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Cat Dermatology - More About Skin Issues In Cats

What is cat dermatology?

Dermatology is quite simply the study of the skin. Derm means skin, and -ology is the study of, so dermatology is a very broad term meaning something going on with the skin.

Dr. Chip Cooney
Animal Hospital of Statesville

How do skin conditions impact the health and wellbeing of my cat?

Skin conditions frequently are uncomfortable. Cats, being the groomers they are with these little sandpaper tongues they have, if they have a minor skin condition, they can turn it into a significant or severe skin condition in practically no time. They get focused on one of these things that are bothering them, and the next thing you know, there's a hairless area that's two by three inches. So it definitely affects their overall wellbeing.

For one, cats tend to visit the vet less, so they usually have worse teeth than dogs. People don't go smelling their cat's mouth or looking at them, so they've often got icky teeth, and then they have that tongue that will rip your skin off.

What are some of the signs and symptoms of skin issues in a cat?

Rashes, acne, we actually see acne in cats, believe it or not. It's kind of like people, accept a little different. It tends to be on the chin in cats. It's little blackheads that form. It's an inflammatory condition. It sounds crazy. How can my cat get acne? It's very similar to us, but primarily on the chin as little blackheads.

What is cat dermatitis?

Once again, derma is skin, and -itis is inflammation. So dermatitis is a very broad term, which is a little more specific than dermatology, meaning the skin's inflamed for some reason. Cats can definitely cause bald spots on their own, or we can have secondary problems like lumps and bumps, which are skin tumors, and itching. Cats are really bad about focusing on their itches. Cats are really good groomers, so we frequently have cats come in with skin issues that we feel confident are flea-related, but we can't find fleas, and many times it's because cats are such good groomers that they're grooming the fleas off, but the fleas are still causing the itch, which of course leads to tapeworms.

Skin discoloration is usually caused by chronic irritation. So if they're licking or scratching at a spot, it becomes pigmented, the melanin, which is just a secondary change.

Why is it important to avoid self-diagnosing my cat's skin condition?

I'll be honest; cats are hard. They're harder than dogs. They're difficult, and cats' skin issues can be much more severe than dogs. Especially tumors or bumps on cats, which tend to be much more aggressive than in dogs. I'd like to see cats even before dogs, if possible, just because they tend to be more focused, causing secondary problems. When they do have skin lumps and bumps, they tend to be worse.

Cats hide everything. If you don't notice them and if you're not really close to your cat and he's off doing stuff, they tend to hide things, and all of a sudden, it's bad, and you just notice it.

How soon should I bring my cat to the veterinarian if they have an issue with their skin?

I like to see cats as soon as possible with any lump or bump because, again, lumps and bumps in cats are very concerning. But anytime you see hair loss, redness, inflammation, bleeding, anything along that line is a good indication that the pet needs to come. Scratching is another thing. Those claws, especially the back claws upon their face, can cause a lot of problems in a hurry. So anything like that.

How will you, as a veterinarian, diagnose skin diseases in my cat?

Almost surely, the first thing we'll do is a tape prep, which is taking a piece of tape and running it over the surface of the skin, collecting some of the surface cells, then staining those and looking at them under the microscope to see if there's infection. That's always the first thing we check. Then we let that lead us. The clinical signs will lead us to what steps need to be taken next. Sometimes it's blood screening; sometimes it's skin scrapes, and sometimes it's a biopsy. There are lots of ways to go, depending on what's going on. I got that answer wrong because I know what I usually do before I do anything. That full exam, I went straight to the skin. Your cat's always going to get a full exam, but they get that for anything they come in for, not just for the skin. We always look for fleas. Fleas are a biggie. As I mentioned earlier, it's hard to find fleas on cats. They're such good groomers that they hide them very well.

What treatment options are typically recommended for cat dermatology issues?

It depends on the problem. Just like in dogs or just like in me or you, you've gotta diagnose the problem, and once we know what the problem is, we'll put forward the correct treatment. So if there's an infection, if it's bacterial, we'll be on antibiotics. If it's a fungus, we'll be on antifungals. If it's an immediate disease, we'll be on some type of immunosuppressive drug. It just depends on what we find.

Are feline dermatology problems curable?

In the vast majority, yes. In the vast majority of cases, yes. Some of them are not as curable as manageable. So most often, if we can't cure the cat, we can at least help manage the cat.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (704) 802-1280, you can email us, or you can reach out on social media. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can.

Cat Dermatology - FAQs

Dr. Chip Cooney
Animal Hospital of Statesville

Can all veterinarians diagnose skin conditions in my cat, or do I need to see a specialist?

