Diagnosing Irritant Contact Dermatitis in Cats

Irritant contact dermatitis, to be distinguished from allergic contact dermatitis, is a skin condition affecting thousands of cats in all parts of the world. Unlike allergic contact dermatitis, which is caused by allergies to dust, mites, food or other common substances, irritant contact dermatitis is brought about by contact with one or more harmful chemical substances. A successful diagnosis of irritant contact dermatitis in cats may be made following a thorough analysis of symptoms and a reactant patch test. 

Differences Between Irritant and Allergic Contact Dermatitis 

Allergic contact dermatitis is due to an allergic reaction. Irritant contact dermatitis, on the other hand, may affect any cat, regardless of any preexisting allergies or negative reactions. Allergic contact dermatitis typically requires multiple exposures to the offending allergen or particle, while irritant contact dermatitis may develop after a single exposure to a harmful chemical compound. 

The two diseases present similar symptoms, the most common of which include the following: 

  • Ulceration of the skin
  • Red lesions and irritation
  • Itchiness
  • Excessive licking or picking at exposed areas

Sores caused by contact dermatitis tend to develop in the most exposed areas of the skin, where the hair cover is minimal. These primary areas include the face, paws and abdomen. 

Diagnosing Irritant Contact Dermatitis 

If you suspect that your pet may have irritant contact dermatitis, or if your cat has been exposed to a potentially harmful chemical compound, take him to a veterinarian immediately. If your cat has been poisoned, he may require emergency medical treatment. However, irritant contact dermatitis is not an immediately life-threatening disease, and does not require emergency attention. 

In order to diagnose irritant contact dermatitis, your veterinarian will begin by conducting a physical examination of your cat. A complete medical history check is useful in determining whether the skin condition is due to allergies. In some cases, your vet may conduct allergy tests. The most common of these tests is a patch test, in which a small quantity of the suspected allergen is put in contact with your cat's skin. The veterinarian will watch your cat for any signs of an allergic reaction over the next few days. 

A patch test will not determine whether your pet has irritant contact dermatitis, but it may help to diagnose allergic contact dermatitis. veterinarians will often diagnose irritant contact dermatitis by eliminating the possibility of allergic contact dermatitis. If you know of any chemicals that your pet has come into contact with, be prepared to share that information with your vet at the examination. 

Treating Irritant Contact Dermatitis 

The best treatment for irritant contact dermatitis is limiting your pet's exposure to the harmful chemical. This typically requires a combination of close monitoring and environmental changes. Consult with your veterinarian for advice or suggestions as to how best to accomplish these lifestyle changes. 

Irritant contact dermatitis is a preventable, treatable condition, but it is nevertheless a painful and uncomfortable health concern for many pets. Do your part to protect your cats by monitoring them closely, keeping potentially harmful chemicals locked away securely out of reach and reacting quickly if you detect any symptoms.