Common Feline Skin Conditions
Like people, cats are prone to developing a number of skin conditions, caused by a variety of different factors. There are two main types of feline skin disorders; those that cause severe itching, and those that cause baldness. However, pinning down what exactly is causing any of these problems in your cat may be much more difficult than actually realizing what the problem is. As there are several potential causes for each type, extensive testing may have to be done in order to determine what exactly is causing your cat’s skin condition.
Baldness in felines is generally a bad sign, unless you own a Sphinx cat, which are naturally bald. While it is possible that the hair is falling out itself, there is also a very good chance that the cat is actually pulling and chewing out the hair on its own. Talk things over with your veterinarian and answer questions to the best of your ability in order to help determine the cause of your cat’s baldness. If you find that your cat is grooming itself far more than usual, and your veterinarian discovers broken hairs during the exam, it is very likely that your cat has been chewing out its fur.
One of the most common reasons that cats chew and pull out their own fur is due to allergies. Yes, our pets are just as susceptible to allergies as we are. Your cat could be allergic to fleas, which might be the case if fleas or flea dirt is discovered during their check up. However, even if no fleas are found, they could still be the source of your cat’s allergy. When fleas collect blood, they leave some of their saliva into the animal’s skin. Cats that are allergic to fleas would show a strong reaction to the saliva, even if they are bitten only once. This would cause severe itching, which would lead the cat to bite and pull at their fur.
Cats can also have severe food allergies. If this is the case, your cat may exhibit itching and scratching, scabs and crusts throughout their fur (miliary dermatitis), and self inflicted hair loss. While blood tests may be performed, they are often inconclusive when it comes to determining a food allergy. Sometimes the best thing to do in this case is to simply be very patient and experiment with your cat’s diet, introducing them to different proteins that they have not yet had. This could take anywhere from three to eight weeks to yield results.
“Atopy” or allergies to airborne substances such as pollen or dust are also common. This too can lead to hair loss based on the chewing out of hair, as well as crusts and scabs throughout the fur. Once again, blood tests can be used to attempt to determine what your cat is allergic to, but many dermatologists still feel that they can be very unreliable. Your cat can get something known as intradermal skin testing done; it’s basically just a fancy name for an allergy test. Tiny bits of allergenic substances are injected into the skin and the reaction is recorded, though the reactions can be very subtle and sometimes hard to determine in cats. For long term allergy control, it is often best to use a technique called hypo-sensitization, during which injects of amounts of the allergen are given; kind of like a vaccine. Cats can also receive corticosteroids, omega-3 fatty acids, and anti-histamines in order to help with this allergy.
But what happens if your cat doesn’t seem to have any allergies, but it’s clear that they’ve been pulling out their own hair? It’s possible that psychological issues such as stress, fear, or anxiety could be the culprit. Cats are extremely sensitive, and huge changes such as moving, a new pet, the loss of a family member, or a change to their environment can cause large amounts of stress and anxiety, leading to the excessive chewing and tearing of their hair. Cats often groom themselves in order to provide a sense of comfort, and when they need more comfort than usual, they may groom to the point of hair loss. This condition is called psychogenic alopecia, and Siamese, Abyssinian, Burmese, and Himalayan cats seem to be the most susceptible to it, due to their already high strung natures. Treatment for this would include attempting to remove the cause of stress from the cat’s life. If this is not an option, look into an anti-anxiety or anti-depression medication for your pet.
If it does not seem likely that your cat is pulling out its own hair, it is also possible that it may have a disease that is causing hair loss. Ringworm is the most common skin disease in cats, effecting younger, older, and long-haired cats more than others. Ringworm invades the hair shaft, causing the hair to fall out. Many cats become very itchy, and develop scaling, crusting, and redness. It is considered a “zoonotic” disease, which means that it can be transmitted to humans. To properly diagnose ringworm, a fungal culture is taken. Treatments can vary depending on the infection and type of cat, but most often it includes cutting the hair down, shampooing, providing medication, and decontaminating the environment.
Cats can also develop a type of “feline acne”. Just like people, cats can develop blackheads on their chin, lower lip, and face. This occurs when the sebaceous glands around the face become enlarged, which is often caused by your cat rubbing its face on the ground. It is doing this to activate its glands and produce an oily secretion, known as marking. Another cause of feline acne could be plastic pet bowls, as dirt and bacteria can build up in any scratches in them and infect your cat’s face. It is much safer to use metal food bowls, as they are easier to clean.
Skin conditions in cats are no laughing matter, and can often be a very serious detriment to your pet’s happiness. If their condition becomes a reoccurring issue, look into finding a pet dermatologist, or a feline behavioral specialist in order to more accurately help your cat with their particular problem.