Home


Care and Treatment of Cat Skin Problems

"There is a long list of potential cat skin problems, with diagnosis started by eliminating the most obvious or common causes such as flea allergy or atopic dermatitis (seasonal allergy). During a physical examination, Veterinarians will first try and classify the skin problem based on its appearance. A vet will be able to immediately spot issues such as fleas. If the answer isn't obvious, the vet will take a skin scraping to check for mites, a skin cytology (examination under a microscope) to check for any cat skin infection, and a fungal culture for ringworm, which takes 2 to 3 weeks to get results. If parasites are suspected, a parasiticide will be recommended . If these tests do not indicate the cause, a vet will start to suspect food allergy or will take a skin biopsy/sample for additional diagnostic lab tests. Cats that are able to absorb nutrients from a quality diet usually do not suffer from a cat skin food allergy. Cat skin lumps and bumps or lesions (problem area on the skin) tend to fall into certain broad categories, which helps with the diagnosis (see pictures below). If multiple cats in the household are suffering from similar problems, then a contagious disease will be considered. Treatment is ultimately based on identifying the underlying cause of the cat skin condition. Mild conditions with just itch or flaking can be treated at home. If you see additional symptoms such as hair loss, behavior change, fever, pus or oozing lesions, see your veterinarian."

Where to Start Investigating Cat Skin Problems

When investigating cat skin problems, start with simple explanations and then move to those that require veterinary tests (although it never hurts to visit your vet). For mild cat skin itch and flaking with no other symptoms such as pus or oozing lesions, fever or significant hair loss, try a mild non-medicated shampoo or waterless bath wash (see below for recommendations).

In terms of a cause, first suspect fleas, even if you don't find any, as an early flea infestation is hard to spot and can cause problems. Cat flea symptoms include red areas, scabs and cat hair loss. When checking for cat fleas, pay attention to areas of the body such as the spine, neck and under the chin.  For fleas, you'll need to eliminate them from your cat via a herbal treatment (see below), and then use a preventative such as Frontline Plus.

If fleas are not the problem, you can try one of the medicated shampoos mentioned below.  If the condition worsens, hair loss continues, you see changes in behavior, other symptoms such as pus filled pimples etc, then visit the veterinarian for some preliminary tests and evaluation (see below for tips on diagnosis).  

Be sure to always check your cat for any skin lumps, bumps, scabs, red skin areas, or anything that looks abnormal.

To get an idea of what could be troubling your cat, review the pictures below, and click on the related links to learn more.  Try searching our site and looking at the bottom of this page for questions submitted by readers that are similar to your concern.  Each question was answered by our veterinarian. Also you can ask our veterinarian a question here about cat skin problems and receive a response for free.  We receive many questions, so if you need immediate help, you can try this online veterinary service that has vets available 24 hours a day.

Why It's Difficult to Recognize Cat Skin Problems

Unlike dogs, which tend to scratch at skin problems, cats are more likely to lick problem areas.  This isn't that different than ordinary grooming behaviors. Instead, you'll need to look for the following signs of cat skin disease:

Pictures and Descriptions of Common Cat Skin Problems 

Use these pictures of descriptions of cat skin problems to identify or eliminate possible feline skin diseases.

Macule: A macule is a area of the skin where there is a change in color. Common causes are some type of inflammation or injury.

pciture of macule Picture of Macule on Cat Nose

Papule: A papule is a type of lesion that is elevated. If it is large it is called plaque. This type of cell inflammation is commonly called a neoplasm (which refers to any type of cells, not just papules). A bigger papule is called plaque. A neoplasm can be benign (not cancer) or malignant (cancerous that spreads).

picture of papule Picture of Cat Skin Papule

Postule: A postule is an area on the skin that is filled with pus. Pus is caused by white blood cells that are sent to kill a foreign invader such as bacteria or a fungus. The dead cells create a lump on the skin called a postule.

postule Picture of Cat Skin Postule

Vesicle: This is a lump underneath the skin that is filled with an unusual amount of fluid (called edema).

