Different cat skin conditions explained

Posted by Nurse Whiskers. January 13th 2014.

Your cat’s skin is the largest organ of her body. Externally it covers everything including the lining deep inside the ear. Skin has many functions, including protecting body structures and organs from physical damage and infection.

Skin can suffer from wounds, trauma, parasites and allergic reactions, and can also be affected by diseases, such as allergies, hormonal and immune system problems. Skin is a complicated organ and diagnosis and treatment of problems can be lengthy and complex.

The large majority of skin problems in cats will be short term, self-limiting and easily resolved at home, often without needing a visit to the vet. These short term issues can be referred to as ‘acute’ conditions. However, some skin problems may last for months and potentially years. These are known as ‘chronic’ conditions and will always require a visit to the vet.

Although many ‘acute’ skin problems can be successfully managed at home, if after 72 hours homecare the problem does not seem to be getting better, then delay in seeing your vet could lead to that problem becoming ‘chronic’. Chronic problems last longer, cause more discomfort to your pet and are much more difficult to diagnose and treat.

scratching kitten

Diagnosing a skin problem on your cat

Skin conditions range from those that are simple to diagnose to those which are difficult.

If a condition is left unresolved and secondary problems such as an infection develops, then immediate treatment may be needed before further investigations on the underlying problem can start.

Your investigation at home should always start with ruling out the more simple, common and obvious problems first, e.g. parasites. This can be done by combing through the cats coat with a head lice comb. Do this over a sheet of paper and look for fleas/flea excrement or other parasites. This test is not 100% effective so if problems persist your vet can check for other parasites in the consult room with a skin scrape. Other consulting room tests may include tape strips for yeasts, the Woods lamp for ringworm.

Once the above issues have been ruled out, the problem can be investigated further by a veterinary examination, history taking and questioning you about your cat’s environment and lifestyle.

As an aid to diagnosis your vet may decide to trial treatments, one at a time to see how the pet responds. Other investigations may include blood tests for allergies or an underlying medical problem.

Finally and when all other appropriate routes are exhausted then skin biopsies may have to be taken, but as they often involve a general anaesthetic, are risky and costly.

Managing skin problems in cats

Simple management is often the best approach e.g. preventing the cat licking, scratching and rubbing and in the case of allergies, identifying and then avoiding the trigger. However this is not always possible e.g. with pollens and dust mites and so with these, treatment may be required.
In an allergic animal it is advisable to ensure that they are protected with good, prescription strength, flea treatments at all times. Modern flea treatments conveniently cover several parasites in one go.

There are many over the counter, internet pharmacy and vet prescription products to help manage and ease the skin problems e.g. shampoos, nutriceuticals and specialist diets. Many people find them very helpful alongside their vet’s advice, in keeping their cat’s skin problems under control.

Your vet will ensure that the use of prescription medications is kept to the minimum and that any underlying conditions are properly diagnosed in order to aid the cure or long term control.

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