This organ really doesn't get a lot of respect even though it is the largest organ in the body, and the toughest because it doesn't need any protection like the internal organs do, it is one of the protections. Skin issues that we commonly see include external parasites, miliary dermatitis, overgrooming, eosinophilic granuloma complex, pemphigus, ringworm and wounds.
External parasites. These include fleas, lice, and mites. Fleas of course are incredibly common and a complete nuisance. Even if your cat never goes outside, fleas are more than happy to catch a ride into your home on someone's clothing and take up residence on your cat. Probably the most important thing about treating fleas is what you use to treat them. Most over the counter flea treatments contain some form of pyrethrin. You may not always be able to tell if the active ingredient is pyrethrin based from the name, but if the flea product advertises that it also gets ticks, and the primary ingredient is not fipronil (the only safe tick medication in cats), then it probably contains pyrethrins. Pyrethrins, while effective against fleas are TOXIC to cats. These include topical spot ons, flea collars, and flea baths. So, because of that, most over the counter flea treatments contain very low levels of pyrethrins. So low, that they are not effective against fleas. If you try to double or triple the dose by applying additional flea treatments, you very well may overdose your cat. At least 2-3 times a year we see cats that have been overdosed by over the counter flea treatments that come in tremoring and seizuring. And about every other year we see a cat die from this. There are some "herbal" flea treatments available that do not contain pyrethrins, but they have not been shown to be effective. The ONLY over the counter topical flea treatments that you can buy at the store that are safe and effective for cats that we recommend are Frontline or Advantage. Any other safe effective flea treatments you will need to purchase from a veterinarian.
Almost all safe effective flea treatments are once monthly treatments. However, because there are 4 stages to the flea life cycle, and nothing in the world will kill the pupae stage other than physical removal, you may need to treat your cat once a month for 3-4 months to completely eradicate the fleas. You will also need to treat any other animals in the house as well. If you don't want to wait and you want to get rid of the fleas as soon as possible, you can also bug bomb the house but use caution - bug bombs contain pyrethrins, so you need to get your cat out of the house during the bug bomb, and for several hours afterwards until the house is aired out and any residual chemical is dried. You can also go through and vacuum the house thoroughly, especially in the corners and under furniture where there is not a lot of traffic. If you are concerned about fleas getting out of the vacuum bag, you can put a dog flea collar inside of the bag while you vacuum, just make sure it does not come into contact with your cat, and dispose of the bag immediately after vacuuming. You can also wash anything your cat sleeps on regularly in hot water to help eradicate the fleas faster.
Lice are not common in cats, but they are species specific. You cannot give lice to a cat, and they cannot give lice to you. Lice look like little tan miniature rice. There are 2 different types of lice - one type can be eradicated by the application of Frontline, the other type can be eradicated by the application of Revolution. If in doubt, bring your cat into us to look at.
Mites cause what is known as mange in cats. Mange is pretty rare in cats. The three most common types are sarcoptes, chyletiella, and demodex. Sarcoptes is contagious to people, chyletiella is also known as walking dandruff, and demodex is usually only found in cats with immune suppression. All three respond well to application of Revolution.
Miliary dermatitis. This is a lot of little skin bumps all over your cat's skin, sometimes just around the head and neck area, sometimes the rump area, sometimes everywhere. This is almost always caused by allergies. Allergies in cats can be caused by flea saliva, food, and environmental antigens. If we suspect allergies in your cat, we may want to do an allergy test if we don't find a simple cause like fleas present. If an allergy test is not in your budget, we may try antihistamines, which only work for maybe 50% of cats, or steroids which are very effective, but have side effects with long term administration. We may also try a hypoallergenic diet trial to rule out food allergies.
Overgrooming. This is rather common in cats. The most common reason is allergies - your cat itches and so scratches themselves with their rough tongue. The second most common reason is stress. Just like some people will chew on their nails when they are stressed, cats will overgroom. We can also see psychogenic alopecia overgrooming, which is kind of like an OCD issue for your cat. In rare cases, we may also see overgrooming at the site of pain such as a cat overgrooming their belly that has a bladder infection, or overgrooming a joint that has painful arthritis. If we suspect stress or psychogenic alopecia, we may try anti-anxiety medications or tranquilizers for your cat. If we suspect a painful area, we will try to treat the underlying disease process causing the pain.
Eosinophilic granuloma complex (EGC), also known as eosinophilic plaques or rodent ulcers. This is a hypersensitivity reaction of your skin, sometimes in response to an allergy, sometimes to something that we have no idea. Your cat will develop a red scabby area that seems to be intensely itchy. These are most common in the thin skinned areas - the face, neck and legs, but can show up anywhere. They can also occur on the lips as a thickened reddened area. No one knows why some cats are prone to these, but the primary treatment for these are steroids. Occasionally a topical steroid will fix the problem, but usually higher dose systemic steroids are needed. If these continue to reoccur, we may suggest testing for allergies.
Pemphigus foliaceous. This is an auto-immune disorder where your cat's immune system will actually attack the skin, resulting in scabby oozing areas. These are most common on the ears, lips, and toes, but can arise anywhere on the body. The only treatment for this disease is steroids or immunosuppressants. A steroid called triamcinolone has been shown to be more effective than other steroids for this disease. This is a life long disease, but we can usually get it under control and maintain with a lower level of steroids, reducing the risk of steroid side effects.
Ringworm. Very common in kittens and Persians. This is not a worm as the name implies, but actually a fungal infection that lives on your cat's skin. This is contagious to you and to other animals. However, if you are healthy and have an effective immune system, you are unlikely to develop it. The same goes for adult cats and other animals in your home. If they are healthy with an effective immune system, they may not develop ringworm when exposed. Persians are the exception - they seem to be extremely prone to develop ringworm and once exposed, can take years sometimes to completely eradicate it.
There are three ways to treat ringworm in your cat. Topical antifungals such as many (not all) athlete's foot creams, oral systemic antifungals, and lime sulfur applied topically once a week for several weeks. It will depend on where your cat has ringworm as to which treatment we will recommend. If your cat has a lot of ringworm, or has ringworm on the face area around the lips and eyes, we may recommend oral antifungals. If there is just a small patch elsewhere on the body, and your cat won't lick off cream continuously, we may recommend topical antifungals. If you are having a really hard time eradicating the ringworm, or if neither of the other two treatments will be safe to use on your cat, we may also recommend once weekly lime sulfur dips. We perform these at All Feline, and your cat will smell like sulfur afterwards. These are pretty effective though.
Wounds. We see a variety of wounds in cats. For cats that are indoor only, we don't see them as commonly, but occasionally they can be caused by an overly curious cat, from another animal in the home, or from a well intentioned owner trying to cut out a mat. For cats that go outside, we commonly see these being caused by fighting with another animal, or by trauma such as being hit by a car. Most small uncomplicated skin wounds will heal on their own. But, if your cat has an infection, such a from a cat bite, or if it is a large wound, we strongly recommend bringing them into the clinic. Infected wounds may require antibiotics, and large wounds will need to be surgically closed.