Cat’s Neck with Sores or Bald Spots [Vet Advice]

Occasionally in my veterinarian practice, I would see a cat with sores, wounds or bald spots on the neck. I would explain the different reasons and treatment options for sores, bald spots, and other lesions. In this article, we will look at the top causes of these skin issues (including infections or skin parasites), what you can do at home to help your cat, and when to call your veterinarian.

Six causes of sores or bald spots often found on a cat’s neck

Sores and skin issues are frequently found on a cat’s neck. Usually, owners find them because their kitties are scratching the area. Grooming and itching may cause bald spots and reddened skin. Common causes of scabs or sores on the neck include

1. Miliary dermatitis (includes flea bites or parasites)

When a cat has an allergic reaction to a substance such as flea saliva or food, the skin may develop multiple red or brown-black crusts and become extremely itchy. Usually, the lesions are small and resemble millet seeds. 

dermatology disease at the cat scin with lots of red acne

Symptoms of miliary dermatitis in cats include

  • Itchy skin
  • Small crusty lesions or scabs
  • Thin coat/bald spots
  • Secondary infections with millet-sized pustules

The treatment for miliary dermatitis may include a short course of corticosteroids or anti-inflammatory drugs to reduce constant itching along with other medications to address the underlying condition. Most cats with miliary dermatitis have an excellent prognosis after they receive appropriate treatment for the underlying condition:

  • Flea bite dermatitis due to a sensitivity to the saliva of fleas is treated with flea repellents and insecticides.
  • Other skin parasites like mites or lice that trigger an allergic reaction should be treated with the appropriate antiparasitic drug.  Your veterinarian may also recommend medicated baths or sprays.
  • For food allergies, your veterinarian may run a food trial and recommend a hypoallergenic diet.

2. Contact dermatitis

Some cats will react to flea collars or topical flea treatments which will irritate the skin on their necks. The chemicals may irritate the skin and cause:

  • Inflammation
  • Redness
  • Hair loss
  • Itching
  • blisters/sores
Contact dermatitis and scabbing on the neck 
Contact dermatitis and scabbing on the neck

If your cat has a sensitivity/reaction to a flea collar, remove it immediately and find an alternative flea product.  Only use flea collars for cats as dog flea collars can contain chemicals toxic to cats and never combine flea collars with other flea treatments unless your veterinarian has told you it is safe to do so. For reactions to topical flea treatments, rinse the affected skin for about 20 minutes with lukewarm water. 

When the reaction to flea treatment includes redness or sores, you should contact a veterinarian. The doctor may prescribe anti-inflammatory medications to reduce inflammation. If there’s a secondary bacterial infection, treatment will include topical antibiotic creams or oral antibiotics.

3. Pemphigus foliaceus

Pemphigus foliaceus is an autoimmune disease that triggers the body to produce antibodies that attack proteins in the skin and cause the epidermal cells to separate.

Cat with pemphigus foliaceus lesions on the neck

Symptoms include

  • Hair loss / bald spots on the neck
  • Fluid-filled blisters start near the eyes and nose and then move to the ears, neck, and body
  • Subcorneal pustules
  • Skin crusts from broken blisters
  • Erythema
  • Lesions are itchy and painful

There is no cure for pemphigus foliaceus. However, it can be managed with long-term immunosuppressants such as corticosteroids. If your cat has a secondary infection, your veterinarian will prescribe antibiotics. 

4. Ringworm

Dermatophytosis, also known as ringworm, is a fungal skin infection that affects cats, people, and dogs. The organism invades dead surface cells of the claws, fur, and skin of cats. When the fungal dermatophytes penetrate the lower layers, they cause circular lesions or scabs.

ringworm scabs on a cat's head near ears and neck

The signs of dermatophytosis in cats include:

  • Scabs on the neck or other places
  • Hair loss / bald spots
  • Inflammation and redness
  • Scaling
  • Small pustules
  • Occasional itchiness

If you notice signs of ringworm on your cat, contact your veterinarian. Because it’s transmissible to humans, it’s a reportable disease. Treatment starts with disinfection of the home, bedding, toys, and all your cat’s accessories. To treat the infection, your veterinarian will recommend:

  • Clipping back long hair to expose the lesions or scabs
  • Lime sulfur dip 
  • Antifungal shampoo and cream
  • Oral medications such as itraconazole or griseofulvin

5. Bacterial infection

If your cat has a neck wound, it may become infected and result in abscesses, open sores, or scabs.

Abscess on cat's neck
Neck abscess on cat

Various bacteria can enter wounds and cause infection. These include

  • Pasteurella multocida
  • Bacteroides spp.
  • Fusobacterium spp.
  • Staphylococcus psuedointermedius

Signs of a bacterial infection on the neck include:

  • Inflamed tissue
  • Abscesses or pustules
  • Green discoloration
  • Purulent discharge
  • Scab formation

When cats have a bacterial infection, treatment includes:

  • Lancing and draining abscesses
  • Keeping lesions clean and dry
  • Antibiotic creams and ointments if there are open sores
  • Oral antibiotics

6. Insect bites or stings

Another type of allergic reaction can occur when an insect such as a bee or ant bites or stings your cat. These lesions usually occur in warm weather and are more common with outdoor cats. 

If your kitty reacts to a bite or sting, you may notice:

  • Small raised bump at the injury site
  • Local swelling
  • Hives
  • Itching
  • Pain
  • Redness
  • Skin damage from excessive itching or grooming

Usually, insect bites are self-limiting and will resolve in a day or two. If you see a stinger, carefully remove it from your kitty’s skin. You can cold pack the area or apply some cortisone cream to treat inflammation. If the itching continues, you can give your cat some Benadryl. Check with your veterinarian for appropriate dosing.

