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What are Inherited Skin Diseases?

A number of congenital, or inherited, skin diseases can affect cats, though certain breeds, such as Himalayans are more likely to inherit skin problem than others.

The skin is considered to be the largest organs in a cat's body. It provides several key functions including temperature regulation and muscle insulation. Diseases of the skin can make a cat vulnerable to a variety of complications, including infections, pain, and cancer.

Symptoms of Inherited Skin Diseases in Cats

The symptoms of inherited skin diseases in cats depend on the nature and cause of the condition. Symptoms may include:

  • Hair loss
  • Pigmented areas on the skin
  • Lack of pigment in the skin
  • Painful skin
  • Intense itching
  • Skin redness
  • Scaly skin
  • Areas of pus or drainage
  • Cracked footpads
  • Loose skin
  • Slow wound healing
  • Enlarged lymph nodes
  • Lameness
  • Fever
  • Depression
  • Cracked lips


There are several types of congenital skin diseases that can affect cats.

Pigment Disorders

Albinism is an example of pigment disorders that are inherited. This particular condition is rare but is associated with sun damage and skin cancer in affected cats. 

Inherited Hair Loss (Alopecia)

Alopecia is a skin condition associated with hair loss. Cats with this disease may also have abnormal teeth and claws. Other problems such as infections of hair follicles are common with alopecia.

Structural Defects

Conditions such as cutaneous asthenia, a structural defect that is associated with collagen production, can cause weak skin, poor wound healing, blood clots, and cysts. Epidermolysis bullosa syndromes can result in bleeding skin ulcers.

Metabolic Disorders

Porphyria is an inherited disease that affects the metabolism of the skin, which causes symptoms when the skin is exposed to light. 

Causes of Inherited Skin Diseases in Cats

The most common cause of inherited skin diseases in cats is breed disposition. Himalayans and Main Coon are most often affected by these types of skin disorders. Other factors include the lifestyle of the cat. Outdoor cats are more likely to suffer serious effects of inherited skin conditions. Indoor cats live in a more controlled environment and often have less severe symptoms.

Diagnosis of Inherited Skin Diseases in Cats

The diagnosis of inherited skin conditions in cats begins with the doctor obtaining a detailed medical history from the cat's owner. The doctor may ask if there are any pre-existing medical conditions or if the cat takes any medications daily. Other important information includes the date of symptom onset and if the cat has had any recent changes in behavior. 

After taking a history, the doctor will take vital signs such as heart rate, respiration rate, weight and temperature. He will draw blood for a CBC, electrolyte count, and a chemical profile. A urine sample may be obtained for examination, as well. The veterinarian will examine the cat's skin to determine the cause of the condition and may take a culture of the skin for examination under a microscope. 

Treatment of Inherited Skin Diseases in Cats

The treatment for inherited and congenital skin conditions in cats depends on the diagnosis and cause of the condition. In many instances, doctors begin by treating symptoms such as itching, which may help clear up ulcers and skin lesions that develop from scratching. If ulcers or lesions are severe, the doctor may drain the affected areas. An antibiotic is then prescribed to ward off or treat bacterial infections. Topical creams may be used to treat fungal diseases, as well. If inflammation is causing skin symptoms and itching, the condition may require treatment with steroids. These medications work by reducing inflammation, but are typically used for short periods of time due to the side effects that can occur with this type of medicine. 

Recovery of Inherited Skin Diseases in Cats

The length of recovery from inherited skin diseases depends on a variety of factors. Some inherited conditions require ongoing monitoring and management of symptoms. Cats placed on steroids or antibiotics will continue to be monitored for several weeks by their veterinarian. It is important for owners to report any changes or worsening in their cat’s condition to their doctor at once. Many inherited skin conditions are manageable with maintenance medications.