vesicle Picture of cat skin vesicle

Wheal: A wheal is a raised area that tends to heal by itself in minutes or hours. It is an area with increased redness or has a pale color when compared to surrounding areas. It is also referred to as a cat hive with symptoms such as severe itching. Common causes include certain foods or drugs, infection, insect bites or allergy.

cat skin picture wheal Picture of cat skin wheal (hives, insect bites)

Nodule: A nodule is a larger elevated bump on the skin. Causes include an abnormal cell growth (neoplasm that is benign or malignant). It can also be caused by bacterial or fungal infection.

picture of cat skin nodule Picture of cat skin nodule

Tumor: A tumor is a large tissue mass. It is caused by abnormal cell growth (neoplasm that is benign or malignant) or due to some type of inflammation.

picture of cat tumor Picture of cat tumor

Feline Miliary Dermatitis: Collection of small bumps in a red areas of skin. There are multiple causes.

Picture of Cat Skin Bumps and Lumps Picture of Cat Miliary Dermatitis

Types of Cat Skin Problems


If you can't match one of the picture, try continuing your investigation by clicking the links below that best match the cat skin symptoms, or what you believe is causing the cat skin problems.

  • Cat skin cysts - these are usually benign (non-cancerous) lumps under the skin that can be found anywhere on your cats body.  Feline cysts are often drained and removed if they are making a cat uncomfortable.  Secondary complications include infection.

  • Cat skin warts - these are benign (non-cancerous) bumps on the skin

  • Cat Skin Cancer

  • Cat Skin Rash

  • Dry Skin

  • Diabetic Dermatitis (red skin inflammation)

  • Feline Skin Allergies Symptoms such as hair loss and skin dermatitis (inflammation) seen in the back half of the body, and on back legs. Can also be generalized or all over. Cause by either atopy (allergens in the air such as pollen, called atopic dermatitis), or food allergy.

    Cat atopic dermatitis in particular is the second most common cause of feline skin conditions after flea allergy (see below). Symptoms are similar to flea allergy so if you cat has been on a flea preventative, then atopy should be the next area to investigate. The condition is usually treated with a prescription steroid such as the medication prednisolone.  If any skin rubbing resulted in infection, then antibiotics will be prescribed as well.

    cat skin problems atopy
    Cat Skin Problems can be caused by Atopy, which are inhaled seasonal allergies can cause hair loss on body (rear leg) as shown above
    Source: Dermatology for the Small Animal Practitioner (Mueller)

    cat food allergy
    Food allergy dermatitis in a cat
    From the collection of Dr. Barbara Stein, Washington State University
    cat skin food allergy
    Cat Skin Food Allergy Dermatitis
    Source: Washington State University, Dr. Candace Sousa, DABVP, DACVD
    Senior Veterinary Specialist, Veterinary Specialist Team
    Pfizer Animal Health

  • Fleas: Cat flea allergy dermatitis (also called flea bite hypersensitivity) is the most common cat skin problems.  It is more difficult to diagnose in cats than dogs.  There is a wide variety of cat flea allergy symptoms, including the use of their teeth and tongues to scratch the skin. Often, cat owners believe that this is over grooming when in fact a cat is suffering from a flea allergy.  Another sign of cat flea allergy is when a cat licks the belly until a hairless spot forms.  If the feline flea allergy dermatitis is severe, the cat may chew a stripe of fur away from the spine and shoulder down to the rear.  

    cat flea
    Cat Skin Problems or Plaques caused by Flea Allergy
    Source: Washington State University

    Miliary dermatitis refers to cat skin problems where scabbing lesions form in areas under the chin and neck.

    cat miliary dermatitis
    Cat Miliary Dermatitis

    Even a few cat fleas can result in skin problems on the back half of the body, or all over the body.  Problems are also often seen above the tail.  It can be difficult to find the fleas since cat fur is thick and fleas tend to hide near the skin.  Even if your cat stays indoors, fleas can be brought into the house on your shoes, or the shoes of your visitors. They can also be spread by other pets.  This is why all cats and pets in a home need to be on flea preventatives such as Frontline Plus® and Advantage®. Avoid off-brand products such as Pet -Armor®. Even though these have the same active ingredient as Frontline, the concentrations could be delivered in a different medium and therefore possibly be less effective (ask your veterinarian for the best product to use for your cat).

