Common Feline Illnesses

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Disease Overview

Allergies that affect a cat's skin are grouped together under the term "allergic dermatitis." Cats can suffer allergies related to food, environment (atopy), and fleas and other parasites. Diagnosis can be difficult and is mostly a matter of ruling out certain causes. Often, there is never a confirmed diagnosis.

Possible Cause(s)

  • Fleas that cause bites on the skin
  • Food ingredients
  • Environmental allergens that the cat breathes in or absorbs through the skin, such as dust mites, pollen, fungi, yeast and molds
  • Idiopathic (no known causes)

How Diagnosed

  • History of cat’s exposure to certain causes, including type of food eaten and environment (indoor or outdoor cat)
  • History of ear infections (otitis externa)
  • Veterinary physical exam to rule out fleas, other parasites, and bacterial, fungal and yeast infections
  • Skin scrapings in areas of bumps or scales for lab analysis
  • Elimination diet to determine ingredients that might be causing a food allergy
  • Skin testing where allergens are injected into the skin to determine a hypersensitivity

Clinical Signs

  • Itchy skin (pruritus) and scratching
  • Red bumps or scaly areas
  • Red, sore, irritated skin
  • Ulcers on the upper lips
  • Darkened skin that may feel thicker than normal
  • Thinning or hair loss
  • Excessively licking the same area
  • Frequent shaking of head
  • Recurrent ear infections

Risk Factors

  • All cats of any age
  • May be a genetic susceptibility to certain allergens in some cats
  • Environment that includes fleas, dust mites, mold and fungi
  • Feeding table scraps

Treatment depending on clinical signs and lab data

  • Eradicating fleas on the cat and in the home
  • Eliminating certain food ingredients
  • Medications to treat fungal and bacterial causes
  • Medications to reduce itchiness and scratching due to atopic dermatitis (i.e., antihistamines and/or steroids)
  • Soothing, medicated shampoos, conditioners and sprays
  • Elizabethan collars to prevent scratching

Prevention

  • Flea-free home and yard
  • Keeping cat indoors if outside seasonal allergens are the cause
  • Reducing levels of dust mites, mold and fungus in the home
  • Feeding only a diet that does not have identified food allergens