If your cat shows any signs of distress or respiratory difficulty after a bite or sting, take her to the veterinarian immediately and have someone call the doctor to alert them about your arrival. She may be having a severe allergic reaction called anaphylaxis. 

What should you do if you see new scabs, sores, or bald spots on your cat’s neck?

Any time you see new scabs, sores, or bald spots on your cat’s neck, you should: 

  • Check the skin for parasites like fleas or mites
  • Report the lesions to your veterinarian and describe the location, size, nature, and cause of the lesion (if you know)
  • Share any unusual symptoms you observe
  • Take a couple of high-quality photos of the lesion and send it to your veterinarian

If your cat isn’t showing signs of a severe allergic reaction or distress, your veterinarian may instruct you to observe the lesion for a few days to see if it clears up. If there’s no change or the lesion gets worse, schedule an examination with your vet.

Home remedies to treat scabs in cats

Finding a scab or sore on your cat’s neck isn’t usually an urgent matter. Your veterinarian may recommend you observe and treat the lesion at home. Some things you can do to relieve your feline’s discomfort include:

  • Apply topical steroid creams for inflammation and itching
  • Check for skin parasites and treat your kitty accordingly to kill the fleas, mites, lice, etc.
  • Clean and bandage the area to prevent injury from scratching or licking
  • Keep the lesions dry
  • Use an E-collar to prevent injury
  • Try an elimination diet if you suspect a food allergy

When should you call your veterinarian for new scabs or sores on your cat’s neck?

When you see new lesions on your cat’s neck, you should contact your veterinarian and report the symptoms. Usually, you may be able to treat and observe your kitty at home. If you notice other signs/symptoms, take your cat to the clinic for an exam as soon as possible

  • Respiratory distress
  • The lesion is bleeding, oozing pus, or has a purulent discharge
  • The lesion gets worse or increases in size
  • Uncontrolled itching
  • Your cat is crying or showing signs of pain/distress
  • lethargy/depression
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fever

What will happen at the vet?

When you take your cat to the vet, the doctor will ask you when you noticed the skin lesion and what symptoms you observed. He’ll perform a physical examination and check the affected area. 

Diagnosis

Based on preliminary findings, the doctor will run diagnostic tests, including

  • Skin scrapings may be taken to check for the presence of mites. The cells are submitted for cytologic examination.
  • A fungal culture may be used to look for ringworm.
  • Culture and sensitivity – If a bacterial infection is identified, the vet will culture the lesion and run tests to determine the type of bacteria and sensitivity to antibiotics.
  • Food elimination trial – If a food allergy is suspected, your cat will be placed on a special diet to see if the allergy clears up, if it does, he will then be put back on his normal diet to see if symptoms return.
  • Skin prick tests – Your doctor may use skin pricks that contain common allergens. Then he will check for a reaction to one or more of the allergens to help identify possible allergies.
  • Baseline tests may include a complete blood count, blood panel, and urinalysis to evaluate your kitty’s health.

Treatment options

Once your veterinarian identifies the underlying cause of the sores, scabs, or bald spots, he will plan a course of treatment. Therapies vary depending on the diagnosis.

Dermatitis: Whether your cat has contact or miliary dermatitis, the first step is to remove the offending allergen. After that, your veterinarian may treat your cat with:

  • Antihistamines 
  •  Corticosteroids
  • Topical creams or ointments
  • Medicated dips or shampoos
  • Antibiotics

The cost of treatment may range from $200-1,500 but is usually around $500. Once your kitty receives the appropriate treatment, the prognosis is good.

Pemphigus foliaceus: Because pemphigus foliaceus is an autoimmune disease, your veterinarian will treat the condition with immunosuppressive drugs. Glucocorticoids such as prednisone and dexamethasone are usually effective. They should be given at levels sufficient to suppress the immune system. A typical course of therapy runs 2-8 weeks. Once remission occurs, your vet will taper the dose to a maintenance level.

If there are no signs of improvement in 2-4 weeks, your doctor will switch to a different glucocorticoid. Your doctor may include chlorambucil to improve the results. There is no cure for pemphigus foliaceus. Ongoing treatment and monitoring are necessary to keep cats in remission.

Ringworm: While ringworm will generally resolve on its own in several months, it’s best to treat the lesions. Treatment for ringworm includes

  • Topical ointments and lotions
  • Medicated shampoo
  • Oral medications such as griseofulvin or itraconazole

The cost of treatment generally runs $200-500. Cats will usually start to show signs of improvement in about 2-4 weeks, but treatment should continue until your veterinarian gives your kitty a clean bill of health. 

Bacterial infection: Many times, a bacterial skin infection is caused by an underlying condition such as allergies or parasites, so you will need to treat for the cause in addition to addressing the lesion. Treatment for the infection includes:

  • Lancing and draining any abscesses
  • Topical creams or ointments
  • Antibiotic shampoo
  • Oral antibiotics

The cost of treating an antibiotic skin infection can range from about $200-1,800 depending on the severity of the infection. Usually, cats recover fully from bacterial infections with the appropriate treatment.

Insect bites/stings: Usually, insect bites or stings resolve on their own and don’t require treatment. However, if your kitty has a severe allergic reaction, the veterinarian will treat her with

  • Supportive care such as IV fluids and oxygen
  • Epinephrine 
  • Antihistamines
  • Corticosteroids

The cost of treatment depends on the severity of the reaction but can range from $500-1,000. Early intervention is key to a full recovery. Once a cat has an allergic reaction to an insect bite, they’re more likely to have another severe reaction. Your veterinarian may prescribe a prescription epi-pen for emergencies.

Related post: Cat Scabs: 4 Types of Scabs & How to Treat

Author

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  • 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.