Miliary Dermatitis in Cats
Miliary dermatitis is a term for small, scab-like sores on the skin of cats. Since cats tend to have a thick coat of fur, you may not initially see the scabs, but you can feel them when petting your cat. In some cases, the underlying cause creates an intense itching and your cat may be pulling out fur in the same areas. This might make miliary dermatitis very obvious. The miliary lesions can be just on the nose, ears, paws, certain areas of the body, or all over. There are many causes of miliary dermatitis, continuing reading to learn more!
Common Causes of Miliary Dermatitis in Cats
- Food allergies
- Environmental allergies
- Flea allergies
- Mosquito bite hypersensitivity
- Bacterial skin infections, which are more common in cats with diabetes or hyperthyroidism
- Autoimmune disease such as Pemphigus foliaceus
- Mast cell tumors, cutaneous form
Flea allergies are the most common cause of military dermatitis, but as you can see, there are many other possible causes!
What can I do to determine the cause of these scabs?
Schedule an appointment with a vet. Your vet will ask you many questions about your cat, including any diet changes, flea preventative used, time spent outside, how long the lesions have been present, do any other pets or people in the home have similar lesions, have any prior treatments been tried and did they give relief, and if there is any seasonal pattern noted.
Initial diagnostic tests often include a skin scraping to look for mites, skin cytology to look for yeast/bacterial infections, and fungal culture to screen for ringworm. A biopsy of the lesions may be needed if the skin does not improve. The biopsy can help screen for cancer (like mast cell tumors), Pemphigus, or other auto-immune skin diseases, and give an idea if this is allergy-related. Biopsies can also find mites that may be hard to find on skin scrapings.
Treatment of Miliary Dermatitis in Cats
The treatment will ultimately depend on the underlying cause. If your cat is not on a good flea control medication, starting one and using it consistently, along with treating all pets in the household, is ideal. Keeping cats indoors only to limit flea and mosquito exposure is also a good thing to try for a couple of months to see if the lesions resolve.
If your cat is diagnosed with a bacterial skin infection, a medicated shampoo or oral antibiotic may be prescribed. Not all cats will tolerate a bath and since they’re such good groomers, topical medications like creams and ointments may not be effective if they are getting licked off. Be sure to discuss your concerns with your vet about your ability and your cat’s tolerance to being bathed versus taking oral medications to help get the best treatment plan started!
If mites are found, a specific treatment will be prescribed to resolve them. Some mites can also infect people, so be sure to talk to your personal health care provider if you also develop itchy lesions on your skin!
Food allergies can take time to diagnose. Your vet will typically get your cat started on a prescription hypoallergenic diet. This diet needs to be your cat’s only food source for at least 2 months to determine if it’s effective. This means no treats (unless specifically approved by your vet), no table scraps, no access to other pet’s food, and no hunting outside. Any cat on a food trail should be kept indoors only to be sure they aren’t eating food anywhere else in the neighborhood.
Steroids may be needed to reduce the itching and inflammation, especially if the miliary dermatitis lesions are a result of allergies. Steroids can make mite and infectious causes worse, so it’s important to screen for mites and ringworm first.
Steroids or other immunosuppressive medications are the treatment for Pemphigus foliaceus. Steroids are also often used for mast cell tumors, along with possible chemotherapy.
Have more questions about your cat’s itchy skin?
Schedule a video consult to speak to one of our vets.