    Treatment includes killing all fleas, and then using a flea preventative. During recovery, improve hair condition with a homeopathic (see bottom of page) and Omega Fish Oil Supplements.

  • Mites (mange, scabies)

  • Feline Skin Infection
  • Symptoms of Feline Skin Disorders

    Symptoms of feline skin problems include:

    Diagnosis of Cat Skin Problems

    Your vet will examine your cat’s skin carefully as part of a complete examination. In order to properly diagnose any cats skin problems in the following order:

    1. Physical Examination: Some types of cat skin disease such as fleas are immediately identifiable by your vet. such as fleas.
    2. Skin Cytology Tests: The next most likely cause is a cat skin infection caused by bacteria.  Cytology tests are used to examine skin cells in order to confirm this specific diagnosis.
    3. Fungal Culture Test: This test is used to detect fungal infections such as cat ringworm. Results take 2 to 3 weeks, so the test is often given at the first office visit just in case.  A special lamp called a Woods Lamp is also used as an in-office diagnostic test for certain types of cat fungal skin infections.

      If the fungal culture is negative, then most vets will conduct additional tests such as:

    4. Skin biopsy: These tests look for problems such as cat skin cancer.  In this test, a needle is used to remove cells from a lump to be examined by a pathologist. This can determine if a lump is cancerous or if it is just a cyst or wart.
    5. Food Trial: Food allergy is a common cause of allergy in cats.  If this cause is suspected, then the vet will recommend a hypoallergenic diet .
    6. Blood and Serum tests: These tests can be used  to check for infections, certain nutrient deficiencies and allergens (serum tests). Intradermal tests (skin surface tests) can also be used to test for certain allergens that are causing atopic dermatitis (skin inflammation), after other possible causes are eliminated.

    Identifying Cat Skin Problems by Location on the Body

    The location of the cat skin disorder can also indicate the type or problem your cat might have. For example feline skin problems on the ear can indicate mites or food allergy, a facial problem could be mange and near the tail is most likely a problem with fleas.   Hair loss on the back half of the body are often due to food allergy or atopy (hypersensitivity to allergens in the air such as pollen, dust mites or mold spores)

    Certain breeds have a higher incidence of cat skin problems.  For example:

    There are also problems that are unique to kitten skin.

    Treatment of Cat Skin Problems

    The treatment of the diseases and conditions associated with feline skin problems depends on the exact disease or condition.

    Home Cat Skin Treatment and Remedies

    If the cat skin condition is mild, meaning there is mild skin itch or skin flaking, then you can try home treatment.  First, look for an early stage cat flea problem.  Even if you don't see fleas in your home or on your cat, don't immediately eliminate this as a possible cause since fleas are great at hiding.  Also, contrary to popular belief, fleas are one of those cat skin problems that can occur at any time of the year. To check for cat fleas, use a flea comb and comb through your cat's coat, with special focus on the area just above the tail and also be sure to carefully examine the back part of the thighs.

    If you suspect cat fleas, you'll want to kill the fleas that are on your cat using a product such as Adams Plus, followed by the use of a flea preventative.  If this is the cause be sure to also clean your cat's environment  to remove any hiding fleas. Check with your Vet for a specific product recommendation as well.

    Cat Shampoo Therapy for Cat Skin Problems

    Next, if you rule out fleas as the cause of the cat skin problems, you can try bathing your cat in a colloidal oatmeal shampoo such as Avoderm or use over-the-counter sprays or waterless bath foam (if your cat hates baths)  to see if you can bring some relief.  These are not cures, but can help with symptoms. Avoid using medicated shampoos at first, as these can often irritate the skin.  If the natural shampoos don't help, then a medicated cat shampoo is worth a try (see below).  The key to shampoo therapy is contact with the skin, which isn't always easy with a cat that hates the water.

