Dermatitis is a skin condition that causes the skin to become inflamed, itchy and often flaky. It can take on various forms including Miliary Dermatitis when the coat becomes greasy and filled with dandruff, and pinpoint scabs appear along the cat’s back causing extreme irritation. There will also often be a considerable amount of hair loss caused by repeated scratching or licking of the affected area, which is probably when you will first notice that your cat has got a problem. Feline dermatitis can be caused by a number of things, and you and your Vet will need to work out the underlying reason so that the cause can be remedied as well as treating the visible symptoms. An anti-inflammatory injection or tablets will help to relieve the symptoms in the short term, but stronger treatment such as medication containing steroids could actually damage the skin further in the long term if the cause is not found, and your pet could ultimately become immune to the treatment and no longer respond to it. Apart from flea infestation (which is generally quite obvious, and the most common cause of itchy skin in cats), the other main causes of dermatitis include:
This can be very difficult to pinpoint and it may turn out to be particular food additives or preservatives rather than the food itself that are causing the severe reaction. If other causes of the itchy patches of skin have been eliminated, it is worth systematically working through a change in diet to try and discover what is actually causing the problem. It is probably more likely to be additives rather than the particular meat or fish, bearing in mind that cats are carnivores and shouldn’t be fed on anything else apart from a little rice or cereal to add substance. Very rarely, it may be a particular type of meat or fish that causes this type of allergic reaction in your cat, and it will take time and patience to get to the root of the problem. Many cats have a mild allergy to milk, which usually shows itself in the form of a stomach upset, but it could also set up dermatitis in extreme cases. If you have been offering your cat extra morsels from the human plate (rather than giving him special feline treats), this could also be the answer to Kitty’s skin problems. You may find that you will have to cook fresh food for the affected cat so that you know exactly what has gone into his dish, and this new feeding regime will need to include any other cats (and possibly your dog if you have one) so that the itchy cat doesn’t become affected by food put out for his housemates. You will also need to keep the affected cat indoors so that your neighbours don’t feed him or he doesn’t simply help himself to another cat’s food.
Apart from fleas, there are many other insect bites that can set up an allergic skin reaction resulting in flaky and itchy red patches of skin on your cat. You would probably notice if your cat has been bitten by a wasp or bee as you would be able to see a relatively large puncture mark, but some of the other culprits include midges, harvest mites and even flies. Like us, cats can also be bitten by mosquitoes and you may see a series of itchy bumps, much as you would on your own arm or leg. Harvest mites are often around during late summer and autumn in areas that have chalky soil, and the tiny orange mites can sometimes be seen around the face and on the feet of your cat, making their way into other parts of his body when he is asleep. Midges tend to hover under trees, so it is a good idea to get your cat indoors once it reaches dusk as they can cause a lot of irritation to a cat’s skin. It’s annoying to have to shut doors and windows on a lovely summer’s evening, so it might be worth fixing some basic moveable wooden frames with mesh over the windows you would like to remain open to prevent Kitty from escaping. Again, although the anti-inflammatory treatment is effective in relieving the itchiness in the short term, it will keep recurring if you cannot eliminate the cause, and your cat may become very stressed by this, adding to the problem. You should also keep an eye open for ear mites, as these can migrate to other parts of your cat’s body and set up an itchy irritation. Regular grooming will help to alert you to any problems with insect infestation, especially if your cat has a long coat where the pests could lurk without being immediately obvious to you, and tangled fur could set up an irritation.
If food allergies and insect bites (including fleas) have been eliminated as the cause of your cat’s dermatitis, less common causes can include an allergy to dust or pollen, known as Atopic Dermatitis, and similar in origin to eczema and asthma. Unfortunately not so much is known about these problems in cats as there is in humans and dogs, and although your cat can be tested for this, the results may not be 100% reliable. Unfortunately, this type of dermatitis is not curable in cats, and although medication of essential fatty acids and antihistamines may offer limited relief in a few cases, long-term corticosteroid treatment may be offered in severe cases to make your cat’s life more bearable. However, long-term steroid treatment can set up further complications and side effects whatever the disease, and will probably have a detrimental effect on the longevity of your cat’s life. It’s important to consult your Vet if your cat is suffering from dermatitis. Don’t be tempted to use ointments and creams intended for human use as they could contain constituents that are poisonous to cats, and cats will inevitably try and lick off any ointment. Anti-inflammatory treatment will give your cat some short tem relief from the itching, but it is essential to discover the cause (which may come to light as a result of a discussion with your Vet), or it may be down to the longer-term elimination of particular foodstuffs.