Dermatitis is a general term to represent any sort of skin inflammation. The type of inflammation can range from itchy skin, to a rash, to dandruff, to severely infected and broken skin.
Dermatitis can be broken down into a few general groups. Allergic Dermatitis is a skin irritation due to an allergic reaction. There are numerous allergens that a cat can be allergic to ranging from shampoo to food. If your cat is allergic to something she could have more than just skin irritation. Your cat could start to exhibit respiratory problems (coughing or sneezing) related to the allergy. Contact Dermatitis occurs when the cat comes in contact with something that irritates the skin. This could be anything from cleaning fluids to a flea collar. Parasitic Dermatitis is a type of dermatitis which is brought about by parasitic infestation. Some cats are actually allergic to these pests, however, the majority of cats will form a dermatitis due to scratching to remove the pest. In this case the dermatitis is a symptom of a greater problem rather than the problem itself. If you notice that your cat has dermatitis one look at the skin should allow you to determine if your cat has some sort of parasite (fleas or mites) or simply has a skin irritation. In any case, your cat should see a vet as soon as possible.
No matter what the cause of the dermatitis is the cat will usually develop an itchy rash consisting of red, bumpy skin. If the cat scratches this area she may break the skin creating an open sore that could become infected. Cats may not only scratch hard enough to break the skin, but also cause the hair of the surrounding area to fall out. Once a rash becomes infected your cat runs the risk of more serious health issues. And parasitic dermatitis, if left untreated, can lead to anemia.
Symptoms to look for:
- Excessive scratching/licking
- Scratching/licking in the same area over and over
- Scratching/licking to the point of blood loss
- Hair loss
- Lethargy (some parasites will suck the cats blood leaving it anemic)
If you suspect your cat has any of the above types of dermatitis take her to the vet immediately (especially if you have a kitten). Dermatitis can lead to infection and anemia if left unchecked. If your cat has an allergic or contact dermatitis she may be given a topical cream, antihistamine, or bathing solution to ease the itching and pain and perhaps antibiotics to ward of any skin infection. Your vet will also help you to try to pinpoint the allergen or cause of the reaction. You will then need to try to reduce your cats exposure to that substance.
If your cat has parasitic dermatitis your vet will probably provide your cat with some sort of flea shampoo or other medication to kill the parasite and its eggs. Your pet may also be given antihistamines or topical creams to reduce the itching and swelling. If your cat has any open sores due to scratching he/she may also be placed on a course of antibiotics.
Try to keep your cat well-groomed and clean. If you have an outdoor cat you may want to inspect her coat or bathe her every so often to ward off any parasites. Even an indoor cat can benefit from staying well-groomed. You can also try to keep your home clean and free of potential allergens or substances that could cause irritation to your cat. These include toxic or corrosive substances, using only vet approved shampoos and conditioners, and vet approved collars.