When cats itch and scratch Print E-mail
News - Rubrieke
Tuesday, 22 November 2016 17:22
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Dr Liesel van der Merwe is a small animal medicine specialist. Send her your questions: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Dr Liesel van der Merwe

Do you have a cat that is over-grooming and licking bald patches or constantly scratching its face? Some of the more common conditions that affect our feline companions are listed below. Before jumping to conclusions, firstly make sure no external parasites are present.

Fungal infections
Ringworm is common in cats, especially in young cats and in multi-cat households. Some breeds, such as Persians, appear predisposed. Some animals are carriers and others will show clinical signs. The classic ‘ringworm’ is an expanding bald patch with redness and some skin crusting.

It may become infected. Infected cats often show these lesions around their ears and face as well as on their feet. Diagnosis can be confirmed by your veterinarian. Affected cats must be systemically treated and all cats should be treated with a prescribed dip or shampoo to clear up carrier status. The environment also needs to be managed in a multi-cat outbreak situation.

Some cats are prone to feline acne and this can occur in older as well as adolescent animals. They develop blackheads, specifically under their chins where they cannot clean effectively. These can develop into large pimples which may become infected. Clean the area with cotton wool soaked in a normal mild facial cleansing solution. Avoid gel formulations, as these can be an irritant.

Skin cancer
Squamous cell carcinoma is especially a problem in white cats or those with white markings on the face, as it is due to sun exposure. The nose, eyelids and ear tips are generally affected. Initially the area is reddened and may develop the odd scab and skin flakiness. With time this chronic irritation turns into cancer, which may show as a growth or develop as an ulcerative lesion.

Early diagnosis and treatment is essential as the cancer is locally invasive with long roots and complete excision is difficult as it gets bigger. Treatment includes radiation therapy, freezing (cryotherapy) and surgery.

In some cases the ears need to be cropped into a shape like those of a leopard or the pink part of the nose will have to be removed. Cats which need a nasectomy (removal of soft nose) do remarkably well and, once healed, the nose is surprisingly not that noticeable as abnormal.

The prognosis after surgery is dependant on the aggressiveness of the tumour as determined by the cell type seen under the microscope.

Reddened areas
Eosinophilic granulomas develop as raised pinkish to yellowish reddened areas on the cat’s lip in the vicinity of the canines, as well as on the inside of the back legs. The affected area looks as if it is being eaten away and may occur only on one side or on both.

This condition is also associated with allergic disease. Although it looks severe, it is manageable and doesn’t itch. It is important that this more benign growth is differentiated from skin cancer as they can look very similar and occur in the same regions.

Dermatitis, also called military eczema, develops as multiple small scabs on the skin of the head, especially noticeable on the slightly bald area in front of the ears, but easily felt if you rub the cat’s head. These are often itchy and the cat may scratch.

The common causes are ear mites, which cause intense itching and can move around on the head in the region of the ears, or allergies. Frontline® and the avermectin product, Revolution® will control this.

Cats can develop allergies to food, insect bites and any environmental allergen. Proteins are the major cause of food allergies and curiously cats often develop allergies to fish and milk proteins. If you think about it though, in the wild cats live on small rodents and birds. Humans started the fish and milk diet.

When buying food for an allergic cat, try to avoid diets with fishmeal as a major protein source. Read the list of ingredients. Just because the pellets are chicken flavoured doesn’t mean that this is the source of the protein.

Fish oils are acceptable and contain omega three fatty acids which will decrease the skin’s reactivity to allergens.


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