Seborrhea in Cats

Key Takeaways

Seborrhea is a skin disorder in cats caused by abnormal keratinization (the process where skin cells grow and shed). It occurs as both oily (seborrhea oleosa) and dry (seborrhea sicca) and results in flaking skin.

• Seborrhea can be genetic or acquired

• Acquired seborrhea is a symptom of underlying disease, such as bacterial/fungal/viral infection, parasites, hormonal issues, allergies

• Genetic seborrhea does not cause itchiness without secondary skin inflammation

• The areas most affected are the back, neck, face, and feet

• Symptoms include an unpleasant odor, oily coat, flaky, red, and inflamed skin

• It is diagnosed by physical examination, with tests to find the underlying cause

• Treatment depends on the cause and includes antibiotics, steroids, and shampoos

• The prognosis for primary seborrhea is good with symptomatic management but cannot be cured

• Secondary seborrhea’s prognosis depends on the underlying cause

A Closer Look: What is Seborrhea in Cats?

The natural growth and maintenance of the skin involves a substance called sebum. This is an oil substance which mixes with other components on the skin to form the skin’s natural barrier for protection. Seborrhea is a condition where the glands in the skin overproduce sebum leading to buildup and flaking skin. Primary seborrhea is a genetic condition and is present from birth. Secondary seborrhea is acquired and a symptom of an underlying condition.

Seborrhea is not life-threatening. However, symptoms are often unpleasant for pet parents and uncomfortable for cats, so veterinary care is recommended. Seborrhea is rare in cats.

Risk Factors

Secondary bacterial and fungal skin infections occurring in conjunction with seborrhea are common. 

There is also a form of seborrhea called idiopathic facial dermatitis, wherein cats accumulate thick, greasy debris in facial or nasal folds, and around the eyes, ears, mouth, and chin. This is primarily seen in Persian cats.

Possible Causes

Primary seborrhea is a genetic condition, and is rare. It is seen mostly in Persian cats. 

Secondary (acquired) seborrhea is more common, and occurs as a symptom of another underlying disease, such as:

Allergies (food, flea)

• Immune disorders (atopy)


Stud tail (tail gland hyperplasia)

• External parasites (mites, scabies, demodex, cheyletiella, fleas)

Dermatophytosis (ringworm)

• Endocrine disorders (Hyperthyroidism, Hyperadrenocorticism/Cushing’s disease, Diabetes mellitus)

• Dietary deficiencies

• Absorption disorders

• Retroviruses (FIV, FeLV)

Obesity, musculoskeletal disease or pain making the cat unable to groom properly

Main Symptoms

Symptoms of seborrhea vary by type. Seborrhea oleosa is characterized by oily skin, while seborrhea sicca is characterized by dry skin. Cats with seborrhea may or may not be itchy. They both also cause:

• Greasy/oily coat

• Flakes

• Odor

Testing and Diagnosis

Physical examination reveals initial symptoms of seborrhea. Diagnostics to rule out underlying causes may include blood work, skin scraping to check for external parasites, skin cytology to identify bacterial or fungal causes, skin culture, biopsy, allergy testing, and a therapeutic trial with flea control.

Steps to Recovery

Treatment commonly includes antibiotics, steroids, shampoos, and other medications to treat the cause directly.

Always consult a veterinarian before choosing external parasite control. Many available products are toxic to pets, especially cats.

Primary seborrhea cannot be cured, however, medical management greatly improves symptoms. In cases of secondary seborrhea, the outcome is based on the specific condition and severity. Narrowing down an underlying condition and finding an effective treatment plan may be complex, but treatment is normally curative.


Seborrhea is not contagious, but some of the underlying causes are (parasites, viruses). Primary seborrhea may be avoided by not breeding affected cats or their close relatives. Regular veterinary care may help to identify symptoms of underlying conditions early and prevent the development of secondary seborrhea.

Is Seborrhea Common in Cats?

Primary and secondary seborrhea are rare in cats.

Typical Treatment


• Symptomatic treatment only, cannot be cured

• Topical anti-seborrhea medications/shampoos

• Antimicrobials for secondary bacterial and/or fungal infections

• Fatty acid supplementation 

• Retinoids


• Specific to underlying cause

• Topical anti-seborrhea medications/shampoos 

• Antimicrobials for secondary bacterial and/or fungal infections

• Fatty acid supplementation 

• Retinoids 

• Corticosteroids may provide short-term symptomatic relief

Want to speak to a vet now?

Book an appointment

Time for a check-up?

Start a video chat with a licensed veterinary professional right now on Vetster!

Book an online vet