Most veterinarians should be skilled enough to deal with most skin issues. Our veterinarians are highly skilled and can help you deal with the vast majority of skin issues in a cat. Very rarely will we have to refer a pet to a dermatologist. Although, those are available if we feel like we need to. I feel that skin issues seem to be a joint thing where you make the recommendations and give the plan, but it's really up to the owner to follow that plan and follow up with the medications. And that kind of goes to the point that skin issues are complicated and frequently time-consuming regarding treatment, which requires you guys to do some work at home. That's the hard part about skin. It's rarely me giving a shot that fixes it. It usually takes some continued care at home. That's labor-intensive sometimes.

Are there any skin conditions and cats that resolve on their own?

Just like you or me, minor abrasion or cut irritation that we may clean up will heal on it. We don't have to see a doctor for that. A cat's immune system may help a minor skin infection, but anything much more than that needs to be seen because if we don't deal with it soon, then it becomes a bigger and bigger problem until we're dealing with a major problem that's much more difficult to get under control.

I found that having had a lot of cats in my life, that one little claw that's punctured the skin can quickly become an abscess and get infected, and you don't know it until possibly the abscess is ruptured, and you're just shocked, or it gets really swollen and painful.

When do I need to see my veterinarian for my cat's skin condition?

If you see some swelling or an abscess. I tell people that anytime there's a hair loss, or if there's inflammation or bleeding, we need to take a look at that. As long as it's anything more than just a minor irritation, we need to take a look at things and, again, get this thing under control pretty quickly. The other thing with cats is anytime you see a lump or bump, we need to see it sooner rather than later. Cats do get skin tumors, and, unfortunately, they tend to get bad skin tumors. So the sooner we deal with those, the better off they'll be.

What should I expect from a cat dermatology exam?

Anytime your cat comes in, we're going to perform a full physical exam to make sure the overall health of the cat's good. We're going to check it for fleas to make sure that we don't have any fleas. Fleas can be difficult to find in cats, and sometimes we'll treat for fleas, even if we don't find them because cats are such good groomers. They groom the fleas off quickly. Yet the itch remains. Many times, we will take a skin sample to test for infection or fungus and then work from there. We let those things lead us to where else we may need to go.

Are there things I can do at home to help my cat avoid skin issues?

There are. One of the big things is keeping your cat nice and lean. How about that? Most people didn't think this was going to be a fat talk.

Cats are great groomers, as long as they can reach the spots to groom. If they groom, they tend to keep their skin nice and healthy. But when they get overweight, the hair, especially down the back, over their tailhead, they can't reach it. And if they can't reach it, it builds up and mats up, which leads to some really severe and nasty skin issues. Keeping your cat combed, if they'll allow it, would be great. Bathing cats, if your cat will allow it, it's fabulous. That's the rare cat who likes to have a bath, and I sure don't want you scratched or bitten trying to bathe your cat if they don't like it. Once again, cats are such good groomers that they don't need bathing as frequently as dogs. Also, keep fleas under control.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (704) 802-1280, you can email us, or you can reach out on social media. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can.

Cat Dermatology - FAQs 2

Dr. Chip Cooney
Animal Hospital of Statesville

What are some common skin conditions in cats?

We commonly see parasites in cats. Fleas are always a concern with cats. We also sometimes even will see ticks with cats. We see skin infections, fungal infections, and bacterial infections. Cats get abscesses very frequently. Food allergies are a problem with cats. There's a syndrome called an eosinophilic granuloma and eosinophilic plaque in cats. So there are lots of different things that we see with cats.

What causes those skin conditions in cats, like dermatitis?

Dermatitis is a general term that means the skin's inflamed. There are many things that cause inflammation, including the things we just talked about, infections, abscesses, ticks, fleas, all parasites, and allergies, those types of things. We see a fair amount of food allergies with cats that we have to deal with. We can definitely see some pollen atopy allergy issues with cats as well. A fungus, like ringworm, which is not a parasite, can also cause skin issues. It's a fungus that affects the skin and can cause hair loss and, unfortunately, can be given to you. We see bacterial infections on the skin as well. We have mentioned fleas already because they're such a common issue for us.

Why is my cat so itchy?

Unfortunately, that's not a question that can be easily answered without seeing the pet. When it's itchy and where it's itchy, both matter, and there are many things that cause itchiness. We really need to see the cat to kind of hone down and figure out why it's truly itching because most skin conditions and cats cause itchiness.

Can allergies cause itchy skin in my cat?

Yes. The allergies issue in cats is honestly not as bad as it is in dogs. We do see allergies and cats. We see more food allergies in cats than we do anything else, and that's a difficult syndrome to work through. It requires putting your cat on a special diet for an extended period of time, which can frequently be difficult because cats tend to be finicky eaters and don't want to eat it, and they won't eat it. And then what do you do?

Can anxiety or stress cause skin conditions in my cat?

