Feline Skin Conitions


Miliary Dermatitis And Flea Allergy

Miliary Dermatitis is a condition where tiny scabs develop anywhere on the cat’s body. The coat often becomes either greasy or dandruffy. The most common cause of miliary dermatitis is fleas although it can also be caused by food allergies and other skin parasites such as the Cheyletiella mite.

A cat with miliary dermatitis constantly grooms itself but also scratches, bites and licks causing damage to the skin. This is what causes the small crusts or scabs. Hair loss may occur usually on the rump and extending up the back or on the belly between the hind legs. Secondary bacterial and yeast infections are common in chronic cases and these create an unpleasant odor. Flea allergy dermatitis is a form of miliary dermatitis that occurs when a cat has an itchy, inflammatory response to flea saliva. Just one bite from one flea, once, can trigger flea allergy dermatitis. This is the most common allergy cats suffer from. In temperate climates, flea allergy dermatitis occurs most often in the summer and fall while in warmer climates it persists year round. (Cooler temperatures and low humidity inhibit flea development.)

Scab pattern helps diagnosis

The pattern of scabs suggests what the cause of miliary dermatitis is. Scabs along the midline of the back and around the neck suggest an allergy to fleas. Flea allergy dermatitis can also cause hair loss over the rump area, which then extends along the midline of the back, toward the neck. The skin in this area may be thickened, darker than usual, or irritated from chronic scratching and chewing. Miliary scabs associated with food allergies tend to concentrate over the head and tail regions. Food allergies can also lead to circular sores, mainly on the head, neck and shoulder regions. Food allergies, by the way, don’t usually cause diarrhoea in cats.

Prevention and treatment

Eliminate fleas, the most common cause of miliary dermatitis by using an efficent topical flea killer such as Frontline, Advantage or Stronghold. Treat the cat's environment with thorough vacuuming and sprays that stop flea eggs from developing. We may suggest a short course of cortisone to stop self-inflicted damage, or antibiotics to eliminate secondary bacterial or yeast infections.

The only long term treatment for flea allergy dermatitis is total flea control and not allowing one single flea to come in contact with your cat. Desensitizing shots do not seem to work well for controlling flea allergy dermatitis. If miliary dermatitis persists after fleas are completely eliminated consider food allergies. We will suggest a novel protein or low allergenic diet to be fed for at least six weeks. If, after three weeks the skin starts to improve then miliary dermatitis has been caused by diet.

Eosinophilic Granuloma Complex

Three inflammatory skin conditions in cats called eosinophilic ulcer, eosinophilic plaque and eosinophilic granuloma are grouped together as ‘esoinophilic granuloma complex’. Flea, food or environmental allergy plays a role in these skin conditions. The complicated name actually describes the problem. Eosinophils are white blood cells mobilised by the body's immune system to react to the presence of something foreign. When sent to a particular spot of skin, inflammation occurs. Normally they do their job then leave but sometimes they remain in the area for long periods and the inflammation develops into a lump or ‘granuloma’. If the lump occurs on the upper lip near a canine tooth it is called an eosinophilic or rodent ulcer. Although these look sensitive, they are not usually painful or itchy. The lesion starts off as a lump but can become ulcerated if the cat licks it a lot. Licking with the rough feline tongue causes more damage than the granuloma itself. Ulcerated, scaly eosinophilic plaques occur on the cat's stomach and inner thigh. Often seen in two to six year olds, these are made worse by constant licking. All of these conditions are probably an allergic response to something as yet unknown. There may be a genetic component and in most instances it can be very difficult to find a specific cause.

Prevention and treatment

Cats hospitalised in an insect-free environment rapidly improve with no other treatment. In a home environment, flea and other insect control together with a hypoallergenic diet are preventative measures although affected cats may need antibiotics and antihistamines but most of all corticosteroids to suppress the over-reaction of the immune system. We supplement a cat’s diet with essential fatty acids (EFAs) containing a combination of evening primrose oil and fish oil.


Ringworm is a fungal infection. The fungi feed on dead skin tissue and hair leaving round hairless lesions usually on the face, ears or paws. These are often reddened, scaly and inflamed although not necessarily itchy. Ringworm is transmitted either by direct contact with another infected animal or through contact with fungal spores that survive for months in carpets, bedding or grooming equipment. Lesions are visible around ten to 12 days after exposure to spores. Healthy adult cats have good resistance to ringworm but act as spore carriers. Young cats and kittens are more susceptible because their immune system hasn't fully developed. We diagnose ringworm by examining infected hairs with an ultraviolet light, microscope and culture.

Prevention and treatment

It is as important to decontaminate the cat’s environment as it is to treat affected cats with oral antifungal drugs and shampoos. Bleach diluted to 1:10 kills most spores. Steam cleaning carpets and furnishings is equally effective. Spores survive in vacuum cleaner bags and especially in bagless vacuum cleaners which should be cleaned with diluted bleach. Wash all bedding in very hot water and confine your cat to one room during treatment and decontamination.

Cat Fight Skin Abscesses

Skin abscesses, which are accumulations of pus often as a result of puncture wounds inflicted during real or mock cat fights, occur most frequently around the face or tail base. The small puncture allows bacteria through the skin and while the tiny wound heals quickly bacteria under the skin thrive and multiply. Three to five days later a soft painful swelling is felt. Infection into the bloodstream causes a fever, loss of appetite, lethargy, reluctance to play and sensitivity to touch. If a leg is affected you may notice a limp. Abscesses are common wherever there are multiple cats.

Prevention and treatment

Neutering male cats is the most effective method to reduce the incidence and severity of fights. Keeping your cat inside at night will also reduce fighting opportunities. After a cat fight, inspect for tell-tale painful areas or puncture wounds although punctures may be hard to find in thick hair. Concentrate your search around the head, neck and forelegs and around the base of the spine, feeling for matted tufts of hair at puncture sites. Small holes are significant.

A ruptured abscess discharges thick yellow foul smelling pus and the more that discharges the better. Almost invariably a cat feels immediately healthier and may even resume eating. Remove hair from the wound and bathe away any discharge with warm salty water or dilute hydrogen peroxide. If the abscess does not rupture within a day or two it is best to have it opened and drained by us. Antibiotic treatment given early to cats with bite wounds usually prevents abscesses and potentially expensive complications.

Solar Dermatitis And Skin Tumours

Sun worshipping cats with white non-pigmented areas of skin can suffer serious skin inflammation (solar dermatitis) especially to the ears and nose. If the cat is not protected from the sun, a squamous cell carcinoma can develop. This is a malignant tumour which spreads locally, destroying the surrounding tissue.

Prevention and treatment

If skin damage is minor keep your cat indoors during the sunniest part of the day. Some cats tolerate sunblock (SPF 30 or more) although most wash it off fairly quickly.

If a biopsy reveals a tumour we will surgically remove it together with a margin around it to prevent recurrence.

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