What Causes Dermatitis in Cats?

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There are so many different causes of dermatitis in cats. As a responsible pet owner, it’s important to know what exactly can cause feline dermatitis so that you can take the necessary steps to prevent it from happening to your cat. I once noticed that my cat was constantly kicking at her ears whenever she came inside. It was so severe that it seemed like she wasn’t even able to lie down for a nap without being interrupted by an annoying tickle. I started doing some research about possible causes for all that itching, and I learned a lot of surprising things!

First of all, you may be wondering, what causes dermatitis in cats in the first place? Cat dermatitis, or feline miliary dermatitis, describes a constant skin irritation that stems from an allergy. There are three types of allergens that trigger cat dermatitis: flea allergies, food allergies, and environmental allergies.

Anyone of these can result in cat dermatitis, which often presents as a skin rash, scabs, and excessive itching.

Dealing with dermatitis can be an incredibly uncomfortable experience for your cat.

what causes dermatitis in cats

By knowing the causes of dermatitis, you can effectively determine the specific risks in your home that could threaten your cat’s skin sensitivities.

There are also some telltale signs that can help you distinguish between a harmless tickle and a case of dermatitis.

Plus, there are a few things you can do to help treat dermatitis and alleviate your cat’s suffering if it’s already experiencing this bothersome issue.

What Causes Feline Dermatitis?

We all know how annoying a tickle can be. But imagine a constant tickle that just doesn’t go away, no matter how much you scratch at it.

Feline dermatitis is similar in that it is a constant annoyance that can distract to the point of hindering a cat’s ability to focus on other activities, like sleep, eating, grooming or play.

Referred to in medical terminology as feline miliary dermatitis, cat dermatitis is a single term used to describe an overall skin irritation that stems from an allergy. However, what makes dermatitis a little tricky to prevent is that it can be caused by a variety of different allergy triggers.

These triggers can be identified under three different categories: flea allergies, food allergies, and environmental allergies.

The first cause of feline dermatitis comes from a flea allergy.

The interesting thing about this is that the cat is not actually allergic to the fleas themselves. In fact, it is the saliva of the fleas that presents the allergy.

The flea saliva makes contact with the cat’s skin when the flea bites the skin.

The second cause of dermatitis in cats is linked with that of a food allergy.

There are many different types of food allergies, so the best way to determine if this is the cause of dermatitis is to rely on your veterinarian’s prescribed diet, which essentially eliminates certain proteins from the food in order to remove the ingredient causing the allergic reaction.

Dermatitis can also be caused by an environmental allergy.

Tanta allergy hair loss on lower back with scabs

Mold, pollen, grass, and wool are examples of things that can trigger an allergic reaction in cats with sensitive skin.

Not all cats will suffer from the same level of sensitivity to these triggers, and while one cat may experience no reaction from pollen, another may experience a severe case of dermatitis.

Tolerance of these environmental allergens varies from cat to cat.

Sensitivity to particular foods and environmental irritants can develop and change throughout a cat’s life.

This is great news for pet owners who witness a particular sensitivity go away with age.

However, it’s also important to recognize the potential for new allergic sensitivities to develop throughout a cat’s life.

The key message here is to always be observant regarding your cat’s behaviors, habits, and reactions.

If a new case of dermatitis seems to appear, remember that it can be caused by multiple triggers, making it a challenge to identify the particular problem in certain situations.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Cat Dermatitis?

I’m the first to complain when a little strand of stray hair tickles my face, so I can only imagine what it may be like for a cat to suffer from a persistent itch that simply doesn’t go away!

Being familiar with the common signs and symptoms of feline dermatitis can help you identify when your cat needs some skin help.

One way pet owners can recognize a case of cat dermatitis is by paying close attention to the cat’s behaviors.

Cats with dermatitis often display incessant licking or scratching of the infected area. If you notice that your cat is constantly itching at the same spot – especially if this itching is intense and aggressive – then take a closer look.

Many cases of feline dermatitis tend to start off as an itchy rash. The skin where the rash has developed is usually pink or red. It may also appear irregularly raised, with patchy or bumpy sections.

If your cat has long hair, the rash may not be noticeable at first, so take the time to push the hair back and inspect the skin more carefully.

I know from experience that trying to train a cat to stop messing with an itchy spot is entirely futile!

Unfortunately, there’s a good chance that a rash caused by dermatitis will turn into an area with little abrasions from all the licking, chewing and scratching that is generally unavoidable.

In some cases, the area can even develop small scabs.

While scabs are usually a sign that the skin is healing, the area is probably still itchy, meaning your cat may continue to get the urge to chew on it, causing the cycle of skin irritation to start all over again.

contact dermatitis in cats

Depending on when you catch the case of dermatitis, signs, and symptoms may be at any of these stages.

