Coat and skin disorders in cats

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Coat and skin disorders in cats

Cats by nature keep their coat and skin healthy by grooming themselves. However, skin disorders can still affect them. Such problems are usually easy to spot, and will need prompt attention from a vet.
Coat and skin disorders in cats


Allergic skin conditions can occur when your cat’s immune system, which protects the body from infection, overreacts to a certain substance, such as a type of food, pollen, or parasite (see pp.52–3). Signs could include many of those listed in the box (left). In a reaction known as miliary dermatitis, the skin breaks out in little bumps, scabs, and crusts, usually along the back and at the base of the tail. This condition often progresses to weeping areas of infected skin that need to be treated with an extended course of antibiotics. The most common cause of allergic skin disease and miliary dermatitis is a hypersensitivity to fleas. Your vet will check for infestation by running a fine-toothed comb through your cat’s coat and may take skin scrapings for microscopic examination. If your vet suspects that your cat’s allergy is caused by certain foods, he or she may advise a hypoallergenic diet for a few weeks, and then gradually reintroduce the original diet to try to identify triggers. Treatment of allergies may include drugs such as corticosteroid or cyclosporine, or a course of desensitizing vaccine. Antihistamines or omega-3 fatty acids may also be helpful.


This fungal infection is highly contagious and can be transmitted to or from humans as well as between animals. In cats it may cause gray, scaly, crusty areas on the skin and patches of fur loss, commonly on the head, ears, back, or paws. However, there may be no signs at all, and ringworm may not be diagnosed until a person in contact with the cat develops an itchy skin lesion (the infection rarely causes itching in cats). To make a diagnosis, the vet will examine the cat’s hair using an ultraviolet lamp (Wood’s lamp). Areas of hair infected by ringworm sometimes, but not always, glow green. Your vet will also collect a sample of hairs for fungal culture. All other pets in your home should be tested as well. Ringworm is usually treated with an oral antifungal drug, coupled with an antifungal shampoo. The fungal spores can stay in your home for months, so you will need to disinfect or replace items such as grooming equipment and bedding, and thoroughly vacuum floors and furniture, carefully disposing of the vacuum’s contents. Long-haired cats may need to be clipped to reduce the risk of further contamination.

Cat bite abscess:

An abscess is a swelling filled with pus. Abscesses often result from fights with other cats because teeth may transmit infection into the wound. Your cat may be feverish, lose his appetite, and hide. If the swelling bursts, your cat will feel better. You will need to bathe the area with a teaspoonful of salt in a pint of water, and take the cat to the vet. If the abscess has not yet burst, the vet may lance it to release the pus. The vet will prescribe antibiotics for the infection, and advise you to keep cleaning the area until the abscess has healed.

Acne and stud tail:

Both of these conditions arise from overproduction of oily sebum from glands in the skin. Acne most often occurs on the chin; stud tail affects the base of the tail, resulting in a greasy, often matted, patch of fur. Stud tail mostly, but not exclusively, occurs in unneutered males. Generally, these are cosmetic conditions but sometimes an area becomes infected and needs treating with antibiotics. To improve tud tail, your vet may clip away the fur and prescribe a wash to reduce greasiness. If your cat is an unneutered male, the vet will recommend castration.

Skin growths:

If you find a lump on your cat, always have it investigated promptly. Your vet may take a sample of cells for analysis, either with a needle while your cat is conscious, or as a biopsy under a general anesthetic. If a serious problem for example, a cancerous growth is diagnosed, your vet will discuss the options with you. Unpigmented or light skin on areas such as ears, eyelids, lips, and nose is prone to skin cancer. If your cat develops ulcerated, crusty, or sore patches in these areas, have him examined by a vet as soon as possible. Treatment of skin cancer has the best chance of success when carried out at an early stage. As a preventive measure, you can use high-factor sunscreens that are specifically formulated for cats and resistant to washing and grooming.