some lumps can be cancerous and should be removed.
Your vet will examine the mass and depending on the presentation and their thoughts may offer a biopsy or removal and then the lump can be sent to a lab for analysis and diagnosis be given. It can be very difficult and often impossible for a vet to diagnose the cause of a lump just from looking at it.
Skin infections: There are a number of causes of skin infections, they can be caused by bacteria and yeast. The cats will often over groom and lick their skin to relieve the itching, they can develop bald areas, the skin can weep and become scabby, smelly and sore. Your vet may prescribe antibiotics or medicated shampoos to help treat these infections.
Ringworm: This is the most common fungal infection in cats, it can cause itching and is most common in kittens. It can cause hair loss in a typically circular pattern, the skin can be scaly , particularly on the ears. This condition is contagious to people and other pets, treatment can include shampoos, topical medication or tablets.
Stress induced alopecia: When your cat is stressed this can cause behavioural changes and they may
start to over groom, the hair can become thin, particularly on the tummy area.
Removal of causes of stress can really help with this problem. Also plug in pheromones such as feliway can really help in resolving stress. If over grooming is causing severe hair loss and distress always get it checked by your vet to confirm that is what it is.
Abscesses: Commonly a result of cat fights, so occur more in outdoor cats, particularly if there is an entire male cat about the neighbourhood that likes a scuffle. Cats teeth and claws hold a vast array of nasty bacteria, after a fight you may notice a swelling, puncture wounds and pus. If your cat has an abscess it can be very sore and may be quite distressing for them. You should always make an appointment with your vet as they often require medication to clear them up.
Ear mites are small parasites that live in the ear canal more common in kittens, they live off the skin and wax in the ear. Signs of ear mites can be shaking the head, scratching, the ears can become red, inflamed and irritated. There will be a black dry discharge produced which can be quite smelly. Ear mites can be treated with prescribed ear drops or particular spot ons from your vet.
There are obviously many more causes of skin problems in cats but these are the ones I most commonly come across in practice. Skin conditions can become very distressing and painful, particularly if they become chronic. Just like with humans, some skin conditions cant be treated but need long term management. It is always best to get skin concerns checked out by your vet.