What is Skin Inflammation?
Skin inflammation in cats is referred to as feline atopic dermatitis or feline atopy, and is defined as a hypersensitivity to a harmless substance in the environment. The condition can be seasonal or non-seasonal, as common irritants include pollen, mold, dust, and external parasites that thrive in warmer seasons of the year. Atopic dermatitis is hereditary in nature, commonly affecting purebred cats and cats with longer hair coats. Feline skin inflammation affects cat early in life, as most possess symptoms when the cat is less than five years old.
If your cat has developed a skin rash along her belly or head, neck, and ears, she could be suffering from skin inflammation. Skin inflammation is an allergic response to elements in a feline’s environment including pollen, parasites, deodorizers, and cigarette smoke. The skin inflammation is an over-reactive response the body’s immune system makes to elements it believes to be hazardous invaders. When these so-called invaders come into contact with the cat’s skin, the immune system released a chemical inflammatory response, causing the skin to redden, swell and become overwhelmingly itchy to the feline.
Symptoms of Skin Inflammation in Cats
The symptoms associated with skin inflammation in cats often worsen over time. The skin inflammation is often isolated to one or more related locations such as the; head, neck and ears, or the abdomen, high legs and rump. The symptoms of skin inflammation in cats include:
- Scratching and clawing at the skin
- Chewing or biting at the skin
- Rubbing of the face against objects
- Licking of the skin
- Self-manipulation causing open sores that may or may not become infected
- Hair loss
- Poor hair coat
- Rough appearance
Causes of Skin Inflammation in Cats
Skin inflammation in cats is hereditary in nature, meaning that a felines chances of developing skin inflammation is greater if the parents also had symptoms of skin inflammation. The cause of the skin inflammation is a hypersensitivity of the immune system likely caused by an allergic reaction to one or more of the following:
- Mold spores
- Household dust mites
- Plant pollen
- Demodex cati mites, or mange
- Otodectes cynotis, or ear mites
- Cheyletiella blakei, commonly known as the walking dandruff mite
- Notoedres cati, or feline scabies
- Insect bites
Diagnosis of Skin Inflammation in Cats
The veterinarian will begin the diagnosis of skin inflammation by reviewing your cat’s medical history and performing a physical examination. During the physical examination the veterinarian will search for any evidence of flea, lice or mite infestation, as these external parasites are common contributors to feline atopic dermatitis. Fleas can be detected using a flea comb. A flea comb is a specialized comb that can pick up flea dirt (flea feces) to be examined in a clinic setting. Mites and lice will require a skin scraping, a simple test that scrapes the top layer of the skin, removing particles to be examined under microscopic view.
If external parasites are not found, the veterinarian may then perform intradermal allergy testing or hyposensitization procedures. An intradermal test involves clipping the feline’s hair on one side of the chest and administering small volumes of allergen proteins into the skin. The skin will react to the allergen it has a hypersensitivity to by localized inflammation and the doctor will then be clued in to what is causing the feline’s condition. Many cat owners choose not to have this diagnostic test completed as shaving a feline’s hair can cause a change in coat coloration when it grows back. Therefore, a serologic allergy test may be preferred as this test uses a blood sample to send off to a laboratory where the levels of allergens will be compared to antibodies.
Treatment of Skin Inflammation in Cats
A cat diagnosed with skin inflammation has several treatment options available to her, including allergen avoidance, medication, and immunotherapy. Allergen avoidance can be an appropriate treatment for cat experiencing skin inflammation due to household elements or seasonal allergens. Household deodorizers, cigarette smoke, and dust mites can easily be eliminated from a cat’s environment simply through keeping the home clean, using air purifiers, or smoking outside. If the allergen cannot be avoided, the veterinarian may recommend relieving the cat’s symptoms through antihistamine and steroid drugs. However, these medications only treat the symptoms of skin inflammation and will not treat the problem at hand, therefore, the vet may recommend allergen-specific immunotherapy. A diluted allergen injected into the skin over a period of time is a type of therapy used to improve the body’s immune response, similar to that of vaccinations.
Recovery of Skin Inflammation in Cats
The prognosis of skin inflammation in cats is very good, as there are a number of treatment option available for this feline skin condition. Simple changes around the home and precautionary measures are often all it takes to improve the inflammatory skin condition. If your cat has been prescribed medication to relieve symptoms of skin inflammation, keep in mind that long term use of steroids can cause complications to the internal organs. Talk to your veterinarian about the most appropriate treatment option for you and your cat’s atopic dermatitis.