Dermatitis in Cats

Picture of a cat

If you have noticed that your cat has been a little scratchy for some time and he or she is constantly licking or grooming more often than what you consider normal, it’s quite likely that your feline companion has dermatitis. Dermatitis is a term that means ‘inflammation of the skin’ – it is a disease described by this general symptom, but it can take many forms and can have different outcomes.

In this article, we will look at some of the most common forms of dermatitis in cats, some of the possible causes that could be at the root of dermatitis cases, as well as other helpful information for cat parents.

What Is Dermatitis Caused By?

Dermatitis can be caused by actual infectious causes or it can be a result of a behavioral problem developed due to stress or anxiety. If you’ve ever seen cats that lick some areas of their bodies excessively, you should know that if they continue doing so, they will damage the epidermis, cause hair loss in that area, and expose the area to potential infections.

Dermatitis can be primarily caused by fungal infections, viral infections (such as cowpox), bacterial infections (often occurring as a secondary disease of damaged skin), as well as parasites (fleas and mites, in particular).

Food allergy dermatitis is possible, as well, and it happens when the cat has an allergy to some of the compounds in the food that she’s consuming. As weird as it might be, a cat can develop a food allergy after eating the same type of food for years on end.

Atopic dermatitis can be a result of an allergic reaction to something that exists in the cat’s living environment. While it is true that it is more common in our canine friends than it is in our feline companions, atopic dermatitis is a chronic inflammatory skin disease that’s typically associated with allergies. This can mean that it can be caused by mold spores, grass, dust mites that exist in the house, or pretty much any other environmental factor.

Miliary dermatitis is a term that’s used to describe a condition of the skin that often results from an allergy. The lesions are rather felt by the cat instead of seen. It can be caused by an allergy to fleabites, food, or inhaled allergens. Contact dermatitis is a possibility, as well, but it can be somewhat rare in cats.

How Can You Tell If Your Cat Has Dermatitis?

Some of the things that you can notice in a cat with dermatitis are bumps, lesions, crusting, redness, scabbing, or hair loss. Sometimes, the entirety of a cat’s belly becomes completely bald. Unfortunately, pet parents might just not see anything in terms of clinical signs, especially if they have a fluffy cat.

What happens is that the cat becomes a little inattentive, meaning that she isn’t as willing to engage in the activities that she usually loves. She can sometimes be a little preoccupied, and when she lies down, she ends up over-grooming or just chewing at her body in an incessant manner.


Since cats are so good at hiding illness, it can be very challenging to diagnose them correctly. Usually, the diagnosis is based on medical history and the cat’s clinical signs. However, there are other tests that can be performed, such as skin scrapings, allergy tests, biopsies, or trying different foods for set periods of time. If none of these tests show anything, it is highly recommended that a veterinary dermatologist is consulted.


Removal of the offending allergen or irritant is what actually treats this condition. This means that if the cat has developed dermatitis due to a flea allergy, the flea infestation needs to be solved in order for the clinical signs to disappear and for the cat to recover.

Needless to say, the veterinarian can prescribe anti-allergen or anti-inflammatories, whether in the form of pills or gels, but it’s quite likely that they are not going to solve the issue by eliminating the cause. They will merely alleviate the symptoms. Until you find and eliminate the cause of dermatitis, the cat will keep showing signs of the disease.

Flea-allergy dermatitis is rather easy to solve. If you get rid of the fleas, you automatically get rid of the itchiness, too. Medications recommended by vets are usually safer compared to the over-the-counter pesticides that you might find are available for sale nowadays. Besides, a vet will recommend the correct dosage, which can be particularly helpful if the cat hasn’t become an adult yet.

Food allergy dermatitis is usually solved with a food allergy trial. This means that the cat will receive a special prescription diet for a limited amount of time without the addition of any treats or table food. If a food allergy is suspected, the trial needs to last for anything between four to twelve weeks — otherwise, its results might not be reliable.

Atopic dermatitis is harder to manage since the cause is sometimes unknown and can remain so. Some cats are suspected of developing this type of dermatitis due to sudden changes in their behavior, stress, or anxiety. Many cats end up taking treatment for atopic dermatitis for the remainder of their lives, which is why the use of corticosteroid medication is to be used as rarely as possible. Immunomodulatory drugs and antihistamines are recommended, as well. Allergen-specific therapy is available, as well, although it tends to be quite expensive.

Final thoughts

Taking your cat to the vet is the best way of going about things if you suspect that your cat has dermatitis. Samples and routine tests can help uncover the root of the cause and also assess your cat’s general health. There is no prevention method that you could use to make sure that your feline friend doesn’t end up suffering from this condition.

Catching a case of dermatitis as early as possible and getting treatment is the right approach. Some types of dermatitis can be more serious, such as those involving mites, ringworm, or cutaneous lymphoma. Early diagnosis is even more important in these situations.



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