Skin diseases in cats

Cats regularly lick their coats to clean themselves. Occasionally, this cleaning routine is also accompanied by scratching. However, if this behaviour occurs very often, it may indicate a skin disease in the cat. Of course, skin diseases present with numerous other symptoms and the causes could range from parasites to a fungal disease or even allergies. Therefore, if you suspect a skin disease, you should make your way to your trusted vet without delay. Untreated skin conditions in cats can worsen and cause persistent skin problems or other forms of health-related deterioration. Cats tend to be more sensitive to stress than other animals, and as such psychological reasons can also be a trigger for excessive licking, leading to skin problems.

Causes of skin diseases in cats

As previously mentioned, the causes of skin problems or skin diseases in cats can vary. Triggers such as parasites (e.g. fleas, mites and ticks) can be detected quite easily by checking your cat’s coat regularly. Other causes, however, can only be diagnosed by a vet.

Possible causes of skin disease in cats:
  • Parasites (e.g. fleas, mites, ticks etc.)
  • Skin fungus (e.g. impetigo or yeast infections)
  • Bacterial infections
  • Allergies due to food
  • Environmental allergens (such as pollen, dust or mould)
  • Incorrect diet or malnutrition
  • Stress
  • Side effect of other medicines
Please note: certain infections can also quickly spread to other (four-legged) family members. You should pay particular attention to fungal infections, as these tend to be transmissible from animals to humans and are therefore difficult to treat.

How do I recognise a skin disease in my cat?

Depending on the cause, the symptoms may have a delayed onset. You should therefore not put off a visit to the vet, because if one or more of the following symptoms occur, the cause may have been plaguing your cat for much longer.

Possible symptoms that occur in cats with skin diseases:
  • Skin irritation (e.g. scabbing, swelling or redness with pustules)
  • Increased scratching due to itching
  • Intensive licking of certain areas
  • Change in the cat’s coat (shaggy coat)
  • Severe hair loss leading to bald patches
  • Increased rubbing, rolling or chafing
  • Dry and flaky skin
  • Chapped skin
  • Change in odour
  • Open areas or wounds that weep or bleed (increased risk of infection)
  • Change in behaviour (nervousness or irritability)

Intense scratching is a common sign of skin disease in cats

Diagnosis and treatment

A regular and thorough check of your cat’s skin and coat will serve to detect skin problems at an early stage. This is because parasites such as fleas and ticks can be easily recognised with a little practice. However, not everything can be seen by the naked eye, so you should always take your cat to the vet if one or more of the above symptoms occur. Your trusted vet not only has an expert eye, but also knows special diagnostic procedures. For example, a skin swab, skin scraping, biopsy or coat sample can be helpful in detecting pathogens such as skin fungi. Blood tests can be used to diagnose metabolic disorders or infections, and an allergy test can provide information if environmental allergies are suspected. The ears, an accessory organ of the skin, should also be checked regularly for abnormalities (such as redness, excessive secretion or injuries) and inspected by the vet if necessary.

The vet examines the skin and coat for skin diseases in cats

It is very important that: The vet selects the treatment and this should be followed. Skin diseases in cats are, unfortunately, difficult to trace, and the cause is often not clear. In such cases, symptomatic treatment is given, for example, with cortisone and antibiotics. If necessary, other treatments can also be prescribed, such as medication to treat parasites or fungal skin infections, or special laser treatments.
Concomitant or subsequent treatment and care of the skin with the help of natural skin care products can also be useful. Here, too, it is always advisable to consult the attending vet.

Once the skin disease has resolved and your cat is feeling well again, you can also support the regeneration of stressed skin with natural skin care products such as our Skin Care Wound and Healing Balm. 

If the cat’s skin condition is due to a food allergy, an elimination diet can be followed to determine which ingredients are causing the allergy. Just as with external treatments or the administration of medication, a change in feed should take place only at a veterinarian’s instruction. 

Prevention: What can I do to prevent skin diseases in cats?

Regular grooming is important to prevent skin diseases in cats. While cats do groom themselves and thus take over a large portion of coat care themselves, there are many reasons to support your feline friend in their grooming routine. We explain this in detail in our expert guide on the subject of coat care. While grooming, for example, you can use a brush to check your cat’s coat and skin effectively and precisely. This allows you to better detect the ectoparasites that live on the cat (e.g. fleas and ticks) and have these treated by your vet. Following a flea infestation, it is also recommended to worm your cat, as fleas can act as intermediate hosts for tapeworms. If the cat ingests the fleas through the mouth, the next parasitic infestation could be imminent and cause significant discomfort for the cat.

Depending on the cat’s living conditions, it may be advisable to administer a prophylactic agent to prevent ectoparasites following consultation with the vet. This can also help to prevent skin diseases. 

You should also observe your pet’s behaviour, in order to detect changes early on. Behavioural changes in cats often indicate discomfort, which can be a sign of health problems. 

Strengthening the skin flora with special care products also plays an important role in the prevention of skin diseases in cats.


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A healthy and cat-friendly diet with a high proportion of fresh meat also helps to strengthen the skin barrier and prevent skin diseases.

Which skin diseases affect cats?

  • Atopic dermatitis
  • Feline acne
  • Psychogenic lick alopecia due to stress

Allergic dermatitis in cats: Atopic dermatitis

The technical term “atopic dermatitis” refers to an allergic skin inflammation in cats which, as the name suggests, leads to inflammatory reactions of the skin. The main cause is a genetically inherited predisposition that causes the immune system of the affected cat to react to substances from the environment that are completely harmless to healthy cats. The age of the cat does not play a role in atopic dermatitis.