    Instructions for Applying Cat Shampoo

    The ideal length of time for a shampoo to stay in contact with the skin is 10 minutes. If you cat allows it, massage into the skin, and then rinse the shampoo off your cat for 5 to 10 minutes.

    If the non-medicated approach does not help, try these shampoos depending on the symptoms and suspected cause of the condition. 

    Cat Skin Problems and Suggested Cat Shampoos
    Check With Your Vet For Your Cat

    Cat Skin Disease and Symptoms

    Product

    Typical Frequency of Shampooing

    Bacterial cat skin Infection, Fungal infection.

    Duoxo with Chlorheidine

    Every 1 to 14 days,

    Mild skin flaking (seborrhea sicca, seborrhea dermatitis), cat dandruff

    Dermapet MalAcetic Shampoo
    Also look for shampoos with Sulfur and/or Salcylic acid

    2x to 3x per week until improvement is seen, then reduce frequency

    Dry Cat Skin and itchy cat skin

    Avoderm with colloidal oatmeal

    Every 3 to 14 days as needed

    Note: Do not use shampoos that contain benzoyl peroxide or only tar with cats unless advised by your veterinarian

    If you notice the cat skin condition worsening, despite your home treatment,  see a Vet. Always see a Vet if you see hair loss, red skin areas, pus or oozing areas on the skin.  

    Also, if your cat has scratched herself too much, antibiotics may be necessary, as a secondary bacterial infection may have set in. Treatment may involve oral or topical medications.

    Treatment may also involve surgical removal of any lumps or bumps from your cat’s skin. This is usually only done if the growth is cancerous or if it seems to be bothering your pet. If it is benign and is not causing your cat discomfort, it can be left alone.

    There are several over the counter homeopathic products that could help to improve overall skin and coat condition such as  Skin and Coat Tonic. Other over the counter products such as Dermasol contain Vitamin A, which can help to promote the healing of skin.

    References for Cat Skin Problems:

    Dermatologic Examination
    R.S. Mueller
    Department of Clinical Sciences College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences
    Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO, USA

    Carter, G.R., Wise, D.J., and Flores, E.F. (Eds)A Concise Review of Veterinary Virology

    Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine - The challenge of Cat Skin Disorders

     

    Ask Our Vet a Question about a Cat Skin Problem

    Do you have a question about a cat skin problem? Share it! We'll pick one question to answer each week for free.

    Please let us know about the age of the cat, breed, when any cat skin symptoms began, have they changed over time, if your cat is indoor or outdoor, the presence of other pets, changes in your cats routine, bathing frequency, or anything else that will help us understand your cat's medical history, any tests and results.

    If possible, please include a picture. Seeing the skin problem can help us improve suggestions made. Please include information such as breed, age, sex, history, changes in behavior, products used etc.

    We will try and respond as quickly as possible. If you have an urgent question we suggest using this online veterinary cat answer service that is staffed by vets and available 24 hours a day. You only pay a small fee for answers you accept.

    [ ? ]

    Upload A Picture of the Cat Skin Problem (optional)[ ? ]

     

    Click here to upload more images (optional)

    Author Information (optional)

    To receive credit as the author, enter your information below.

    (first or full name)

    (e.g., City, State, Country)

    Submit Your Contribution

     submission guidelines.


    (You can preview and edit on the next page)

    What Other Visitors Have Asked and Vet Suggestions

    Click below to see contributions from other visitors to this page...

