What are Contact Dermatitis?
The condition may affect areas where little to no hair is present, including the feet, chin, and nose. Both types of contact dermatitis will cause discomfort for your cat, so you’ll need to seek veterinary treatment right away. There are no breed, sex, or age predispositions for contact dermatitis, although allergic contact dermatitis does not generally appear in cats under two years of age.
Contact dermatitis in cats is a somewhat rare condition in which the skin reacts to the presence of an external substance. There are two types of contact dermatitis: allergic and irritant. Allergic contact dermatitis occurs when the cat suffers from sensitivity or allergy to a certain substance. Irritant contact dermatitis occurs when the cat comes into contact with harsh chemicals or environmental irritants.
Symptoms of Contact Dermatitis in Cats
Contact dermatitis is characterized by red, itchy skin. Seek veterinary treatment as soon as you notice any of the following symptoms:
- Red, swollen skin
- Excessive itching and grooming
- Scabs, bumps, or sores
- Crust or dandruff on the skin
- Loss of hair
- Matted hair
Causes of Contact Dermatitis in Cats
The cause of contact dermatitis is dependent on the type. Your vet will be able to determine the cause of your cat’s symptoms upon diagnosis.
Allergic Contact Dermatitis
Allergic contact dermatitis results from an allergy to a substance or something in the environment. Some examples of allergens include, but are not limited to:
- Certain shampoos
- Flea collars, sprays, or treatments
- Certain plants
- Fertilizer and other garden products
- Synthetic materials (carpet, plastic, metal, etc.)
Irritant Contact Dermatitis
Irritant contact dermatitis develops when a cat comes into contact with an irritant such as a household cleaning product, solvents, soaps, and acids.
Diagnosis of Contact Dermatitis in Cats
Your vet will be able to make a tentative diagnosis based on presentation of symptoms and appearance of the affected skin. Be sure to inform your vet of the extent and duration of your cat’s symptoms, as well as any allergies or encounters with irritant chemicals that you know of. Your vet may also ask you for your cat’s complete medical history.
The vet will be able to make a definitive diagnosis by testing whether your cat is allergic to a substance. They may do this through the use of a patch test, in which your vet will place the potential irritant onto a patch, which is then placed on your cat to test for reaction. Your vet may ask you to monitor your cat closely over a period of time and record their diet and behavior to try and identify the cause.
If these methods are unsuccessful, a bacterial culture or biopsy of the affected skin tissue may be taken in order to identify irritants. Blood tests may also be required to identify allergies.
Treatment of Contact Dermatitis in Cats
Treatment for allergic contact dermatitis is not curative and will involve controlling the cat’s symptoms. Your vet may prescribe topical treatments or antihistamines to control the itching and redness. Depending on the severity of the allergy and symptoms, your vet may administer an allergy vaccine or prescribe immunotherapy.
Treatment of irritant contact dermatitis is more straightforward and will involve eliminating the irritant and preventing future exposure. Your vet may recommend that you bathe your cat in order to wash away the irritant. They may prescribe a special solution for this, or recommend that you use a hypoallergenic shampoo made for cats. Do not use shampoos or products made for human use unless specifically instructed to do so by your vet, as they may worsen the condition.
Recovery of Contact Dermatitis in Cats
Recovery and prognosis for this condition are generally good for mild cases. Always follow your vet’s post-treatment instructions carefully, and administer any prescribed medications for the full duration of the treatment period even if symptoms start to improve. If you need to bathe your cat, wear gloves if the irritant is still present on your cat’s coat in order to avoid exposing yourself to a harmful chemical.
You’ll need to make sure you employ preventative measures following treatment for contact dermatitis. If your cat has been diagnosed with an allergy, you will need to make sure that you don’t allow your cat to come into contact with the allergen, where possible. You may want to limit your cat’s outdoor activity, particularly if you don’t know what caused the reaction. Always keep all household cleaning products out of reach of your cat. Ensure you clean up any spilled chemicals immediately.
Follow-up appointments to monitor contact dermatitis are generally not necessary. However, if the condition does not seem to be improving with treatment or appears to be getting worse, contact your vet immediately.