Diagnosing Cat Skin Problems

Cat skin can fall into very broad categories and may be hard to diagnose. There are many types cat skin problems, and causes range from dermatitis to fungal infection to allergies. Various tests may be needed to properly diagnose cat skin problems.

Types of Skin Problems in Cats

Cat skin problems range from minor discolorations to cysts and cancerous tumors. Here are some of the most common cat skin problems:

  • A macule is an area of the skin that has become discolored, usually due to inflammation or injury.
  • A papule is an elevated lesion. A large papule is known as a plaque. Plaques and papules are collectively known as neoplasms. Neoplasms may be benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous).
  • A postule is an area of the skin that becomes filled with pus. Pus builds up when white blood cells gather to combat bacterial or fungal infections. As dead white blood cells accumulate, pus forms.
  • A vesicle is a lump underneath the skin that becomes filled with fluid.
  • A wheal is a raised area that heals on its own within a few minutes, or hours. The area may appear inflamed, or even paler than the surrounding area. The wheal may be itchy. Allergies, infection and insect bites can cause wheals.
  • A nodule is a bump on the skin. Nodules can be the result of abnormal cell growth or infection.
  • A tumor is a large mass of tissue growth on the surface of the skin. They can be caused by abnormal cell growth, whether benign or malignant. Inflammation can also cause tumors.
  • Cysts are benign lumps under the skin that may be removed by draining.
  • Feline Miliary Dermatitis is a rash that appears as a collection of small red bumps.

Causes of Cat Skin Problems

Skin problems in cats can have a number of problems. Diabetes is a common cause of many skin problems in cats; dry and scaly skin, or diabetic dermatitis, is common in cats with diabetes. Diabetic cats may also develop xanthomas, or yellowish nodules that appear on the head, legs and other bony areas. Other common causes of feline skin problems include:

  • Mites, fleas and fungal infection such as ringworm.
  • Bacterial infection
  • Skin, food or other allergies
  • Skin cancer
  • Warts

Symptoms of Feline Skin Problems

The many symptoms of cat skin problems include:

  • Dry, scaly skin
  • Lesions
  • Hair loss
  • Dry, dull coat
  • Lumps or bumps on or beneath the skin
  • Red patches on the skin
  • Round, raw lesions known as "hot spots"
  • Scabs
  • Excessive scratching or licking

Skin Problem Diagnosis

Your vet will need to perform a thorough examination to diagnose cat skin problems. He'll examine your cat's skin and perform a range of tests. Your vet may use some of the following procedures.

He may look at your cat's skin under a special lamp known as a Wood's light. This checks for fungal infection. A biopsy can determine whether lumps and bumps on your cat's skin are cancerous or benign. Blood tests can rule out infections, nutrient deficiencies and underlying conditions such as diabetes. Allergen skin tests can determine if cat skin problems are due to allergies. Some types of cat skin problems occur only on certain parts of the body, in certain breeds, or on cats of a certain age. Your vet will take these factors into account when making a diagnosis.