Cat Skin Disease
From Pet Health Learning Center
Cat Skin Disease (Feline Skin Diseases)
Signs and Symptoms
Cat skin diseases are extremely prevalent and are one of the most common reasons behind veterinary visits. There are numerous forms of feline skin disorders and a myriad of different causes that give rise to such problems. Skin diseases can be extremely uncomfortable and irritating for your pet, and sometimes they are a sign of infection. For these reasons, it's important to treat feline skin problems as early as possible so that your pet's health and comfort are protected.
Since there are so many different types of cat skin disease, the symptoms and warning signs are not always the same from case to case. However, while certain forms of feline skin problems are characterized by unique symptoms, many warning signs are shared commonly amongst several different skin diseases. A healthy cat has clean, odorless skin that is free of grease, dandruff, and other debris. A healthy cat will also not show signs of skin irritation. In contrast, a cat suffering from skin disease will likely exhibit signs of irritation as well as other symptoms. Some of the most frequently displayed warning signs include red and/or swollen skin, hot spots, and itchiness. Typically, one or more of these symptoms will be associated with a cat with some form of skin problem. Depending upon the particular type of skin disease present, other more specific warning signs may also be displayed.
For example, flea allergy dermatitis is one of the most common types of feline skin disease. This is basically a type of skin disorder that results from a cat's allergic reaction to fleas. While the typical signs of red, itchy, and hot skin are usually exhibited, other symptoms may be present as well. These include compulsive biting and excessive scratching, especially around the head, neck, and above the tail. As a result of this intense scratching, hair loss and bald spots may occur. Furthermore, the itching experienced by a cat suffering from flea allergy dermatitis tends to be seasonal rather than year-round. In contrast, food allergies are the most common culprit with respect to continuous, year-round itchiness in cats. Once again, in addition to the general warning signs of feline skin disease, food allergies can also cause more unique symptoms, such as vomiting after meals.
There are also numerous other forms of feline skin disease that can cause additional symptoms. Bacterial and yeast infections, for example, can cause a bad odor. Furthermore, certain fungal infections such as ringworm can cause flaky, crusty skin and hair loss. While many feline skin disorders trigger several more specific symptoms in addition to the common, general warning signs of skin disease, the specific cause of the disease may not be readily apparent in all cases. However, there are several steps a veterinarian can take in order to narrow down the possibilities and identify a culprit.
When a cat is suffering from skin irritation, a veterinarian will conduct a physical examination in order to check for clinical signs that may point to a specific type and/or cause of the animal's skin disease. Your cat's skin and fur will be checked for the presence of fleas, flea dirt, mites, lice, and dandruff. At this point, the veterinary doctor will also want to know about the symptoms and behaviors that you, as the pet owner, have observed at home. In some cases, clinical signs will provide sufficient information for the practitioner to make a diagnosis. For example, the specific location of the skin irritation and the presence of fleas on a cat can confirm a suspicion of flea allergy dermatitis. In some circumstances, however, further testing may be performed in order to confirm the diagnosis. With respect to flea allergy dermatitis, this can involve a skin test that will reveal the type of immune response that flea proteins trigger in your cat. Moreover, in other cases, testing will be necessary in order to reach a diagnosis, as clinical signs will not provide sufficient definitive information to pinpoint the specific type and cause of the feline patient's skin irritation.
Some tests that may be employed in order to reach a specific diagnosis in a case of feline skin disease include a histology or cytology, which involves examining a sample under a microscope. Hair cultures, fungal cultures, and skin scrapings are also common diagnostic tools. A bacterial infection can generally be identified through the use of cytology while fungal infections may be identified through a culture of the cat's hair, cytology, or a fungal culture. Furthermore, certain types of mites are visible in skin scrapings that are examined under a microscope. Occasionally, a skin biopsy may also be helpful. As a result, there are a number of different tools and tests that a veterinarian can use in order to narrow down the type of skin disease affecting your cat and to discover the particular cause of your pet's irritation.
A basic understanding of skin anatomy and healthy function can be helpful when trying to understand skin diseases. A cat's skin is its largest organ and is incredibly important. It provides protection, acting as a barrier between the internal and external environments. While providing a shield against harmful substances such as parasites, skin also carries out other functions such as regulating body temperature. Due to its external location and exposure to the surrounding environment, skin is very vulnerable and particularly prone to experiencing injury and disease. At the same time, this location also makes skin diseases more noticeable than most internal disorders.
A cat's skin is made up of several components, including cells, glands, hair follicles, nerve endings, capillaries, and blood vessels. The skin is also divided into layers. The top layer is the epidermis, which is the protective layer, and beneath the epidermis is the dermis. The dermis contains pain and touch receptors as well as sweat glands, oil-producing glands, and hair follicles. This layer also consists of blood vessels which provide the skin with nutrition. Underneath these two layers of skin is a layer of fat that helps to provide the cat's body with insulation.
When skin disease is present, irritation is triggered either by an allergic reaction or an infection. In the case of an allergic reaction, histamine is released in the cat's body at the affected area, causing the dilation of capillaries. This dilation then increases blood flow to the area, resulting in increased warmth, inflammation, and itchiness. Feline skin disease can cause mild symptoms or severe symptoms, but nearly all forms of skin disorders cause at least some discomfort and irritation for cats.
The possible causes of cat skin disease are very numerous, as are the different types of skin disorders. Some common causes include allergies -- such as environmental allergies and food allergies -- hypersensitivity to internal parasites, autoimmune diseases, nutritional disorders, and hormonal disorders. A variety of different types of infections can also trigger skin disease. Such infections include bacterial, fungal, and yeast infections. Sometimes these infections are the primary cause of a cat's skin disease and other times they arise as a secondary infection triggered by the presence of another skin disorder. For instance, ringworm is a type of fungal infection that is transmitted to a cat through direct contact, either with another infected animal, with infected grooming equipment, or with a part of the environment that has been occupied by an infected animal. This type of fungus is typically a primary cause of cat skin disease. On the other hand, when a cat suffers from flea allergy dermatitis, the intense scratching and increased temperature of the skin may give rise to a secondary bacterial or yeast infection. This is due to the fact that bacteria and yeast grow very well on unhealthy, warm, and inflamed skin. Thus, there are many different potential causes of feline skin disease, some of which can cause both primary and secondary skin problems.
The treatment necessary for an individual cat's skin disorder will depend upon the type of skin disease present and its cause. Where the skin problem is secondary to another medical condition such as a hormonal disorder, that underlying illness will need to be taken care of. In the case of certain bacterial infections, antibiotics may be required. Special medicated or soothing shampoos can also have a healing effect for a cat suffering from a bacterial skin infection or other skin disorder.
Natural products and formulations can also provide relief for cats with skin problems. Ointments containing natural ingredients have a variety of beneficial properties that can help to soothe irritation and promote healing. For example, natural substances such as marigold and coneflower have anti-inflammatory properties and also stimulate the healing process. Coneflower also has antibacterial properties. Other helpful natural substances include lemongrass oil and aloe, which are effective against fungal infections. Natural products use a variety of such ingredients in order to provide many great benefits and much-needed relief for cats suffering from skin disorders.