Category: skin-disease-cats


If your cat has a greasy hair coat or recurrent ear problems they may be suffering from Malassezia. This fungal/yeast infection of the skin can be mild or extensive and may indicate that there is an underlying health problem. If your cat has any skin lesions you should make an appointment to see your vet – it may be that the skin disease is an indication that something more serious going on.

Malassezia is often found on the skin of normal animals where it causes no problems. Skin disease develops in animals that have a reduced immune response or damaged skin. Once the skin resistance is reduced the fungus can multiply and spread.

There are some underlying conditions that can weaken your cat’s immune system and make them more likely to get Malassezia infections. These include severe illnesses like diabetes, cancer and feline immunosuppressive virus infection (FIV) and long-term problems like allergies. However, simple changes to the skin (such as constant wetting due to excessive drooling), can result in local infections.

Cats with Malassezia ear infections will constantly shake their head and scratch at their ears. A thick black waxy material may be seen crusting around the ears and the opening of the ear canal. Acne and chin swelling may be noticed but skin changes can occur at any site. Wherever disease is present the affected area will be itchy so that the cat will want to lick or scratch at the site. Some cats develop disease on their feet and repeatedly shake their feet as if their paws were wet.

Your vet may suspect that your cat has a Malassezia infection just by looking at the skin. A sample of the skin surface can be simply collected using a piece of Sellotape stuck to the skin and pulled off. This can be looked at under a microscope to identify the yeast.

Sometimes Malassezia can be more difficult to find and a culture or skin biopsy may be advised. Culture is performed by rubbing a swab over the affected skin and sending it to a specialist laboratory. The results can take a week or so. Skin biopsy is a minor surgical procedure and requires a full general anaesthetic in cats, removing a full-thickness piece of skin (or several pieces) and submission to a specialist laboratory. Results will take several days.

Even once a diagnosis of Malassezia has been confirmed your vet may want to do some additional tests to see if they can find an underlying cause. These will include blood tests and urine samples for laboratory analysis.

Your vet will want to rule out parasitic conditions such as Demodex (mange mites) and flea infections; ringworm (a fungal infection) or acne as these can appear similar to, or occur at the same time as, Malassezia. Persian cats can get a particular severe form of acne known as ‘idiopathic facial dermatitis’. The commonest cause of ear problems, as described above, is ear mites (Otodectes). These are usually easily diagnosed by your vet examining ear wax material under the microscope.

In mild cases no treatment may be needed although your vet may give you a wash to occasionally clean the skin surface in affected areas. Ear drops can be used to control infection in the ears. For more severe skin lesions special shampoos or skin creams can be prescribed. Treatment with tablets is only used in severe cases. In some cases the infection may completely resolve although in other cats, especially if there is an underlying cause, long-term treatment may be needed.

‘Walking dandruff’ (Cheyletiellosis)

Cheyletiella infection is a form of mange that is also known as rabbit mites and walking dandruff. This is an itchy skin condition caused by small parasites living on the skin surface. The mites can be found on many animals including dogs, cats and rabbits and can be transmitted from pets to people. Early recognition is important as the condition can be simply treated.

The condition is caused by infestation with a small mite. This mite lives its whole life on the skin of a furry animal. Although the mites are small they can just be seen with the naked eye or a magnifying glass and may appear like small white flakes of skin that can move – hence the name ‘walking dandruff’.

Most healthy animals seem to have some immunity to infection and the majority of affected animals are old, young or unwell. Kittens most commonly become infected from their mother in the first few weeks of life.

Often the first sign noticed by owners is excessive scurf or dandruff formation on their pet’s skin. This may be accompanied by scratching and later small spots can develop. Occasionally owners are more severely affected than their pet and may themselves have itchy red patches or spots on their skin.

The mites causing cheyletiellosis can move between animals and can cause itchy red lesions on people as well as pets. Lesions in people are generally very itchy and tend to affect arms, neck, chest and abdomen. Infection is most easily spread to people from cats and rabbits rather than dogs. If infection is controlled in pets the lesions on people will settle down after a few weeks with no specific treatment.

The condition is relatively easy to diagnose because the mites can easily be seen under a microscope. Small samples of skin or hair can be examined and mites and eggs will be seen in an active infection. The mites feed on the skin surface and eggs are laid on the hairs or skin surface.

Mites can be killed by the application of topical drops that kill parasites. Your vet will be able to prescribe this for you and tell you how to use it effectively. Since the infection can spread between animals, all animals that have regular contact with the infected individual should be treated at the same time (even if they are not showing any signs of disease). A number of treatments may be required over several weeks.

There is no product specifically recommended to kill any mites in the environment, e.g. pets’ beds and carpets, but an environmental flea spray may help in this respect.

Over grooming (feline psychogenic alopecia)

In the hurly-burly of our modern lives we ask a lot of pets. Fortunately most cats adapt well to all the changes and excitement around them, managing to fit into our hectic schedules and, in doing so, enrich our lives. Unhappily, there are some cats for whom the stress of modern living is just too much and these poor creatures show us their unhappiness in a variety of ways.

Grooming is a pleasurable experience for a cat, and it is believed that when they are grooming cats experience a rush of opioids from the brain which gives them a natural ‘high’ – a bit like taking drugs. It is natural therefore, that if a cat is feeling anxious and unhappy, and if they get pleasure from grooming, they will do it more often to help them feel better.

