If your cat’s coat isn’t as shiny and full as it once was, or they are losing hair and seem extremely itchy, they may be trying to tell you that something isn’t right with their skin. Here’s what you need to know about feline dermatitis and what to do about it.
What is feline dermatitis?
Generally, feline dermatitis is noted by a change in your cat’s skin such as scabbing and lesions, redness, dandruff, excessive grooming, pruritus or feeling extremely itchy, and alopecia or hair loss. It’s caused by some sort of irritant that is affecting your cat’s skin. However, feline dermatitis is really a broad topic that can be split into a few different causes.
Flea allergy dermatitis
The more common cause of feline dermatitis is fleas. Yes, the tiny little blood-sucking bugs that give us the heebie-jeebies. Many cats are allergic to the secretions they leave behind when they bite the skin. Flea allergy dermatitis is usually accompanied by small red bumps, loss of hair, and a lot of itching. The bites may seem more concentrated on the cat’s belly or rump. It can cause such bad irritation that it can lead to infection.
The easiest way to find if your cat has fleas is to look for “flea dirt,” as a substance that looks like dirt but is actually flea feces. You can check to see if the substance is flea dirt by pouring a little peroxide over it. If it is flea dirt, there should be a similar reaction as to when peroxide comes in contact with blood.
Good news, flea allergy dermatitis is easy to treat with a medicated dip if needed and some topical flea preventative. Seek veterinary care for the diagnosis and a plan with medications.
Autoimmune diseases can also cause feline dermatitis. An autoimmune disease is where the immune system is sent into overdrive, attacking the body’s own organs and cells – including the skin. Rare, but possible, the most common immune-mediated disease in cats is lupus. Lupus generally affects certain regions of the body such as the mouth and nose. If this is the case, your veterinarian will prescribe a specific medication for the disease.
Food Allergy Dermatitis
It seems that food allergies are just as common in our pets as it is in us. Food allergy dermatitis in cats is basically exactly what it sounds like, the cat is allergic to a specific food and is having a reaction to it. The best way to diagnose food allergy dermatitis is to sit down with your veterinarian and come up with a strict diet, eliminating specific ingredients in their diet. Treating food allergies is a bit more challenging as a cat must stick to a specific diet long term.
If a food allergy and flea bite allergy is ruled out, the next go-to would be atopic dermatitis which means the cat has an allergy to something in their environment. It could be something as simple as the laundry detergent in the house to seasonal allergies, especially if the cat has an outdoor lifestyle. Environmental allergies are easier to find especially if the symptoms come and go with the seasons.
If your cat has a rash or seems itchy, the best thing you can do is call your veterinarian for a diagnosis and proper treatment as feline dermatitis can have several types of causes and all require different treatments.