What is Scaly Skin?
Treating scaly skin is not just about finding out the underlying cause, but also alleviating itchiness associated with the condition to help make your cat comfortable.
Cats may have scaly skin for a number of reasons, some of which are minor, such as dry skin. Scaly skin often looks like dandruff, but can also consist of larger flakes that can be seen through your cat’s hair. If you notice your cat excessively licking or scratching certain areas of his body, check to see if you spot any signs of scaly skin.
Symptoms of Scaly Skin in Cats
Cat owners are often unaware of their cat’s skin problems because cats tend to groom themselves on a regular basis, so excessive licking may not seem unusual. But, it’s important for cat owners to make an effort to look for scaly skin symptoms, including:
- Small or large flakes of skin
- Hair loss
- Thinning hair
- Red, irritated skin
Causes of Scaly Skin in Cats
Scaly skin is a sign of an underlying health condition. Although it can be caused by something as minor as dry skin, there are other more serious health conditions that could be affecting your cat. Some of these causes include:
- Cheyletiella mange, caused by mites
- Demodectic mange
- Allergies, especially flea allergies
- Seborrhea, or an excessive production of sebum
- Yeast infections on the skin
- Autoimmune disorders
Diagnosis of Scaly Skin in Cats
A vet will be able to spot scaly skin through a simple physical examination of the cat’s hair and skin, however in order to treat it, the underlying cause must be diagnosed. Be sure to give your vet detailed information on when the symptoms began, and what behaviors your cat has exhibited. If your cat has been diagnosed with any other health conditions in the past, be sure to bring this to your vet’s attention as well. Because scaly skin can be caused by allergies, tell your vet if you have recently changed your cat’s diet or exposed him to any potential allergens.
First, a vet may perform a complete blood count test and urinalysis to get a better picture of the cat’s overall health. Blood tests can also show if there is a serious cause of the scaly skin, such as an autoimmune disorder.
Skin scrapings, which test for fungus or bacteria on the skin, are usually done. The specimen will be examined under a microscope to determine if the scaly skin is caused by a fungal or bacterial infection or mites. A small sample of hair may also be taken and examined under a microscope to determine if there are excessive amounts of sebum on the hair follicle.
A vet may also do a thorough physical examination to check you cat for fleas. Scaly skin can often be a sign of an allergic reaction to fleas, so if any are found, this could be the cause.
Treatment of Scaly Skin in Cats
Once a diagnosis has been made, the vet will discuss treatment options with you. If the cause is related to fleas, ringworm or mites, medication will be applied to the cat’s skin to combat the pests. The vet may also prescribe steroids or antihistamines to help alleviate the cat’s itchiness and skin inflammation.
Cats will be prescribed antifungal or antibiotics if the cause is a yeast or bacterial infection. These are usually given orally, however some on-the-spot treatments may be required, depending on the condition of your cat’s skin.
Seborrhea is treated with special shampoos designed to control the production of sebum. Your vet may wash your cat in the office for you, and then ask you to continue using the shampoo at home.
If the vet believes your cat has scaly skin because of an allergy, he may suggest allergy testing to determine what your cat is allergic to. Once you find out, you will need to reduce or eliminate your cat’s exposure to the allergen to help your cat heal and prevent further issues.
To treat autoimmune disorders, your vet will prescribe medication that suppresses the immune system and allows your cat’s body to recover. If the cause of the scaly skin is cancer, which is rare, your cat may need to undergo chemotherapy or radiation treatment.
Recovery of Scaly Skin in Cats
Recovery will depend on the cause of the scaly skin. If the scaly skin was caused by fleas or mites, you will need to administer medication to your cat on a monthly basis to prevent the issue from recurring.
Bacterial and fungal infections will usually clear up after you have given your cat the full course of medication. To prevent these infections from coming back, your vet may recommend you use special shampoos to keep your cat’s skin clear and healthy.
Scaly skin caused by allergies will usually clear up once the cat is no longer exposed to the allergen. However, if it’s impossible to completely eliminate the allergen from your home, talk to your vet about whether you can use antihistamines to treat allergic reactions.
Regardless of the cause, be sure to speak with your vet about an appropriate bathing schedule. Bathing your cat regularly is important to protect his skin, but if you do it excessively, it could dry the skin out and cause irritation.