    Small Growth on Back of Cats Neck 
    How to Cure a Small Growth on a Cat Neck I just noticed last week that my 14 year old spayed cat has a small bubble like growth about the size of …

    The Worst Cat Facial Skin Wounds I’ve Ever Seen 
    We feed and take care of some stray cats outside. This one male cat came around with what looked like a HUGE bite on the entire side of his face. A HUGE …

    Hair Loss and Crusty Scabby Skin 
    Reader Question: Why Is My Cat Losing Hair? My cat has been suffering from hair loss for about six months now. He gets scabs around his neck and …

    Sarcoma At Site Of Injection 
    Reader Question: How Do I Know When To Put My Cat Down? Hello, My name is Amy and my beautiful cat's name is Rusty. I've had Rusty since I was …

    Blood Filled Cyst in Cat Ear 
    My cat has developed some skin bumps or cysts that are blood filled. The look like mites however they are not, they are more like hemorrhages. I have …

    Cat Chin Acne 
    Hi, my cat Fred has developed what I describe as cat acne under his chin. It looks very much like F M dermatitis, but I’m not 100%. It doesn’t seem to …

    Cat Losing Hair Causes and Treatment 
    Reader Question: Why is my cat developing bald spots? Hello, Our 18month old ginger cat has started developing bald spots around his back end, …

    Cat Skin Infection Care and Treatment 
    My female cat was attacked by street dogs several months ago and has since had partial paralysis of her hind limbs, i.e. one of the legs seems to have …

    Cat Skin Tumor on Stomach 
    My mother has two young male cats that live outside. She hasn't had the money to fix them or have any kind of shots done, so they've just lived on her …

    Growing Mole Below Cat Eye Duct 
    My old persian has a black mole that has been slowly growing larger, below her inner eye duct, slowly in the past 5-6 years. She has had an infection …

    Cat Itchy Skin with White Flakes 
    My 25 pound 10 year old female cat Abby has flaky skin with tiny white surface dust on her back spinal area. She exhibits no illness except long oral cleaning …

    Long Hair Cat Skin Problems and Vet Solutions 
    My cat has lumps and dried skin all over his body. My family says he is about ready to die but i don't really think so, but anyways I have had him since …

    Cat Scabs Causes, Treatment and Vet Advice 
    We have a 13 year old short hair cat with a large (quarter sized) red, slightly oozy lesion on his neck. He also has various small scabs in on his head/neck …

    Care for Cat Skin Tumor
    or Cat Skin Cyst
     
    Question: My Persian cat has a huge white bubble on the side of his face. I only noticed it about a week ago but my mother said its been there a while. …

    Cat Matted Hair Tips 
    I have an elderly cat (14 years old) who is overweight and is having difficulty grooming herself. She is a semi-long hair cat with some kind of weird condition …

    Could this be feline psoriasis? 
    My cat had recurring bouts with hair loss, scabs, and scratching. None of my other animals have been effected. It doesn't seem to be cat mange. What do …

    Cat Skin Diseases of Unknown Cause Diagnosis and Treatment 
    Cat Skin Disorder Reader Question: It started as a very small bump under the surface of the lower eyelid. It eventually progressed into hair loss around …

    Skin Allergies in Cats Skin Sympoms and Treatment 
    Cat Skin Problem Reader Question: I have a male castrated cat. He is 2 1/2 years old now and the skin problem started last July 2009. It started as …

    Cat Dry Itchy Red Skin Problems 
    I have spoken to you before about this problem with my female cat - and your answer I found to be very helpful. But one of the products that you mentioned …

    Growth on Cats Nose 
    We have a healthy 8 yr old female cat of mixed breed. She is primarily an outdoor cat. We live on land with wooded acreage and she is always on the prowl …

    Cat Ear, Mouth and Eyelid Skin Problems 
    Our cat was a feral kitten that now is an indoor/outdoor cat of just over a year old. We live in NY and over the past few weeks she has had small, black, …

    Cat Dog Bite 
    Two weeks ago a dog bit my cat. I took my cat to the vet for an infected dog bite on my cat's stomach and near the anus. He treated my cat, gave antibotic, …

    Strange White Skin Lumps On Cat Not rated yet
    Reader Question:> Are cat skin lumps a cause for concern? My one year old black and white Tom cat has 4 very small 'lumps' on his head which appeared …

    Recurring Skin Infection in Cat  Not rated yet
    Reader Question (followed by some suggestions from our Veterinarian): Hello, I have a 6 year old male, neutered cat. I adopted him when he was 6 …

    Click here to write your own.

