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Feline Contact Dermatitis: Not Common, but Definitely Irritating and Itchy

September 6, 2016

Clients of felines with itchy skin will often seek veterinary advice for their pet. In cases when itching and inflammation are severe, the cause may be due to an allergic reaction that occurred through the skin’s contact with a chemical substance.

Contact Dermatitis in Felines

When a chemical comes into contact with the skin, it can cause an allergic reaction resulting in one of two types of skin diseases:

  • Irritant contact dermatitis
    • Skin reaction caused by the chemical’s direct irritation to the skin
  • Allergic contact dermatitis
    • Skin reaction is caused through repeated chemical contact that creates skin sensitization resulting in an allergic reaction

Both types of contact dermatitis are observed in cats, but the frequency of their diagnosis is much lower than what is seen in dogs. The cat’s natural grooming habits and haircoat helps to protect its skin from sustained chemical contact. Limiting the time the chemical is on the skin reduces the likelihood of an allergic reaction.

Symptoms of Feline Contact Dermatitis

Since both irritant and allergic contact dermatitis begin with chemical contact, the most affected parts of the cat’s body occur where the hair is thin or absent, for example:

  • Feet
  • Abdomen
  • Groin
  • Chin
  • Nose

Both types of contact dermatitis produce the following symptoms:

  • Red, itchy bumps
  • Skin inflammation
  • Scaling
  • Loss of hair

As the reaction increases in severity, the animal’s excessive itching and scratching will cause:

  • Skin irritation
  • Skin injury
  • Infected sores
  • Rash that spreads beyond the skin contact location

Causes of Feline Contact Dermatitis

Chemicals that can cause irritant contact dermatitis consist of:

  • Acids
  • Alkalis
  • Detergents
  • Solvents
  • Soaps
  • Petroleum by-products

Common substances known to cause allergic contact dermatitis in cats include, for example:

  • Insecticides, as found in:
    • Flea powders
    • Flea collars, affecting the skin around the neck
  • Litter additives, affecting the feet, skin around the tail, and anus
  • Shampoos, specifically ones with iodine
  • Plants such as poison ivy, poison oak, sumac
  • Man-made materials, including:
    • Plastic and/or rubber dishes for food/water
  • Certain wool and/or synthetic fibers
  • Leather
  • Dyes often found in carpets
  • Mulch
  • Fertilizer
  • Plant food

Feline Contact Dermatitis Diagnosis

Steps to make an accurate diagnosis based on the symptoms described may include:

  • Patch test
    • Suspected irritant is put on a patch and then taped on the skin for a specified time period
    • Assess reaction
  • Removing cat from exposure to suspected irritant for a period of time, then returning to monitor the outcome
  • Client cooperation to monitor possible changes by maintaining a diary of animal’s:
    • Daily diet
    • Known activities

If basic steps to pinpoint the allergen are unsuccessful, a bacterial culture and/or skin biopsy may also need to be performed in order to make a definitive diagnosis.

Treatment of Feline Contact Dermatitis

Once the chemical that is causing the skin allergen has been identified, steps should be taken to prevent the animal from further exposure. Bathing the animal right away may help to minimize or eliminate the discomfort.
The following treatments will not cure the problem, but will help to control the symptoms by reducing the itching and soothing the inflammation. Such treatments include the use of:

  • Topical or oral corticosteroids
  • Antihistamines
  • Allergy shots
  • Immune therapy

For additional information about issues affecting animal dermatology and how to treat them, please contact your Covetrus representative at 855.724.3461 today.

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