Cats scratch and clean themselves all the time. You, as a normally distracted human being, probably don’t pay any more attention to their occasional itches than to their hairballs. But if you notice your animal companion is frequently scratching or continually grooming (in a neurotic, you’re-doing-this-too-much kind of way), it may be a sign that there’s a skin problem.
Just like people, cats can have sensitive skin. As you already know, your feline pal is adept at hiding his or her pain, so it’s important to know the signs of common cat skin issues. This guide is designed to help you recognize common cat skin issues and understand the possible causes.
Signs of Irritated Skin
When human skin is irritated, you know the signs—dry, scaly patches, red rashes, raised bumps, and itchiness. You also probably know the solutions, from lotions to topical balms to oral medications. Even though your kitty is covered in fur, they can be just as susceptible to skin problems, and they may present in similar ways.
When it comes to cats, signs of irritated skin may include:
- Obsessive grooming, including bald spots
- Biting their own skin
- Red patches on the skin
- Shaking their heads (which may indicate an ear issue)
In order to keep track of your cat’s skin health, be sure to brush their fur regularly, getting your eyes on areas that might usually hide under hair. Brushing also helps to distribute your cat’s natural skin oil, protecting against irritants that may cause dermatitis.
So you’ve been brushing your cat regularly, and you’ve noticed some skin problems. Next, let’s take a look at the common causes of red spots, overgrooming, and scratching.
Fleas and Mites
Mites and fleas are both small parasites that can affect cats and dogs. Even if your cat never goes outside, it’s possible they’re still at risk for fleas and mites (another pet can bring them into the house, as can any mice who may frequent your home).
Fleas love to prey on any and all warm-blooded mammals and hop a ride however they can. Mites, meanwhile, are microscope parasites that mostly affect the ears. Mites are most common in kittens, but they can affect cats of any age.
Symptoms of mites and fleas include:
- Itching and scratching
- Dry, red, or irritated patches
- In the case of ear mites, black or reddish discharge from the ears
Luckily, fleas and mites can be easily treated with topical medication or medicated shampoo. Consult your veterinarian for help if your cat has these symptoms.
We all have that friend with the gluten allergy or the sensitivity to polyester. In some cases, it’s your furry friend allergic to things in their environment. Just like humans, cats come into contact with hundreds of substances each day, and they may have an allergic reaction to anything from pollen to their food. Other allergens may include:
- Organic substances including grass, mold, etc.
- Cleaning products
- Cat litter
- Perfumes and other scented sprays
- Grooming products
If your cat has GI distress in addition to their skin conditions, an environmental allergen may be to blame. In addition, any unexplained rashes, skin lesions, or bumps could have allergies as the root cause. Start by identifying if your cat has seasonal skin issues, or if there is a more serious cause before treating the problem.
Teenagers aren’t the only mammals at risk for acne. Your furry friend can develop pimples, too. If your cat has small, pimple-like bumps around their chin, they may be suffering from cat acne.
Cat acne doesn’t always cause your cat pain or discomfort. In some cases, the blackheads don’t bother the cat at all. Luckily, treating cat acne can be easy if you discover the root of the cause.
However, cat acne can sometimes be traced to environmental allergies, including allergies to plastic bowls or reactions to the bacteria that build up on them. If your cat usually eats from a plastic bowl, try switching to a ceramic or metal bowl, and if that doesn’t do the trick, consult with your vet to rule out other allergies.
Check with your vet to find an appropriate course of treatment if your cat’s acne is causing them any discomfort or distress.
Acne isn’t the only skin ailment you may share with your cat: just like humans, cats can develop dry, flaky skin in the winter. Cats most commonly develop dandruff and dermatitis on their backs near their tails, and sometimes, their fur seems oily, too.
If your cat isn’t itchy and still has a healthy, shiny coat, dandruff may be nothing to worry about. However, it can also be tied to underlying issues (including allergies and parasites), so it’s worth checking out.
Cats can develop bald spots or shed excessively for a variety of reasons. These include:
- Improper diet/nutrition
While your cat may not seem bothered by their hair loss, it can be a sign of a deeper skin problem at play, so it’s always important to pay attention.
Treating Your Cat
As you can see from the above list, it’s often difficult to tie a cat’s skin condition to the direct cause. As you know, your cat may be good at hiding its discomfort, so be sure to keep a lookout for any skin conditions. Once you notice one, observe whether your cat is constantly scratching, biting, or grooming himself so you can share the appropriate information with your vet.
With many common cat skin issues, it’s simply a matter of soothing your pet’s rash or immediate symptoms. Try a topical treatment or medicated shampoo, and be sure to consult with a professional to make sure you nip any bigger issues in the bud.
- Cat Behavior Associates. Benefits of grooming your cat. https://www.catbehaviorassociates.com/health-benefits-of-grooming-your-cat/
- Purina. Cat skin Issues. https://www.purina.co.uk/cats/health-and-nutrition/symptoms-to-watch-out-for/cat-skin-problems
Dr. Melinda J. Mayfield-Davis, DVM, WCHP-AH, brings over 20 years of experience in veterinary medicine. She is the Technical Services Veterinarian with Innovacyn, Inc., parent company of Vetericyn Animal Wellness. She received her DVM from Oklahoma State University and now resides in Southeast Kansas with her husband, two children, four dogs, and six horses. Prior to working with Innovacyn, Dr. Mayfield owned and operated the Animal Care Center in Columbus, KS.