Recognizing, Diagnosing, and Treating Cat Skin Conditions
It is perfectly natural for cats to itch, scratch, and spend time grooming themselves. In fact, many cat owners find it endearing to see their cats’ coats and skincare routines. However, it is important to recognize if these behaviors become abnormal or excessive, or if there are physical indicators that your cat may have a skin issue. As veterinarians, we see cat skin problems that range from mildly irritating to extremely painful and, unfortunately, cats are often far better at hiding and disguising their discomfort than they are at communicating their pain to you.
If you believe that your cat might be dealing with a skin condition, contact a local veterinarian to schedule a dermatological exam and get your cat the care he or she needs.
Some of the most common cat skin conditions are related to external parasites. These most commonly include ear mites, fleas, ticks, and scabies. Typically, the first thing a cat would develop is scratching. You may notice your cat shaking his or her head, scratching around the neck, or even developing scabs on the neck and body that you can feel. Certainly, there will be times that you may be able to see fleas, ticks, or other parasites on your cat, but these can often be difficult to identify.
The most common signs of cat skin problems are hair loss, scabs, and excessive scratching. Every cat sheds, grooms, and scratches an itch; an increase in these behaviors, however, may indicate a dermatological issue.
Food allergies are very rare in cats. However, it is important to understand that the ideal diet and nutritional requirements for a feline are quite different than those of humans. You can find a spectrum of nutritional recommendations among veterinarians, ranging from dry kibble and canned food to certain home-cooked foods and a raw meat diet. Most commonly, though, you will find that veterinarians recommend canned food as the primary diet for house cats and, out of convenience and perhaps cost, feeding your cat some kibble is perfectly fine. While food allergies in cats are quite uncommon, if you are following the accepted diet recommendations and signs of a possible food and/or cat skin allergy exist, your veterinarian may recommend a specific food trial.
The most important part of caring for your cat’s skin at home is selecting a good flea and parasite control, and there are some very effective flea control medications on the market today. The most highly regarded product on the market today is Bravecto by Merck. However, there are a lot of topical and oral medications available to keep your cat flea and tick-free. Make sure that your cat is examined by their veterinarian at least once per year to see how he or she is doing and to select the best flea, tick, and parasite prevention, depending on your situation. Other than that, cats do a tremendous job with self-grooming. It is exceedingly rare that a cat will allow you to bathe or groom them. This is why providing a high-quality parasite prevention product and nutrition, bringing cats to your veterinarian at least once per year for an exam, and monitoring their behavior are the best things you can do to ensure your pets are comfortable in their own skin.
There are many different techniques and procedures that a veterinarian may use to diagnose a feline dermatological condition. It starts with a good physical exam and evaluation of the cat’s history with parasites and skin issues. Fleas, ticks, and other parasites can introduce a variety of skin conditions both during and after an infestation. If lesions are present, your veterinarian may take samples of your cat’s fur, especially if there are concerns that ringworm may be a possibility. Your veterinarian may choose to take cytology - actually scraping some of the cells off of the cat’s skin - to be used to produce culture. Typically, checking for the presence of mites or other parasites, evaluating the cat’s skin history, and using skin cytology are the most common approaches to a clinical analysis in feline dermatology.
The good news for your cat is that there are a number of potential treatment options for feline skin problems. Parasite control is paramount in treating but, more importantly, preventing the development of cat skin problems. After the introduction of parasite prevention, your veterinarian may also recommend an antifungal or a corticosteroid. Cats tolerate those types of treatments very well and they can be very helpful in certain allergic skin conditions. Some cats have autoimmune skin issues, and medications exist to treat those as well.
The most important thing you can do to prevent your cat from developing skin issues is to see a veterinarian at least once a year and take his or her advice on the best parasite control for quality of life and skincare. Second, ensure that you are feeding your cat a healthy diet that provides for all nutritional requirements. Lastly, keep your cat indoors if it’s possible. There is no question that cats who primarily live indoors will have fewer skin issues than outdoor cats.
If you suspect your cat has a dermatologic issue, reach out to a veterinarian near you to prevent any further pain in your favorite furry feline.