    Itchy area around Cat Eyes and Under Chin Not rated yet
    Reader Question: Are allergies to blame for a cat that is rubbing the eyes or itch? My cat rubs and scratches the corners of her eyes and the skin …

    Cat Skin Issue Under Front Leg Not rated yet
    Reader Question: Cause of Lesion on Cat Leg My cat, Mr. Beeg is a Domestic short hair, 12-13 yrs, male, neutered, We use Diamond brand maintenance …

    Dog With Dull Coat Not rated yet
    My 17-year-old female was getting a dull coat. When I groomed her, I discovered lumpy mats that were difficult to get out, even though she is a short …

    Treating Cat Skin Bumps Not rated yet
    Dear Cat Health Guide, The lovely cat where I work has an obvious skin problem to her back. There are bumps all over a large patch of her back which …

    Treating A Scaly Patch of Cat Skin Not rated yet
    Reader Question: How To Treat Kitten With Scaly Patch of Skin A couple months ago, my boyfriend and I adopted a 10-week-old Scottish Fold kitten from …

    Lump Under Cat Skin Not rated yet
    Reader Question: My Cat Has A Mass In Her Body That Blocks The Flow of Bodily Fluids, How Can I Treat This? I went to the vet for treatment of a lump …

    Lumps Under Cat Skin Not rated yet
    I was petting my 6 month old female cat's stomach and felt several large, movable lumps beneath her skin. The lumps are mostly around her teats. She …

    Healing Damaged Cat Skin  Not rated yet
    Reader Question: Healing Cat Skin Damaged From Fleas I picked up a kitten off the street, couldn't resist, not very old, but cute and able to be away …

    Cat Skin Bumps Not rated yet
    My female cat Pepper is 3 years old and over the past 3-4 months (this past summer) I have noticed several bumps under her fur. When I first touched them, …

    Cat Lumps on Nose Not rated yet
    Hello, My cat friend is a 1 year old un-fixed male cat. Recently he has started to act strange. Just very unlike him self, and sleeping a lot. I …

    Cat Skin Bump with Vomiting and Scooting Not rated yet
    Within the last month, I had a fence put up and have allowed my indoor cats to go outside. They do not or have not climbed the fence. I just noticed …

    Cats With Black Hair and Skin Problems Not rated yet
    I have owned numerous cats and dogs with various hair types and colors. It seems common that my short, black-haired animals all suffer from skin irritation …

    Cat Losing Hair After Groomer Visit Not rated yet
    We recently took our 9 year old Persian to a cat groomer where he received a bath and a lion cut. When we picked him up afterwards, I noticed that his …

    Cat Chin Acne Not rated yet
    These patches (see photo) are located on several places on our cat's chin. Do you have any possible diagnosis or remedies? It hasn't seemed to bother him …

    Hairless Patch on Cat Face Not rated yet
    On the closed cat eye in the picture, a small flat not scabby patch has formed. This is an indoor and outdoor cat, Siamese, behavior normal, no scratching …

    Outdoor Cat Skin Problem by Ears and Eyes Not rated yet
    About a week ago, I noticed our cats fur had been matted down. I thought he was wet, but when I looked closer, I noticed he had blood and skin torn away …

    Kitten Skin Wound Care Not rated yet
    Hello, Our large dog saw that the momma kitten was trying to move the babies and she picked up the 2 week old male kitten. She then took the kitten …

    Cat Waxy Coat Not rated yet
    My cat's fur is very dry but when you stroke him some brown waxy stuff comes off. He also has eczema. He has been tested for mites, has no fleas and is …

    Cat Flaky Skin Not rated yet
    Hello, I have 3 cats and the female Maisie-Mae, who is a short haired black, neutered 4 year old has very flaky fur! I comb her every day as her fur is …

    Cat Coat and Skin Problems Not rated yet
    I have a female cat who is always licking at her tummy/chest. She seems to have itchy skin - not fleas. It could be an allergic reaction to being bitten …

    Click here to write your own.


    Ask a Vet Online

    12 veterinarians
    are online now.
    Ask a question,
    get an answer ASAP.