Strangely, cats which groom a lot are often not seen grooming by their owner. This is because most of the grooming is done when the cat is left alone and needs more reassurance. Often the cat will lick in a certain area – which is typically a stripe down the middle of the back or on the belly and also the inside of the thighs. The licking causes the hairs to break and so the fur in the licked areas is short and stubbly (and occasionally the hair is removed completely leaving a patch of bald skin).

Usually the skin in these areas looks normal, with no spots or redness. In colour point breeds, like the Siamese (where the hair is darker on ear tips and feet), the hair in a groomed area may be darker than on the rest of the body. It has been said that ‘highly strung’ breeds (such as the Siamese) are more likely to develop anxiety-related diseases.

Of course there are many other reasons why a cat may lose its hair. Most commonly it is because the skin is itchy or sore and the cat licks to ease the discomfort. In the process of doing this she damages and removes the hair creating bald patches. There are other possible skin diseases such as parasites, allergies or hormone problems, which can also cause hair loss.

Other causes of hair loss in the cat are much more common than overgrooming due to stress. If your cat is losing hair, you should take her to see your vet who will do some simple tests to see if there is another reason for her to be losing her hair. If no other cause can be found then it is probably time to look at the possibility of stress being the cause.

Each cat has a different personality – just as all people are different. What one cat can take in her stride will worry another. It is very important for your vet to take a detailed history from you about how your cat lives and particularly how she interacts with people and other cats, and whether there have been any recent changes in your circumstances.

Common causes of stress in cats include bullying by neighbouring cats (particularly if these are invading your home through a cat flap), recent introductions to the household (puppies, new kittens or babies) or a change in your own circumstances. Some cats can be very sensitive and extremely attached to their owner – if you have previously been at home during the day but suddenly return to work your cat may be lonely.

Each case must be managed on an individual basis. It is essential to find out what is upsetting your cat and then to try to resolve that problem. It may be as simple as closing off the cat flap so that the neighbour’s cat does not come into your home but unfortunately, in many cases, the solution is not so obvious. It may take many months or even years of work to resolve the problem.

In a particularly tricky case, your vet may refer you to a specialist in pet behaviour who will have plenty of experience and time to devote to your problem. There are some drugs which can be used to reduce anxiety in your cat, although these can only be prescribed by your vet and should only be used alongside treatment to try to resolve the underlying problem.

Feline acne

Some cats, like some people, are unfortunate to suffer from acne. The condition in cats is generally mild and since cats do not worry about their appearance the condition rarely causes serious problems. However if your cat has any skin changes you should make an appointment to see your vet – skin disease may sometimes be a sign of something else more serious.

Feline acne, like acne in people, is a skin condition with blackheads and pustules on the skin. The condition is most commonly seen on the chin because, in the cat, this is the site of sebaceous glands which produce an oily secretion. These glands play an important role in territorial marking for cats – you will have seen your cat rubbing its face and chin around people and objects to mark them.

The first signs of acne developing are black spots on your cat’s lips and chin. These are due to blocking of the glands and most often the disease does not progress further; if it does, the blocked gland may become infected and pus-filled spots develop. In some severe cases of acne there is hair loss and scarring.

Some cats produce more oily secretions than others and are just susceptible to developing acne. You may recognise a yellow discolouration of the fur around the chin in these cats, or notice a black greasy build-up of secretions on areas where they rub. There are also some underlying conditions that can weaken your cat’s immune system and make them more likely to get acne.

In some cases specific skin infections can result in acne. If your cat suffers from acne you may be advised not to use plastic food bowls. This may be because these bowls are more difficult to clean than the smooth surfaces on metal or china dishes or because an allergic-type reaction to the plastic occurs.

It is likely that the first signs you would notice would be spots on your cat’s chin or a swollen chin. Sometimes the chin has a dirty appearance or appears to be crusted with black flecks. Sometimes the spots can spread around the face and eyes. Occasionally, if the condition is particularly severe, cats with acne may have a raised temperature and feel a bit miserable or be unwilling to eat.

Your vet will suspect that your cat has simple acne just by looking at the skin. However they may want to do some additional tests to see if they can find an underlying cause. Some cases can be triggered by stress or changes to routine so your vet may question you to identify a possible trigger factor. If there is still doubt about the cause of the lesions your vet can take a small piece of tissue from the skin (a biopsy) for analysis in a laboratory. This requires a general anaesthetic.

Your vet will want to rule out parasitic conditions such as demodex (mange mites) and flea infections; ringworm or Malassezia (yeast infection) as these can appear similar to, or occur at the same time as, acne. Persian cats can get a particular severe form of acne known as ‘idiopathic facial dermatitis’ which is particularly difficult to treat.

In mild cases no treatment may be needed although your vet may give you a wash to clean the skin surface in affected areas. This can often be effective but some cats may develop skin irritation and these cats are probably better off without treatment. Anyone who has experience of acne in people will know how hard it can be to eradicate completely and recurrent bouts are likely.

In more severe cases hot compresses can be applied and antibacterial skin shampoos or skin creams may be used. Long term supplements such as evening primrose oil or fish oil may help in some cases. Rarely are antibiotic tablets required.