Cat Dermatitis [With Pictures]: Our Vet Explains What to Do

Has your cat been scratching and grooming herself a lot recently? Many times, kitties that start itching and licking excessively have dermatitis. There are various causes of dermatitis in cats, and they can all cause your furry friend to become extremely itchy and uncomfortable.

What is cat dermatitis? [with pictures]

Simply put, dermatitis is an inflammation of the skin. In cats, the condition presents with areas of irritated dermis. The irritation may cause rashes, patches of bumps, or scabs on your feline.

You can see examples of each form in these cat dermatitis photos.

Most commonly, food allergies, flea bites, or an environmental allergen triggers the reaction. If you think your cat has dermatitis, schedule an exam with your veterinarian. Once the doctor diagnoses the underlying cause, he’ll be able to develop an appropriate treatment plan.

Types of cat dermatitis

There are several types of cat dermatitis. Let’s look at the characteristics and symptoms of each one.

1. Miliary dermatitis

With miliary dermatitis, cats have small, crusty pustules that resemble millet seeds. This type is usually the result of an allergy, and it makes your kitty extremely itchy. Because the bumps are tiny, you may feel them under the fur before you see them. The most common areas for the pustules to appear include:

  • Face
  • Neck
  • Ears
  • Lower spine
  • The base of the tail
  • Flanks 
  • Belly

2. Food allergy dermatitis

Cats with food allergies will frequently develop dermatitis. Usually, cats with sensitivity to certain foods react to a specific protein in their diet. These types of reactions can begin at any age. When a kitty develops food allergy dermatitis, she will have a rash or bumps that tend to appear around the neck and head. 

3. Flea allergy dermatitis

Some cats develop a sensitivity to flea saliva. So, when they have a flea infestation, these felines will have inflamed skin and rashes wherever there are flea bites. Cat flea dermatitis is often more common in outdoor cats. Fortunately, this form of dermatitis is easy to resolve by eliminating pests. You should treat all the cats in your household with flea medications for at least three months. 

4. Solar dermatitis

Solar dermatitis occurs when cats have too much sun exposure. It’s more common in felines that have pale or white skin and appears mainly on the ears, nose, and around the eyes. At first, you may notice pink, scaly areas of skin. There may also be hair loss.

As the condition progresses, the skin will become ulcerated and crusty. Take your kitty to the vet when you see signs of solar dermatitis. This condition can sometimes lead to squamous cell carcinoma if it’s left untreated.

5. Atopic dermatitis

Atopic dermatitis can arise from an inhaled allergy, a contact allergy, or an ingested allergy. When felines react to an allergen from their environment, they usually have incredibly itchy skin. The symptoms can be body-wide or localized to certain areas, including

  • Armpits
  • Ears
  • Feet
  • Face

If the irritant is in your furbaby’s environment, you may not be able to eliminate exposure. Your kitty may require medications such as antihistamines or steroids to control the symptoms.

6. Seborrheic dermatitis

With seborrheic dermatitis, cat skin will be flaky or scaly and terribly itchy. This condition can be a result of allergies, a fungal infection, skin parasites, obesity, or a hormone imbalance. In each case, the skin’s sebaceous glands produce too much sebum. 

To determine the best way to treat a cat with seborrheic dermatitis, schedule a veterinary exam. Depending on the underlying cause, the doctor may prescribe:

  • Steroids
  • Medicated shampoos
  • Dietary supplements like omega-3 fatty acids
  • Antibiotics

7. Eosinophilic dermatitis

Some severe environmental cat allergies can trigger certain red blood cells known as eosinophils to collect on the skin. This form of dermatitis may appear as rodent ulcers, plaques, or granulomas. 

Eosinophilic dermatitis can cause significant skin problems. Treatment for cats with this disease includes anti-inflammatories and antibiotics along with eliminating the allergen if you can. If the skin will not heal, surgery may be needed.

8. Malassezia dermatitis

An overgrowth of the yeast commonly found on cat skin can cause dermatitis. When felines have this type of dermatitis, the skin may be:

  • Red and irritated
  • Scaly or greasy
  • Thickened
  • Darkened
  • Foul-smelling

To treat this condition, your vet will recommend medicated shampoos and ointments to reduce the number of bacteria and yeast on the skin. If your cat also has a bacterial infection, he may prescribe antibiotics.

What causes dermatitis in cats?

Several things can trigger skin inflammation in felines.

  • Food allergies
  • Flea saliva
  • Inhaled environmental allergens
  • Adverse drug reaction
  • Ringworm
  • Mites
  • Bacterial infections
  • Arthritis
  • Hormone problems
  • Immune disorders

The driving factor or root of most causes of dermatitis is an allergic reaction. When your kitty encounters a foreign substance or allergen, her body treats it as an invader and mounts an immune response. When the system releases immune cells known as histamines, the skin becomes inflamed.

What are the symptoms of cat dermatitis?

Because there are multiple causes of cat dermatitis, it can have a range of symptoms. However, there will always be irritated skin. As a result, you should be able to find rashes or clusters of tiny, red bumps somewhere on the skin. Other symptoms you may notice include:

  • Hair loss
  • Continual scratching or grooming
  • Hair pulling
  • Reddened, swollen skin
  • Raw skin from scratching
  • Patches of thick, hardened skin

When should you call your veterinarian?