Plus, if you notice signs of a flea infestation in your cat’s fur, including dirt, mites, or dead fleas, then you may be able to determine the cause of dermatitis as a flea allergy.

What Are the Treatment Options for Cat Dermatitis?

Clinical treatment for cat dermatitis is centered on two goals:

1) alleviating the itchiness to make the cat more comfortable and

2) eliminating exposure to the responsible allergen. Determining the root cause of dermatitis can be extremely helpful in adopting the correct course of treatment.

When the dermatitis is caused by a flea allergy alone, the solution is pretty straightforward.

If you can get rid of the fleas, then dermatitis will most likely clear up without further treatment. A veterinarian can prescribe year-round flea medication to target this problem.

Medicated shampoos, dips and sprays are also available to resolve a pesky case of fleas.

In addition to containing formulas that kill and repel fleas, these treatments are often created with soothing elements, too, which can relieve some of the itchiness.

If the dermatitis is caused by a food allergy, then the best treatment option centers on identifying the particular ingredient triggering the allergy. A hypoallergenic food trial may be required to pinpoint the specific food that is causing a reaction.

Eliminating this food trigger can then be achieved by placing your cat on a specific diet designed to remove potential protein allergens. A veterinarian or trained pet dietician can assist you in developing an appropriate meal plan aimed at eliminating problematic ingredients.

Corticosteroid therapy is also a common tool that veterinarians rely on in cases of feline dermatitis. Corticosteroids are anti-inflammatory drugs that can help reduce itching.

This is often recommended in severe cases that find cats unable to leave the affected area alone while it heals.

Finally, in more severe cases of feline dermatitis, a specialist may suggest allergen-specific immunotherapy.

cat hunting in garden cat veteran
Notice this cat’s tail…

This involves allergy injections, and it is usually reserved for extreme cases that do not respond well to traditional courses of dermatitis treatment.

How Can I Relieve My Cat’s Itchy Skin?

Anyone who has witnessed their pet suffering from a serious issue can relate – you’d do almost anything to see your little friend find relief!

So if you’ve been wondering if there’s anything else you can do to make your cat feel better, then you’ll be happy to know that there are a few tips and tricks for combatting itchy skin.

In addition to seeking veterinarian attention, which often involves a corticosteroid treatment, some pet owners seek out additional things they can do at home to relieve itchy skin.

Many turn to herbal remedies, like chamomile rinses, which have been reported to help alleviate skin irritations.

Check out the herbal treatment options available at your local pet store, as there is an abundance of cat products to choose from.

Promoting overall skin health is another way to lessen the impact of an irritating itch. Supplements that support immune health and skin revitalization may help.

Essential fatty acids, including omega-3 and omega-6, can prevent dry skin and help alleviate itchiness. Antioxidants, including Vitamin E, can boost the immune system, which can also lessen the effects of skin irritation.

Finally, assist your cat in adopting healthy grooming habits. Some cats are naturally inclined to keep themselves clean, while others may need a little nudge.

If your cat seems to lack proper grooming habits, give her a hand by occasionally bathing her. Also, it’s important to remember not to over-bathe your cat, as this can cause her skin to dry out faster, which may lead to additional itchiness and irritation.

two cats kissing cat veteran
Cats will often “touch noses”

If your cat has itchy skin that has already developed into open abrasions or scabs, it’s not recommended to apply topical treatments at home.

For these cases, the best approach is to make an appointment with the vet and follow the personalized treatment plan recommended by an experienced professional who has closely inspected the degree of your cat’s symptoms.

Related Questions

What does cat dermatitis look like? Feline dermatitis generally starts as an itchy red rash. Commonly, it displays a pink or red bumpy appearance. Because this rash is very itchy, it usually develops into small lesions or scratches from itching or rubbing, which can eventually lead to the formation of small scabs on the skin.

Can cat dermatitis be prevented? While there are many things that can trigger feline dermatitis, providing adequate treatment for flea prevention can be one way to ensure that your cat doesn’t experience an outbreak of dermatitis stemming from a flea allergy.

Can you give Benadryl to cats for itchy skin? In many cases, Benadryl has been known to help alleviate common issues in pets, including cats with itchy skin. Correct dosage is key, and the recommended ratio measurement is one milligram of Benadryl per pound. However, confirm with your veterinarian that your cat is healthy enough for this sort of treatment and that no additional allergies exist.

How do you know if your cat has miliary dermatitis? Typically, a diagnosis of feline miliary dermatitis comes from observation of symptoms, such as excessive itching or skin scabbing, and medical history. In cases that are unsure, a veterinarian may also perform a clinical test, such as a biopsy, skin scraping sample, food trial or allergy test, in order to confirm or rule out other medical causes.






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