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Why does my cat have scabs all over his body?

cat itchy skin and scabs

One of the top reasons for scabs on cats is miliary dermatitis. The scabs are usually itchy and are present on the cat’s neck, back, and tail. Take note that feline miliary dermatitis is not a disease in itself but a symptom that can be present in a wide range of skin problems including allergies and hypersensitive reactions. Keep reading to learn more.

What is miliary dermatitis in cats?

Miliary dermatitis has been associated with feline acne, flea eczema, flea allergy dermatitis, and scabby cat disease. The causes of miliary dermatitis in cats can be external and internal. However, they express themselves with more or less the same set of symptoms, scabs being the most obvious of the tell-tale signs.

Excessive self-grooming is often noticed before scabs appear on your cat’s skin. At first, the cat may only be grooming obsessively a specific area. But as the rash and the itching spread, hair loss can become evident on sites that have been scratched persistently. The most common parts of a cat’s body that are affected are the neck and the base of the tail.

Possible Causes for Your Cat’s Scabs and Itchy Skin

Miliary dermatitis in cats has a variety of causes, both internal and external, but the symptoms and manifestations are more or less the same. The most common causes of itchy skin in cats include:

1. Allergies

Flea Allergy Dermatitis (FAD)

The most common cause of miliary dermatitis in cats is flea bite allergy. Affected cats are allergic to a substance in flea saliva. A flea bite or two is enough to trigger severe itching. You can seldom find fleas on your cat because of their fastidious grooming habits. However, what you can see are flea droppings that are composed of digested blood.

Food Allergies

Some cats suffer from food allergy dermatitis and may exhibit a hypersensitive reaction to something in their diet.

Other potential causes of allergies in cats include atopy which is a type of allergic reaction in response to inhaled allergens, and contact dermatitis (contact allergies). Your cat may have an adverse reaction to materials in your carpet, rug, or bedding. Seasonal allergens, such as pollen, grasses, and weeds, can also cause intense itching in hypersensitive cats. Your cat may also have allergies to chemicals that are commonly used in lawns, gardens, and households.

2. Parasites

This includes other skin parasites such as mites, lice, and ticks.

3. Nutritional Deficiencies

It’s important to ensure that your cat is fed a well-balanced diet. Be sure that you are feeding a food that has been formulated for your cat’s life stage - kitten, adult, or senior. If you have any questions or concerns about your cat’s diet, schedule a consult with your primary vet or a veterinary nutritionist.

4. Immune-Mediated Diseases

Certain skin diseases in cats are caused by immune system dysfunction. Your vet may recommend certain tests, such as a biopsy and histopathology, to obtain a diagnosis for immune-mediated skin diseases.

By themselves, these causes don’t cause scabs to form on any part of a cat’s body. However, the frenzied scratching, chewing, and licking to get relief from the itching can eventually break the skin surface and the telltale scabs occur.

Prompt veterinary attention is very important when your cat is itching like crazy. The longer your cat keeps on with her excessive grooming habits, the more likely for scabs to develop. Since scabs tend to be itchy, scratching them will eventually pave the way for secondary bacterial or fungal infections. This can only make the treatment process more complicated.

What tests are available to diagnose the cause of my cat’s scabs?

Identifying the underlying cause of your cat’s skin problems is the key to a successful diagnosis and treatment. The diagnosis of miliary dermatitis in cats is based primarily on your pet’s medical history and the symptoms that are manifested.

Your vet may check for signs of fleas and flea dirt, perform skin scrapings, allergy tests, biopsies, or a hypoallergenic food trial. You may also be referred to a veterinary dermatologist.

Treatment Options for Miliary Dermatitis in Cats

The treatment of your cat’s scabs and itchy skin will be based on identifying the trigger and relieving the symptoms. If a flea allergy is the culprit, your vet will prescribe a flea medication for at least 2-3 months. Take note that you can’t use flea medication for dogs on your cat. Some of these medications contain active ingredients that are toxic to cats.

In cases of a mite or lice infestation, medicated baths or sprays are sometimes applied. If a food allergy is suspected, a hypoallergenic food trial is recommended so a new diet that doesn’t contain the offending allergen can be fed.

A short course of corticosteroids or other anti-inflammatory drugs can help ease the itching and make your cat more comfortable while the specific medication works on getting rid of the primary cause.

If a secondary infection is present, a round of antibiotics or antifungals may be given for a specified period. Even if skin problems start to resolve within a few days of taking the medication, make sure to finish the entire prescription to prevent recurrence which can be more serious and can be a challenge to address.

Additional treatment protocols may also include giving antihistamines, cyclosporine, and supplementing your pet’s diet with essential fatty acids.

Will my cat’s scabs and itchiness go away?

Most cases of miliary dermatitis in cats have an excellent prognosis. The long-term resolution involves removing the offending allergen or reducing your pet’s exposure to it. Total avoidance of exposure to the allergen should be the ultimate aim but tends to be impossible in many cases.

Your pet’s preventive health program should include a monthly flea preventative to ensure adequate protection against fleas throughout the year. Your vet may also recommend lifestyle changes for your cat. If your cat spends time outdoors, keeping him confined indoors reduces the chance of exposure to allergens and being in close contact with other cats that are infested with mites, fleas, and other parasites. Consistency in observing these lifestyle changes can help ensure that recurrent bouts of miliary dermatitis are significantly minimized or even prevented.

Read more:

Sunburn in Dogs and Cats

Is it ok to shave your cat's coat?

Notoedric Mange (Scabies) in Cats

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