Diagnosing Dermatitis in Cats

Dermatitis in cats can be an unpleasant experience for both you and your pet. Diagnosis is a key step in treating the variety of symptoms associated with dermatitis, like skin rashes, bumps, scabs, lesions and blisters. Fortunately, there are many effective options available to manage the pain and discomfort attributed to the numerous sources of dermatitis, such as disease, illness and allergic reaction. Obtaining a diagnosis from a veterinarian can help you learn the cause of your cat's dermatitis, and identify ways to prevent troublesome skin and hair problems from reoccurring. Here is a summary on diagnosing feline dermatitis, including its most common causes and the frequent procedures used to pinpoint them.

Common Causes of Feline Dermatitis

Veterinarians typically rely on a variety of diagnostic criteria and patient history to help determine the root of cat dermatitis. Here are some of the most common causes of this widespread skin condition:

  • Flea allergies are considered the most frequent cause of feline dermatitis. Flea bites may cause cats with sensitivities to flea saliva to excessively scratch, bite or groom the base of their tail or other affected areas. This reaction can result in missing fur, swollen, raw or bleeding skin, and secondary dermal infections.
  • Parasite, bacterial and fungal infections can appear in a cat's fur, nails and skin. Depending on the cause, these infections can cause symptoms like scaly and patchy skin, and mangy or broken fur.
  • Food allergies and nutritional deficiencies can lead to dry, scaly and flaky skin. Inadequate amounts of vitamins A, E and B-complex, as well as minerals like zinc, calcium and phosphorus can cause dermatitis. Allergies to certain ingredients and additives in commercial food can also cause irritating skin problems. 

Diagnosis of Feline Dermatitis

A physical examination is one of the first and most valuable methods used by veterinarians to help diagnose feline dermatitis. Many symptoms of cat skin conditions can be readily identified, including irritated, swollen or discolored skin, and thinning or missing fur. An area affected by dermatitis can also feel distinct; scaly or patchy skin might easily flake off, while pustules will feel raised and might leak fluids. During an exam, a veterinarian may also discover evidence of fleas, lice, worms or other potential causes of cat skin problems.

To help reach a specific diagnosis, your vet might also take samples of your cat's hair or nails to view under a microscope. They may need to obtain skin samples by gently scraping the surface of your cat's skin with the dull section of a scalpel. When examined under a microscope, these samples can offer additional information regarding the underlying cause of dermatitis. If a food allergy or nutritional deficiency is suspected, your vet may recommend placing your cat on a trial diet. Other common tests for dermatitis involve hair cultures or fecal, urine or blood samples.

Treating Dermatitis in Cats

Depending on the cause of the condition, your cat will be prescribed treatments like antibiotic or antifungal medication or a special diet. Your veterinarian can also suggest products to help eliminate frequent causes of skin conditions, like fleas, mites, worms and certain household irritants. Once a diagnosis is determined, the symptoms and causes of dermatitis can often be treated easily and effectively.