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What is Thin or Fragile Skin?

A cat with thin or fragile skin must be taken to a veterinarian immediately and remain under the vet’s consistent care either during the duration of the condition if it is an acute occurrence, or for the entirety of the cat’s life if the condition is chronic. Your cat could be in imminent danger of a life threatening injury and may be suffering from very serious underlying illnesses that require medical attention.

Thin or fragile skin in cats, more commonly called skin fragility syndrome (SFS), is a rare but extremely serious condition in cats that causes the skin to become dangerously thin and able to tear easily. The affected areas of the cat’s skin will usually be void of fur and the skin in that region of the body will often be either transparent or red to the point of appearing to be painfully raw. The skin can rip open when the cat scratches itself, when it scrapes against the corner of a table, and as a result of many other daily occurrences.

Symptoms of Thin or Fragile Skin in Cats

Depending on where on the cat’s body the symptoms begin to manifest and over how large or small an area of the body, the physical symptoms of thin and fragile skin can either be very easily observed or very difficult to notice until a serious wound has formed. The following symptoms should cause enough concern for you to immediately schedule an appointment with your veterinarian:

  • Bald spots with red, orange, or pink skin
  • Nearly transparent skin that allows veins to show through
  • Tears in the skin and open wounds that often do not bleed
  • Loss of appetite
  • Dehydration 
  • Vomiting
  • Weight loss
  • Lethargy
  • Weakness
  • Jaundice

Causes of Thin or Fragile Skin in Cats

Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome

A congenital disorder, also called feline cutaneous asthenia, that causes loose and fragile skin that can easily tear when pulled.

Spontaneous Cushing’s Syndrome

An extremely rare condition, also called pituitary dependent hypercortisolism. This disease is the result of a benign tumor on the pituitary gland, which causes the gland to overproduce the stress hormone cortisol. Over a sustained period of time, this raised cortisol level causes such symptoms as hair loss, matting hair, thinning blood vessels, and thinning skin.

Iatrogenic Cushing’s Syndrome 

This disease mimics the description of Cushing’s Syndrome above but is caused by reactions to some corticosteroid drugs such as prednisone or hormonal therapies such as megestrol acetate, which is used to fight some cancers. This cause of thin and fragile skin in cats, while still rare, is more common than spontaneous Cushing’s syndrome.

Diabetes Mellitus

This condition is common in obese adult cats, and often accompanies Cushing’s Syndrome.

Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP)

A viral infection caused by the feline coronavirus, FIP has on rare occasions been reported to be accompanied by skin fragility in a cat.

Paraneoplastic Alopecia

A secondary condition that can sometimes accompany Paraneoplastic syndrome, a condition caused by various cancers.

Hepatic Lipidosis

A condition also known as fatty liver disease.


Cancer of the bile duct.

Diagnosis of Thin or Fragile Skin in Cats

Your veterinarian will likely begin by examining your cat’s coat and skin for bald spots, transparent and/or red skin, and the telltale lesions that are most associated with thin and fragile skin. It is not uncommon for the skin of a cat suffering from this condition to actually tear during an examination, which is an immediate indication to the vet that your cat has skin fragility syndrome. Your vet will also ask you questions about your cat’s behavior, eating and sleep patterns, frequency of urination and defecation, and other observations. Blood, urine, and fecal analyses will be done, as will skin biopsies. The vet may also order tests such as an ultrasound, MRI, or CT scan to examine your cat’s internal organs for signs of primary causes. 

Skin fragility syndrome by itself can be quite easy to diagnose; it is the underlying cause that can be difficult to determine and may take extensive tests and repeat visits to the veterinarian to identify.

Treatment of Thin or Fragile Skin in Cats

Treatment of skin fragility is heavily dependent upon the underlying cause. There is little that can be done for the skin condition itself. Treatment is usually of the underlying condition in the hope that by managing the primary condition, the secondary condition of thin and fragile skin will begin to improve as well. This may involve taking the cat off of corticosteroids, beginning insulin injections, performing surgery to remove pituitary tumors, and other treatments for primary causes. If your cat’s skin fragility syndrome cannot be managed by treating the underlying cause, your cat may be extensively debilitated for the remainder of its life, in constant danger of infection, and in need of nearly continual attention. In such extreme cases, based upon your veterinarian’s guidance, euthanasia may be the most humane option for your cat.

Recovery of Thin or Fragile Skin in Cats

Whether or not your cat can recover depends upon what has caused its thin and fragile skin. You will need to work closely with your veterinarian to devise a plan of management, which may include repeat visits and daily medications. You will need to keep a close eye on your cat, being very gentle, and keeping your cat away from other animals and small children. If you notice any wounds and/or changes in behavior that match the symptoms above, contact your vet immediately.