Skin problems are very common in cats and may be caused by parasites, allergies, bacterial or yeast infections, tumours and systemic illness. Your cat's skin can be pink or black depending on the pigments common to that breed or the individual genetic history. It should be free from crusting; itching, scaling, black/white spots, masses, or lumps, and infected or inflamed areas. The coat should be smooth and shiny with no broken hairs, bald patches or dandruff. Hair can be shed all year round, but it normally sheds the most in summer and autumn (moulting) - so you'll need to regularly groom the coat as well as invest in a good vacuum cleaner. Some breeds need regular grooming, especially long-haired breeds.
Dry skin in Cats
Your cat’s skin can be affected by your home environment. A high temperature can make your cat’s skin become dry and itchy. However, unless your cat is always scratching, dry skin is unlikely to be a major health issue. Consult your vet on how to improve your cat’s skin, and consider the quality of your cat’s food.
Parasitic skin disease in cats
Fleas, mites and ticks all commonly affect cats. See the separate section for more details on these specific skin complaints.
Skin Allergies in Cats
An allergic reaction can occur when a cat has been repeatedly exposed to a material - the allergen - that causes the reaction. This process involves the immune system producing antibodies which set in motion a series of events in the body that cause inflammatory substances to be released, which in turn cause itchiness. If your cat is exposed to allergens you will see it scratching and its skin will become inflamed. Lesions and skin infections may develop and hair loss may occur.
There are many substances that can act as allergens and cause a skin allergy – or allergic dermatitis. These include:
- • Inhaled allergens including moulds, pollens and house dust.
- • Flea allergies - the cat is allergic to the saliva in the fleabite.
- • Contact dermatitis - caused by skin exposure to an irritating substance, such as soaps, household and garden sprays or chemicals, flea collars, feathers or wool.
- • Food allergies - the cat is allergic to one of the proteins in her food.
Diagnosis of skin allergies
A visit to your vet will often be needed to diagnose the cause your cat’s skin allergy. When you visit, provide your vet with a complete history of your pet’s symptoms including the time of year that the allergic signs appear. Before determining the cause of your cat’s problem, your vet will want to consider many if not all of the above causes. In some instances the allergy may be due to a combination of some of these factors and reducing the impact of some or all of them will be taken into consideration in deciding on the best course of action for each individual pet. In severe cases, your vet may recommend skin testing to help pinpoint the exact cause of the allergic reaction.
If the cause of the skin complaint is a food source, your cat may also show signs of a gastrointestinal upset. In this event it’s important to consider your cat’s diet, and try to isolate what may be the cause. There is more on the subject here.
Treatment of skin allergies
Your vet may recommend a variety of treatments to help manage the skin allergy and relieve your cat’s symptoms. These include medical treatment, therapeutic diets and behavioural treatment. These may be used alone or in different combinations.Skin allergies can be very uncomfortable for your cat and can take a long time to resolve and often need long-term management. However, most conditions can be resolved and managed to give a satisfactory outcome, and a healthy and contented cat.