Contact Dermatitis in Cats

Contact dermatitis in cats is a slightly uncommon skin disease. Contact dermatitis is where the skin overreacts to a substance in the environment. It is uncommon because cats are covered in their coat of fur, and therefore their skin doesn't make much contact with anything. This means that areas where the fur is sparse are more susceptible to the dermatitis.

Overview of Contact Dermatitis

There are two types of contact dermatitis in cats: allergy and irritant.

Allergy contact dermatitis is caused by substances found in nature, and the atmosphere. Allergies are simply the cat's immune system inappropriately responding to the presence of a foreign body that is usually considered harmless. Allergy contact dermatitis requires multiple cases of exposure to the substance before developing symptoms. Certain substances that are likely to cause contact dermatitis are: antibiotics applied to the skin, nickel and other metals, and materials such as rubber or wool.

Irritant contact dermatitis is caused by irritating chemicals. In contrast to allergy contact dermatitis, related contact dermatitis affects every cat, and isn't limited to cats who have a hypersensitivity to a substance. Irritant contact dermatitis is more common than allergy contact dermatitis. Common irritants include acids, soaps and detergents, medications and other chemicals.

Symptoms of Contact Dermatitis

The symptoms of both types of contact dermatitis are mostly the same, and they include:

  • itching, especially in areas with less fur (these areas include the chin, ears, toes and underbelly)
  • constant scratching, licking or biting the skin because of itchiness
  • blisters, bumps, or crusty areas
  • redness
  • rash
  • inflammation of the skin
  • thickening of the skin

It is also possible for ulcers to form in the case of irritant contact dermatitis. In both cases of dermatitis, it is possible for secondary infections to occur from the excessive biting and scratching.

Who's at Risk?

Young cats are more likely to get into irritating chemicals, because they are inquisitive. However, cats under 2 years of age have been rarely shown to develop allergy contact dermatitis.

Diagnosis of Contact Dermatitis

A history and physical examination is usually sufficient in identifying the problem. If not, small amounts of potential allergens or irritants will applied to a small patch of skin to see whether or not an allergic reaction occurs. There are also other tests that can be run, and whether or not they are performed depends on what allergen or irritant is suspected to be the cause. These tests include skin scraping and allergy blood tests.

Controlling and Treating Contact Dermatitis

The most effective and safe way to deal with contact dermatitis would be to just avoid contact with the allergen or irritant. Depending on what is causing the dermatitis, steps can be taken to removing it from the environment. For example, if a cat is allergic to dust and mold, then you must be careful to keep the amount of dust and mold in the home to a minimum.

If it isn't possible for the irritant or allergy to be removed from your cat's environment, there are anti-inflammatory medications. Antibiotics will be prescribed if secondary infections have occurred.