What is cat dermatology?
Cat dermatology is the study of skin diseases in cats and how we treat them.
Dr. Kathrine White
Highland Park Animal Hospital
How do skin conditions impact the health and wellbeing of your cat?
With cats, it's a lot more complicated than it is with our dog friends. Our dogs are very dramatic like us humans, so they tend to be very itchy, and they'll scratch and chew in front of us all the time. As someone who has personal allergies and dermatology, it is miserable to feel itchy. Our cats tend to groom primarily when they are resting, when they're away from us, and when they're in a quiet place. The only thing you'll see regarding how uncomfortable your cat is is hair loss, but it doesn't even scratch the surface of what they are feeling.
What are some signs and symptoms of skin issues in a cat?
The first and foremost in cats are overgrooming and hair loss. Some people will say, "Oh, they just really like to be clean." If your cat's grooming 24/7 or if your cat's stopping mid-walk to start grooming itself, that's not normal. Your cat's uncomfortable. One of the first things most owners or pet parents see is hair loss.
What is a sign of cancer?
Cancer in our kitty friends when it comes to their skin may be a raised lesion. Think of something like a bump or a darkened area of the skin that's raised. We may also see it as a thing on their mouth that's red and ulcerative.
What about rashes?
Rashes in our kitty friends tend to be a bit like cats: subtle. We tend to see small red bumps on their entire skin regardless of what's causing it. So it can be many different things causing something very similar in different cats. Cats can develop acne, as we refer to it in humans. So if you think about human women developing things called cystic acne, cats develop a very similar condition on their mouth and chin that can often be a sign of things like food allergies or other deeper conditions.
What are some symptoms of allergies in cats?
By far, the most common symptoms of allergies in cats are, like anything else in dermatology, hair loss and over-grooming, especially around the mouth, ears, and backend.
What about dermatitis?
Dermatitis is another fancy way of saying skin inflammation. That can be everything from having a bacterial infection to having dermatitis because they have food allergies. So anything that can cause an infection or inflammation in human skin can almost do it in cat skin as well.
What about bumps?
When you think about our rashes, we'll often see very small bumps. Most cats, unlike dogs and humans, don't tend to get a lot of raised large pimples. If we see a lot of that, that's certainly a cause for concern and a reason to bring your pet in.
What are some signs and symptoms of worms?
Ringworm is what we like to use as human terminology. Really what that means is a fungal infection. It comes from the soil, for which the fancy word is a saprophyte. Cats will get a worm from other cats. You bring a kitten in, and suddenly your adult cat has all these lesions all over it. Alternatively, your cat, who goes indoors and outdoors, will have access to soil and get it from the soil. It tends to be a round lesion, which is why it's called a roundworm. So it'll be a round area of hair loss that often has crusting and gross stuff in the middle of it. Anything that causes bald spots is either an infection or something that makes the hair follicle fall out on its own, such as a bacterial infection or, like we just talked about, ringworm infection. The other cause of hair loss can be something like a cat grooming something because it's itchy. So there are different causes, depending on what's going on with your kitty.
What are some symptoms of other feline skin diseases?
One of the biggest ones among our cat friends that we talk about a lot, especially our allergic cat friends, is a rodent ulcer. That is what they used to be called. We now call them eosinophilic plaques, and you'll see an area on their lips, nose, or philtrum, which is the "doctor" word for this right here, or areas on their skin that become ulcerated, red, and will even sometimes erode into their lip.
Why is it important to avoid self-diagnosing feline skin conditions?
The biggest thing to think about in our cats is that many conditions on the surface can look very similar, and even as a doctor just looking at something, I often don't know the answer either. So that's why we have tools like cytology, food trials, and even sometimes, a biopsy is necessary to get an answer. Keep in mind, any time you're looking at your kitty, and you're Googling that, a lot of things will look very similar because our skin only has so many things it can do when it's irritated, regardless of what the initial cause is.
How soon should you bring your cat to see a veterinarian for issues with their skin?
Anytime that you see over-grooming or hair loss, your cat is uncomfortable. They are very subtle creatures, so by the time you actually see hair loss, they've probably been miserable for a lot longer than you realize.
How will a veterinarian diagnose can diseases in a cat?
The primary tools that we'll use on our first visit will be things like cytology, food trials, and starting on prevention. As we go down the line, if we're not getting the answers that we are hoping for with some of these tests, we might consider things like fungal testing, more advanced testing, and even a biopsy if we really have to.
What treatment options are typically recommended for cat dermatology issues?
Our first step for any cat with dermatology issues will be good flea and tick prevention because we know that is one of the biggest reasons we'll see cats come in. Since fleas are very hard to see on a cat, as they tend to hunt and eat them, you often don't see them. So that will be our first step, as well as cytology, to see whether they have a yeast infection or a bacterial infection. That's our way to start, and we'll go on to treatment from there.
Are feline dermatology problems curable?
When it comes to whether feline dermatology conditions are curable, the answer will depend on the cause. If we have something like an underlying allergy, we can often manage symptoms, but we cannot fully cure it. If it is something like a flea infestation, absolutely. We can treat them as much as we need to with flea prevention, as well as any steroids, anti-itch, or antibiotics needed to get them through that while they're getting over their flea infestation.
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