If you notice your cat licking or scratching excessively, check for a rash or clusters of red bumps. You can run your fingers through her fur or use a flea comb to look under the hair. Another place to check for signs of irritated skin is between your kitty’s toes. Any time you find signs that point to dermatitis, you should call your vet to schedule an exam. The doctor should be able to diagnose the underlying cause and develop a treatment plan.

How is dermatitis diagnosed in cats?

The way you treat your cat’s dermatitis will depend on the type and cause of the inflammation. When you take your kitty to the vet, he’ll collect a history of symptoms and conduct a physical exam. Based on the initial findings, your vet may recommend an initial treatment plan and schedule follow-up appointments to monitor your cat’s progress.

If general treatments such as medicated shampoos, antibiotics, or flea treatments don’t help to resolve your cat’s dermatitis, the vet will conduct additional diagnostic testing:

  • Skin biopsies or scrapings to check for skin parasites
  • Skin swabs to check for bacterial or fungal infections
  • Fur plucks to check for a variety of causes
  • Allergy tests with IgE immunoglobulin
  • Fecal analysis to check for parasites or gastrointestinal disorders
  • Food elimination trials

How to treat cat dermatitis?

Depending on the symptoms and cause of your cat’s itchy skin, there are various cat dermatitis treatments. Once your doctor has a diagnosis, he will tailor a plan to meet your feline’s specific needs. Treatments may include:

  • Flea prevention medications and environmental treatments
  • Antihistamines to help counteract allergies
  • Antibiotics for bacterial infections
  • Corticosteroids to control inflammation
  • Medicated shampoos to soothe irritated skin
  • Topical ointments to soothe irritated areas of the skin
  • Dietary supplements such as fatty acids to support skin health
  • Hypoallergenic diets 

Are there any effective cat dermatitis home remedies?

You may be wondering if there are natural home treatments for cat dermatitis because you want the best for your kitty. Fortunately, some cat dermatitis home remedies may be able to help ease your furbaby’s symptoms. If your kitty shows no improvement in a week or two, contact your veterinarian. 

1. Oatmeal bath

Before you panic about having a battle royale with your cat because you try to dunk her in water, relax. You won’t need to soak your kitty to provide her with the benefits of oatmeal. Instead, grind some rolled oats to a fine powder and dissolve 2 tablespoons in 2-3 cups of tepid water. 

Soak a washcloth in the solution and apply it to affected areas of skin and leave it on for about 10-15 minutes. After that, rinse or wipe away the residue with a clean cloth. Repeat this procedure every day. It may take several days or a few weeks before you see noticeable improvement.

2. Fatty acid supplements

Supplementing your kitty’s diet with salmon oil can help support skin health. Fish oils contain omega-3 fatty acids which may help to reduce inflammation.

3. Hypoallergenic skin moisturizer

Use a gentle, hypoallergenic moisturizer that’s safe for cats to keep your furbaby’s skin well-hydrated. You should choose products made from natural ingredients. Check the ingredient list for substances that can help to soothe and protect the integument like aloe vera, coconut oil, and vitamins A, B, and E.

FAQ: Can I use coconut oil for cat dermatitis?

Coconut oil has many potential benefits for cats. It hydrates and moisturizes the skin and helps soothe irritated skin. For cats, it’s best to start by applying a small amount to an affected area of the skin. If your kitty tolerates it well, you can apply it to other inflamed areas.

What is the prognosis for cats with dermatitis?

In most cases, dermatitis has a favorable prognosis with the appropriate treatment. Once you eliminate the underlying cause, the skin irritation will usually resolve. However, if the underlying cause is an allergy, your kitty will need ongoing management.

FAQ: Can miliary dermatitis be fatal to a cat?

The most common cause of miliary dermatitis in cats is an allergic reaction or skin condition. It’s generally not fatal if you treat it promptly. However, when the underlying cause is a bacterial skin infection. Left untreated, the bacteria may multiply and may cause sepsis, which is a life-threatening condition.

How can you prevent dermatitis in cats?

There is no one-size-fits-all way to prevent dermatitis in cats. However, if you know the underlying cause of your feline’s skin inflammation, you can take some actions to eliminate the risk. Preventative measures may include:

  • Feeding your kitty a diet that doesn’t include known food allergens
  • Groom your kitty a few times a week to remove dander and skin debris
  • Routinely cleaning the litter box
  • Regularly washing bedding 
  • Deep cleaning your cat’s environment
  • Treating your cat and the household to eliminate fleas
  • Feeding supplements like omega-3 fatty acids for skin health

Frequently asked questions

Is dermatitis in cats contagious?

Dermatitis simply means inflamed skin and is generally not contagious. However, if the underlying cause is something like ringworm or skin mites, the inciting disease is contagious. 

Is cat dermatitis painful for my cat?

Cat skin dermatitis can be painful when the inflammation is left untreated and the area becomes infected or severely irritated.

How long does it take cat dermatitis to go away(with and without treatment)?

Usually, once the underlying cause of dermatitis is cured, your cat’s skin should improve in 1-2 weeks. If your cat has allergies, you may be able to control the symptoms and take preventative measures. However, the condition requires lifelong management. Untreated dermatitis usually won’t resolve on its own. 


  • Dr. Liz Guise, Veterinarian

    Dr. Elizabeth Guise (DVM) graduated from the University of Minnesota with a Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine. She worked as a veterinarian in private practice for over two years before going to work with the USDA as a veterinary medical officer for 14 years.

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