Contact Dermatitis in Cats

Key Takeaways

Cats experience two types of contact dermatitis: allergic and irritant. They both involve skin contact with an offending substance which leads to a dermatologic reaction. 

• The most common type of contact dermatitis in cats is flea allergy dermatitis (FAD)

• Symptoms include scratching, licking, skin redness, rashes, hair loss, sores, and secondary skin infections

• Patients are usually diagnosed based on a detailed history and clinical signs

• Allergy testing can also be performed, although these results are easily misinterpreted

• Treatment options include  steroids, topical preparations, and antibiotics

• Identifying the offending substance is key to eliminating symptoms

• Most contact dermatitis can be successfully managed in the long term

A Closer Look: What is Contact Dermatitis in Cats?

Any type of skin irritation is cause for concern. Non-urgent veterinary attention is recommended, especially when symptoms develop into infections or open sores. 

The most common triggers for feline contact dermatitis are:

Flea Allergy Dermatitis • Other parasites • Medications • Cleaning agents • Food sensitivities

Other symptoms of contact dermatitis may include secondary bacterial or yeast infections. Generally, symptoms will worsen with time and/or repeated contact with the offending substance.

Risk Factors

With the exception of flea allergy dermatitis, most forms of contact dermatitis are uncommon in cats, as their grooming habits tend to remove irritants from the fur before they make contact with the skin.

The duration of contact dermatitis depends on the success of efforts to avoid exposure  to the causative substance. In the case of irritant contact dermatitis, this may be simple and immediate. In allergic contact dermatitis, the causative substance is often difficult to identify and in this case, symptomatic treatment is usually effective.

Possible Causes

Contact dermatitis is caused either by exposure to something that irritates the skin or an allergic reaction to an antigen. As with all types of allergies, the root cause is unknown, but a genetic disposition is suggested.

Main Symptoms

Both allergic and irritant contact dermatitis can cause:

Excessive itching/scratching/licking • Skin rash or sores • Increased pigmentation • Crusting or scaling

• Thickening of skin • Hair loss

Testing and Diagnosis

Diagnosis of contact dermatitis requires a detailed history of the patient to identify substances the patient has come into contact with. The most common causes are ruled out first, such as flea allergy dermatitis (FAD) and reactions to other external parasites. Diagnostics may involve skin scrapings or other skin tests. The veterinarian may also order blood tests, allergy tests, or food trials.

Steps to Recovery

Treatment may be simply avoiding the offending substance, but this is usually combined with medications. Examples of medications that may be used to treat contact dermatitis are steroids, topical ointments or sprays, antihistamines, and antibiotics for secondary infections. Treatment also typically involves bathing the patient with anti-itch shampoo. Note: many topical treatments for animals are not safe for cats. Always consult a veterinarian before administering topical treatments or using medicinal shampoos.

Contact dermatitis typically lasts as long as the cat is exposed to the offending substance. Both types of contact dermatitis (irritant and allergy) are usually life-long conditions.  Secondary infections may be deep-seated and may take weeks or months to fully heal.

Prevention

Contact dermatitis is not contagious to humans or other animals. However, symptoms may be seen in other people or animals in the household, due to exposure to the same substance or parasite.

Is Contact Dermatitis Common in Cats?

Contact dermatitis is uncommon in cats.

Typical Treatment

• Avoidance of offending substance • Steroids • Topical anti-itch preparations • Medicated shampoos

• Antibiotics for secondary infections • Allergy medications • Allergy immunotherapy

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