Inflammatory skin disease in cats manifests with the following symptoms:
  • General itching
  • Intensive licking (especially on the belly, inner thighs and paws)
  • Fur falling out
  • Redness, swelling, wounds 
Diagnosis at the vet may be difficult because other factors such as parasites or food intolerances must first be ruled out. The next step is to find the trigger, which may be another substance besides the known and common allergens.

Unfortunately, in allergic dermatitis the cat’s skin is often also infected with fungi and bacteria (secondary infection). For this reason, the vet will usually prescribe appropriate medication such as antibiotics, antifungals and cortisone. It is also advisable to use a collar or a special medical bodysuit to prevent the cat from constantly licking the infected areas. It is particularly important that cats are not given free roam while they are wearing a collar, as the risk of strangulation is far too great.

Atopic dermatitis in cats also manifests with hair loss on the abdomen

Acne in cats: Feline acne

Cats can also suffer from acne. Unlike us humans, our four-legged friends don’t care about appearance, but pimples and blackheads can become infected and cause discomfort and pain. Feline acne is usually harmless, but secondary infections can also occur. The disease should also be treated quickly by a vet for the sake of your pet’s well-being. Mostly acne occurs on the cat’s chin and is therefore also referred to as chin acne. In rare cases, it can also be found around the mouth and nose. Blackheads should be removed promptly to avoid infections.

Acne in cats manifests as follows:
  • Blackheads, pimples and pustules mostly on the chin
  • Head rubbing and scratching
  • Sensitivity to pain in the affected areas
  • Possible refusal of food as a result
  • Fatigue
  • Defensive behaviour
As the symptoms could also indicate a range of other diseases or a mite infestation, for example, the diagnosis – including appropriate treatment – must be made by a vet.

Feline acne usually occurs on the cat’s chin

Skin diseases in cats due to stress: Psychogenic alopecia

This condition refers to compulsive grooming behaviour (overgrooming) in cats. Alopecia is the technical term for hair loss. In the case of psychogenic alopecia, the loss of fur is caused by the cat’s intense licking behaviour. This behaviour is not due to physical causes, but to psychological factors, such as stress. Physical causes must be ruled out beforehand, in order to be able to make this diagnosis. Your cat’s stress can be triggered by a variety of changes in everyday life, such as a move, a new addition to the family, conflicts with other animals, a change of food or even loneliness and boredom.

The following symptoms may be signs of psychogenic alopecia:
  • Intensive cleaning behaviour
  • Bald patches in the coat that the cat can easily reach, such as the belly, paws or inner thighs
  • There may be inflamed, oozing or bleeding spots, due to bacteria on the cat’s rough tongue
  • Redness and swelling
Unlike other skin diseases in cats, the vet can treat the symptoms, but not the cause. In these cases it is your responsibility to create the most stress-free environment possible for your beloved furry friend, and to eliminate the stress trigger. Of course, your vet can give you advice and help you find the cause. Often, the trigger of a behavioural disorder is not obvious.

Coat loss in cats can also be caused by intense licking, caused by stress

What does a fungal infection look like in a cat?

Feline fungal infections can occur anywhere on the body. Unfortunately, fungal infections are difficult to recognise, as the symptoms can also indicate other skin diseases in cats. In addition, the carriers of feline fungus are not visible to the naked eye. These are in fact fine spores that spread by simply brushing them off. 

The following symptoms often occur in the affected areas:
  • Patchy hair loss on the face, ears or limbs (alopecia)
  • Dry or oily skin
  • Inflamed claws
  • Inflammation of the hair follicles and/or the subcutaneous fatty tissue
  • Coat can be easily pulled out at the edge of the localised change in skin 

Feline fungal infection is a common skin disease in cats
Hair loss usually occurs on the cat's face, ears or limbs

While all cats can develop a fungal infection, some animals are particularly at risk. These include:
  • Young kittens 
  • Cats with a weakened immune system or a skin injury (e.g. from parasites), as this allow fungal spores to enter the skin more easily
  • Persian cats, due to a genetic predisposition
  • Cats living in warm and humid regions (e.g. Mediterranean region) 
  • Stray or feral cats
  • Cats that live together or that have contact with many other animals
In order to be able to make a final diagnosis, it is essential that you take your cat to your vet if you suspect a fungal infection. The cat will then be examined with a special lamp (Wood’s lamp). Other ways to detect a fungal infection include a trichogram and taking a fungal culture.

What does mange look like in a cat?

Mange is caused by mites in cats, just as it is in dogs. A special type of mite, the burrowing mite and/or the mange mite, attacks your beloved pet. These spider-like animals spread over the cat’s body starting at the head, lay eggs to reproduce as quickly as possible and even burrow under the skin.

As the mite initially settles primarily on the head, this is where the first symptoms usually appear:
  • Hair loss in the area of the neck, head and ears
  • Severe scratching in these areas
  • Formation of yellowish-grey crusts, which also flake off
  • Inflammation of the affected areas
  • Frequent head shaking
  • Tilting of the head and downturning of the ears
  • Darkening of the ear surface
  • Unpleasant odours
  • Sores and crusts in the paw spaces
Mange is a highly contagious disease in cats

Mange is also highly contagious in cats, and does not only affect stray cats. Again, if you suspect mange, you should go straight to the vet.