It can. Cats are very temperamental, and they tend to be, as we have said, great groomers, but over-grooming can cause hair loss and secondary skin irritation, and secondary skin infection. One of the reasons that cats tend to overgrow is they're stressed. What stresses a cat, and what doesn't stress a cat? Everything. You name it. You change your furniture, the litter, there's a stray cat outside, there's a new dog in the neighborhood, and your mother-in-law comes over for the day. I mean, you name it; it can stress out a cat and cause them to lick. We definitely will see some of those cases, and then it's a matter of trying to determine what's causing the anxiety and then relieving it in some way or the other. Pheromones might be a help there. There are some diet changes we can do there. There are several things we can do to help.

Can a grooming product be causing skin conditions in my cat?

Grooming products possibly can. A lot of people don't use grooming products on their cats. If you're using an aloe and oatmeal type shampoo, we don't tend to see problems, but some of the other products, sure. We can. If you're using some type of a scented spray on your cat, something along that line, then sure. We can see sensitivity and contact dermatitis from that.

How can I care for my cat's skin at home?

The big thing is trying to keep the cat groomed, keeping them combed out, keeping them from getting matted, and then looking for lumps and bumps. It's the perfect opportunity to look for lumps and bumps as you're keeping your cat groomed. If you can bathe your cat, good for you. That's great. I have an almost 18-year-old cat. I've never bathed him and probably never will at this point. Cats tend to groom so well that they really don't need bathing nearly as much as dogs.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (704) 802-1280, you can email us, or you can reach out on social media. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can.

Cat Dermatology - FAQs 3

Dr. Chip Cooney
Animal Hospital of Statesville

What kind of skin cancers can cats get?

Cats get very similar skin cancers to what you and I can get. They can get melanomas, squamous cell carcinomas, mast cell tumors, and multiple different types of skin cancers.

What can I do to help prevent my cat from getting skin cancer?

With some of these, honestly, very little, but sun exposure in cats and people can lead to types of skin cancer. So keep your cat out of the sun as best you can. During the hours of 10 to four, keep them out of a window where the sun's beating in. For outdoor kitties, there's not a whole lot you can do. Just make sure they have some shade to be able to hide in if they like and protect the coats. Believe it or not, they make cat sunscreens. They are non-zinc oxide sunscreens. You have to be careful with what you put on a cat because they're going to groom it off anyway. And the zinc side can cause problems if they lick it down over any period of time. So if you want to use sunscreen on your cat, maybe on the ears where the hair is thin on the nose, you can do that.

Can cats use dog sunscreen, or is there cat-specific sunscreen they have to use?

There is a product labeled for cats to use, and that's what I'm going to have to recommend for you. Could you get by with the dog sunscreen if you have to? Yeah, I would say it's not going to make your cat start barking or anything. So I think you'd probably be okay.

How common is skin cancer in cats?

Skin cancer is fairly unusual, but any lump or bump in your cat needs to be checked. Cats and dogs both get different types of skin cancers, but cat skin cancer is substantially more aggressive than dogs. So any lump or bump in a cat I want to take a look at. We're going to aspirate it, try to get some cells from it, try to determine what it may be, and if it concerns us, because with skin cancer, the sooner we deal with it, the better.

What are the symptoms of skin cancer in cats?

As we just mentioned, you're normally going to see a lump or a bump. Sometimes they can get oozy and inflamed, scalier, crusty, or loose hair. Just a change in your cat's normal texture of their skin is a sign.

Are certain cat breeds more prone to skin cancer than others?

Some of the breeds, like a Siamese, are more prone. Breeds like the sphynx cat that doesn't have hair, obviously, are more prone.

But any cat is predisposed to this, and we don't see it as much in those breeds, but we don't see those breeds as much either. We usually see the regular old domestic with long, short, medium hair.

Can tumors in cats be removed?

That is the treatment of choice for tumors in cats. Once again, the sooner we deal with things, the better. For many reasons, the sooner we deal with them, the less chance they have to spread, the smaller they are, so the smaller amount of tissue has to be removed, and the better chance we have of getting it all. So again, that's why I was mentioning that with cats, the sooner we deal with these things, the better off we are.

Are skin tumors painful for cats?

They're probably a little uncomfortable. Most of us have had warts and things along that line, and they don't tend to be terribly painful. If they're red and inflamed and oozing, they're uncomfortable, but by large, most cats aren't going to complain about a lump or a bump.

They don't really complain about anything except something that just ticks them off. As you said, company, change in habits, or their food ball has a hole in the center, but they don't usually complain about not feeling well, or it takes a while to figure that out with cats.

Is skin cancer in cats a death sentence?

And skin cancer in cats is not a death sentence. It doesn't mean that, but it does mean that we want them in to deal with it as quickly as possible and help minimize any long-term issues we may have with it.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (704) 802-1280, you can email us, or you can reach out on social media. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can.

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