Types of Skin Infections in Cats

Estimated Reading Time 5 minutes
Types of Skin Infections in Cats

In cats, skin problems are caused by a vast range of conditions, from allergies and physical injury to external parasites and infections. Skin infections comprise a big portion of reported dermatology cases in cats. Their gender, age, lifestyle, environment, and breed can influence their risks of developing skin infections. The presence of any concurrent health problems can also predispose felines to skin infections since some cases happen secondary to an underlying cause. In any case, treatment of skin infections will depend on what type of infection a cat has and what underlying health condition could be triggering it. Proper identification and diagnosis are essential for the effective treatment of skin infections in cats. Keep reading to learn more.

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Signs Your Cat Has a Skin Infection

The most noticeable symptom associated with skin infections in cats are excessive grooming, licking, and scratching. These behaviors may be concentrated on where the infected part of the skin is, or it can be more generalized. Occasional pawing at the ears and mouth and rubbing on rough surfaces may also be observed from feline patients suffering from skin infections.

Other clinical signs involve varying skin lesions depending on the specific cause of the infection. The skin may appear red and inflamed, with occasionally raised crusts and swelling. In some cases, scabs may form over the affected regions of the skin.

Long-haired breeds may have matted fur in areas where the lesions are located and where the pet frequently scratches or licks. Lumps and rashes on the affected areas of the skin can also be seen in animals that have a skin infection.

Cats are known to mask pain and signs of disease until it has progressed and has become severe, the same case can also be seen with skin infections. Signs of discomfort such as excessive licking and scratching may not be outright apparent because there are occasions where cats would wait to be alone before they start exhibiting these signs. It’s best to bring your cat to a vet as soon as you observe any possible signs of illness.

Bacterial vs. Fungal Skin Infections in Cats

Skin infections in cats can be narrowed down to different types: bacterial and fungal. It’s important to be able to determine the type of infection a cat has because the treatment approaches for both differ greatly. Antibacterial medications can be effective in most bacterial skin infections but won’t have any effect against fungal infections. Likewise, antifungal treatment can be quite effective in controlling infections caused by fungal microorganisms but will not be effective in addressing bacterial skin diseases.

There are cases where both fungal and bacterial infections can happen simultaneously, usually when there’s an underlying primary condition. In such cases, treatment for both infections is needed to control and manage the skin disease.

Bacterial Skin Infections (Pyoderma) in Cats

Pyoderma means “pus in the skin”. This skin disease is caused by bacterial microorganisms that are normally found on the surface of the cat’s skin. Pyoderma is often a secondary complication to a primary disease, usually allergic dermatitis, external parasite infestation, or a primary fungal skin infection. These primary causes result in skin inflammation and allow the normal bacterial microorganisms to proliferate and cause an infection.

Pyoderma can be classified into 2 types: superficial and deep pyodermas. Superficial pyodermas only affect the topmost layer of the skin, causing purulent (pus) discharges and inflammation on the surface of the skin. Deep pyoderma invades the deeper layers of the skin, causing more painful skin lesions for affected animals.

A hallmark sign of pyoderma is the presence of pus on the skin lesion. The amount of pus discharge depends on how severe the infection is and where the infection is located. Inflammation and redness are usually seen in parts of the skin with pyoderma and can be painful to touch, especially in deep pyoderma cases. Cats may be itchy and will excessively scratch or lick if they have some degree of pyoderma.

Treatment will involve antibacterial medications, either systemic (oral) or topical. Most superficial pyoderma will respond well to topical antibacterials, but severe superficial pyoderma and deep pyoderma cases will require systemic antibacterial treatment.

An Elizabethan collar (plastic cone) is needed to prevent your cat from scratching or licking the skin lesion. This will prevent the spread of the infection to other parts of the body and facilitate faster healing of the affected skin.

Common Fungal Skin Infections in Cats

Fungal skin infections are more common in cats than bacterial infections. Ringworm, or dermatophytosis, is the most common fungal skin infection reported in cats. It is a contagious and zoonotic skin disease that infected cats can transfer to other animals and humans.

Ringworm in cats causes loss of hair, with the skin underneath appearing crusty and scaly. Most cases will have a circular rash around the infected area, resembling a ring. Broken hair strands are often present at the site of the infection. Inflammation and redness are also seen in cases of ringworm or dermatophytosis in cats.

Treatment for ringworm includes antifungal medications. Topical medications such as creams, ointments, and medicated shampoos are the recommended treatment for dermatophytosis in cats. Most cases respond well to these treatments and often resolve in a few weeks. It’s also important to identify and address suspected underlying conditions to prevent the recurrence of ringworm.

Severe infection may require the use of systemic oral anti-fungal medications. Because there is a small concern for potential liver toxicity when using systemic antifungal medications, they are usually considered only as a last resort if topical treatment is ineffective or unreasonable. Symptomatic treatment to control the scratching may be needed to prevent self-injury due to severe itching and to control the spread of the fungal microorganism.

If you suspect that your cat is suffering from some type of skin infection, it’s best to take them to a vet for proper diagnosis so treatment can start as soon as possible.

Read more:

Common Skin Tumors in Cats

How to Protect Your Cat from Fleas

Common Causes of Itchy Ears in Cats

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Published: 12/17/2021

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