Feline Miliary Dermatitis in Cats

Written By hannah hollinger
Published: 11/09/2016Updated: 10/15/2021
Veterinary reviewed by Dr. Linda Simon, MVB MRCVS
Feline Miliary Dermatitis in Cats - Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, Recovery, Management, Cost

What are Feline Miliary Dermatitis?

Feline miliary dermatitis is the term vets use to describe a certain reaction pattern affecting a cat, as the reaction looks like tiny millet seeds on the cat’s skin.This condition is also called scabby cat disease, papulocrusting dermatitis and miliary eczema. The rash appears most often around the neck and head of the cat, going down its back and along its rump.

Feline miliary dermatitis is a term used to describe the effects of several skin conditions, usually as the result of an allergic reaction. The allergy could be to flea bites or other types of allergens. Harvest mites, walking dandruff, ear mites and lice can also lead to the development of this condition. Food allergies can also cause allergic reactions that show up in this manner on the cat’s skin. 

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Symptoms of Feline Miliary Dermatitis in Cats

Cats that develop feline miliary dermatitis display:

  • Tiny, red crusty bumps on the skin (near the head and neck, and running down the back)
  • Hair loss
  • Intense itching and scratching
  • Hair pulling
  • Thickened skin that is darker than surrounding skin
  • Grazed areas on the skin resulting from constant scratching

When a food allergy causes feline miliary dermatitis, the cat may develop sores and scabs around its head and tail. They may also have gastrointestinal signs such as loose stool. 

Causes of Feline Miliary Dermatitis in Cats

Cats can develop this skin condition from one of many causes, or a combination of several:

  • Flea bite hypersensitivity (most common cause)
  • Bacterial infections
  • Cheyletiellosis mite
  • Hormone/endocrine disorder
  • Allergies (food, inhalant, or food intolerance issues)
  • Drug hypersensitivity
  • Poor diet
  • Mites
  • Ringworm
  • Immune-mediated diseases (immune disorders)
  • Contact allergies (rare)

In warm-climate areas or flea-infested areas, this skin condition can develop more frequently in cats. Cold-winter regions may see this condition develop much more often in the summer months.

Diagnosis of Feline Miliary Dermatitis in Cats

The vet will rely mainly on the cat’s medical history and the clinical signs of the condition to make a diagnosis. If they know, for instance, that the cat has experienced food intolerance or food allergies, they are more likely to tell the cat’s owner that the cat has developed feline miliary dermatitis.  

It’s not easy to spot fleas on a cat, but if the vet sees flea dirt or feces on the cat, they are also likely to provide this diagnosis. The cause may be determined as a flea allergy, but if it doesn’t respond to a flea treatment and anti-itch medicine, the vet will run additional tests to narrow down the diagnosis:

  • Serum IgE allergy testing
  • Skin scraping
  • Fur plucks
  • Skin swab
  • Hypoallergenic food trial (which should last a minimum of 6 weeks)
  • Fecal examination to look for intestinal parasites
  • Biochemical profile
  • Biopsies
  • Referral to a veterinary dermatologist

Veterinarians take into account the locations of the rashes and lesions in making their diagnosis. They will also measure the size of the lesions and determine what kind they are.

Treatment of Feline Miliary Dermatitis in Cats

Treatment is theoretically straightforward: Remove the irritants and make the cat more comfortable until the lesions heal. In practice, it can be difficult to identify the cause and the skin can flare up.

Cat owners need to remove fleas from the cat’s home environment, which may help relieve many of its symptoms. If the fleas return, the allergy symptoms and rashes will return. Because cats groom themselves daily, it’s rare to find live fleas on their bodies.

If the cause of the cat’s skin condition is a food allergy or intolerance, the pet parent will need to switch the cat to a different food. It is vital that, once a food allergy has been diagnosed, the cat does not eat the allergy-causing food again. If the cat has been allowed to roam outdoors, it may have to stay indoors permanently to reduce the risk of eating an offending food or hunting and eating prey that could cause a relapse.

The cat owner may need to give the cat one of several medications:

  • Antihistamines
  • Corticosteroids
  • Fatty acid supplements (skin oil replacements)
  • Antibiotics
  • Topical ointments
  • Medicated shampoo to minimise inflammation and itching

Allergy shots for cats are controversial—they are used only for cats who are severely affected and are not always successful in curing the condition.

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Recovery of Feline Miliary Dermatitis in Cats

The prognosis for cats diagnosed with miliary dermatitis is generally excellent. Once the offending substance has been eliminated from the cat’s environment or food, the cat will recover. Its skin will heal and fur will grow back.

The cat owner will have to be vigilant in keeping fleas from returning to the home if the cat’s condition is flea allergy-related. The new food given to the cat will be a permanent part of its diet. Since many causes of miliary dermatitis are allergy-related, the cat may need occasional treatments with corticosteroids to keep flare-ups from becoming severe. 

As the cat gets older, its allergies may get worse. If it has been diagnosed with more than one allergy, its recovery may not be total, meaning it needs to continue with treatment to keep skin reactions and symptoms under control.

Feline miliary dermatitis be expensive to treat. If you suspect your cat is at risk of developing miliary dermatitis, start searching for pet insurance today. Brought to you by Pet Insurer, Wag! Wellness lets pet parents compare insurance plans from leading companies like PetPlan and Embrace. Find the “pawfect” plan for your pet in just a few clicks!

Feline Miliary Dermatitis Average Cost

From 344 quotes ranging from $200 - $1,500

Average Cost

$500

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Feline Miliary Dermatitis Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

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feline

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Seventeen Years

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26 found this helpful

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26 found this helpful

My pet has the following symptoms:
Itchy Skin
Red sores itchy itchy dry skin

Oct. 20, 2021

Answered by Dr. Linda S. MVB MRCVS

26 Recommendations

I'm sorry to hear this. These signs could be due to several things including a flea allergy, bacterial or fungal infection, skin cancer etc. Ensure she is up to date with a good quality flea prevention and see your local vet. She may well need some anti itch medicine and antibiotics.

Oct. 20, 2021

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domestic cat

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Five Years

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45 found this helpful

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45 found this helpful

My pet has the following symptoms:
Scabs, Excessive Scratching/Grooming
I’m wondering why my cat randomly gets lots of scabs under his chin, on his neck, sides and flank. He seems to aggressively itch and groom himself. I’ve given him flea treatments, ear mite treatments.

Jan. 8, 2021

Answered by Dr. Maureen M. DVM

45 Recommendations

Hi, Sorry sbout that. It could be an allergic reaction. The scabs are hot spots from the constant itching and licking. Allergies can be as a result of food, weather, dust etc. Please visit your vet for some steroids or antihistamines to calm down the discomfort.

Jan. 8, 2021

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Average Cost

$500

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