VCA Animal Hospitals

What Does My Cat’s Skin and Fur Say About Her Health?

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If kitties could talk, what would they say? “More pets on the belly, please!” Or maybe: “Bring on the catnip!”

All kidding aside, if felines did speak our language, it would certainly help us out when it comes to their health care. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t read their needs from physical cues.

According to veterinary dermatologist Dr. Alice M. Jeromin, DVM, the state of a cat’s skin and fur can be a clear indicator of certain health issues. So Vetstreet asked the expert to interpret 10 common observations about our feline companions:

My cat has suddenly developed dandruff. What could be going on?

A. Dr. Jeromin: Dandruff can be related to many things, including low humidity and not enough fatty acids in the feline's diet. Older cats sometimes develop "dry skin" normally as they age. There's also a contagious “walking dandruff” mite called Cheyletiella.

My kitty seems suddenly very itchy, but I know it's not fleas. What could it be?

A. Getting itchy all of a sudden in the absence of fleas can be [due to] Cheyletiella mites, a food allergy or an inhalant allergy (atopy).

My cat keeps grooming one spot over and over again. What could cause this?

A. Grooming one area all of the time can be Cheyletiella mites, a food allergy, flea allergy dermatitis or an inhalant allergy. Rather than being itchy all over, some cats will pick one certain spot to lick. If the cat has a bladder infection, sometimes he or she will lick the area of the bladder.

My cat scratches her ears a lot and they look red. Why is she doing this?

A. Itchy ears need to be checked for ear mites, demodex mites, Cheyletiella mites, Notoedres mites, yeast and bacteria.

My cat has baldlike spots on her belly. What could be going on?

A. Your vet will want to check to see if the cat is making these areas bald because of allergies or if the cat is losing hair. This can be accomplished by your vet sampling the hairs under a microscope to see if the ends are being licked off or are intact (falling out) from an underlying disease.

My cat has spots on her feet that are rubbed bare. Should I worry about this?

A. Most often bare spots on the feet are due to licking, and that’s due to either fleas, Cheyletiella mites, a food allergy or atopy.

One of my cats started shedding like crazy. What should I do?

A. Shedding can be due to a poor diet, steroid use, and photoperiod or dark times of the year. Animals need natural sunlight exposure to grow hair, so during the dark winter, the hair goes into a resting phase and can fall out. Sometimes supplementing with fatty acids or changing to good-quality foods will help.

My cat has rough, little bumps on her skin. What could this be?

A. Rough, little bumps can be what's known as miliary dermatitis, which usually means a flea allergy, Cheyletiella mites, atopy, a food allergy or a bacterial or fungal infection.

My cat’s chin looks red and feels rough. What could be going on?

A. Chin acne is usually due to an underlying allergy, but can also be seen from demodex mites, a bacterial infection or a fungal infection.

My cat's fur is much thicker than usual. Is this normal?

A. Thicker fur is good! It’s thinning fur that’s usually the problem!

If you have a kitty who shows any of these signs, keep in mind that skin and fur conditions can have many causes beyond what's listed here. So if you notice anything unusual about your cat's skin or fur, the best thing to do is to make an appointment to see your veterinarian.


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