At my veterinary practice, I’ve seen cats present with patchy areas of fur and scabs on their skin often. It’s a common problem. By examining the affected kitty, I could diagnose and treat the condition based on the scabs’ number, distribution, appearance, and size.
Cats with patchy areas of fur and scabs on their skin can be caused by allergies, ringworm, acne, and ear edge dermatitis.
What are scabs?
Scabs are a protective crusty covering which forms over a wound on the skin. These “natural bandaids” form when platelets collect around the edges of broken skin to form a blood clot.
With time and air exposure, the platelets reconfigure to create a mesh across the skin opening. The webbing captures escaping red blood cells. As the blood cells dry, a scab forms. Scabs vary in size, shape, and number. Itching usually accompanies feline scabs and may lead to further skin damage if your cat scratches or grooms the area excessively.
Common types of scabs on cats (with pictures)
Flea allergy dermatitis
What it is: Flea allergy dermatitis, caused by an allergic reaction to flea saliva, is the most common cause of scabs in cats. There are multiple, small, crusty scabs along the back, neck, or head. The area can be inflamed and itchy, which prompts cats to scratch excessively, injuring themselves.
What to do about it: The best treatment for flea allergy dermatitis starts with eliminating the fleas. Treat the environment and your kitty as the parasites can spend 90% of their lives off of your cat. Most flea treatments are topical applied to the back of the neck.
Additionally, you may provide symptomatic relief of itchiness and inflammation with:
- Omega fatty acid supplements
- Oatmeal or anti-itch shampoo
Learn more about cat flea scabs.
What it is: Food allergies can cause a miliary dermatitis similar to flea allergies. Kitties with this condition may present with:
- Crusty skin
- Thinning hair
- Non-seasonal itching
Repeated scratching can cause scabbing, particularly around the head, face, neck, and ears.
What to do about it: If your veterinarian diagnoses food allergies, switch her to a hypoallergenic diet. Look for foods that feature limited ingredients and a novel protein such as duck. Your kitty’s doctor may also prescribe corticosteroids or antihistamines to ease itching.
2. Scabs from ringworm
What it is: Ringworm is a highly infectious fungal infection. It begins as a circular, reddened rash and can include patchy hair loss and scaly skin. The circular lesions can affect any part of the body. Due to the infectious nature, ringworm is more prevalent in high-density environments like shelters or catteries.
What to do about it: There are topical creams and sprays available to treat ringworm lesions. Your veterinarian may recommend clipping back your cat’s hair and treating with a medicated shampoo or dip. There are also oral antifungal medications for generalized infections. To prevent reinfection, you’ll also need to treat the environment. Wash all bedding in hot water and hang it in the sun to dry. Wipe all surfaces with a 10% bleach solution. Learn more about ringworm in cats.
3. Scabs from feline acne
What it is: Feline acne is characterized by blackheads in the chin area that may transition to pustules or pimples. As the area becomes inflamed, kitties itch, and their scratching can cause the pustules to erupt. You may notice a greasy crust under the skin. It may be triggered by food allergies, plastic bowls, infections, or a host of other factors.
What to do about it: To treat feline acne, clean the affected area twice a day with witch hazel. You can switch to stainless steel or glass bowls. If the condition persists, talk to your veterinarian about a medical cleanser and topical antibiotics.
4. Ear edge dermatitis scabs
What it is: Because feline ears often have less hair than other parts of the body, they’re susceptible to a variety of conditions that can cause scabs. These include allergies, immune-mediated disorders, sunburn, and skin parasites. When this happens, you can see scabs, crusting, and hair loss.
What to do about it: Your treatment approach will depend on the underlying cause. Scabs caused by parasites call for anti-parasitic medications. If the scabs result from immune-mediated issues, your kitty will need immunosuppressive therapy. For sunburn, avoid sun exposure and use topical ointments to help the sores heal.
4 steps you can take to help your cat
If your cat has scabs, there are some things you can do to help relieve itching or protect the scabbed area while you’re waiting to see your veterinarian.
1. Apply a topical ointment
Get a topical steroid treatment from your vet’s office or over-the-counter. These can help to reduce inflammation and itching so that your kitty stops itching.
2. Bandage the scabbed area
If your kitty continues to scratch, place a bandage over the scabs. This will keep your fur baby from scratching open the scabs or licking the cream.
3. Use a cone
A cone, or Elizabethan collar, may be used for extreme itchiness from an allergy or other skin condition. The collar will prevent biting or scratching that can cause further injury to the scabbed skin.
4. For allergies, try an elimination diet
If your anti-parasitic treatments and creams don’t help clear up the scabbing and itchiness, your cat may have a food allergy. For recent flare-ups, try removing any new foods or additions to the environment. Slowly remove foods or items one at a time to identify the offending ingredient.
What the scab’s location can tell you
The location of your cat’s scabs can tell you and your veterinarian about the underlying cause of the skin irritation.
Scabs on your cat’s back can be caused by:
- Flea bite dermatitis
- Other allergies
When the scabs appear on the neck, it may mean your cat has:
- Flea bite allergies
- Other allergies
- Insect bite or sting
- Autoimmune disease (pemphigus complex)
Scabs on the ears may be due to:
- Ear mites or mange
- Autoimmune disorders
- Food or environmental allergies
When are scabs not a concern?
Feline injuries from a scratch, bite, or tree branch may leave a superficial injury that scabs over. If you notice a singular scab or a chain of scabs in a line that isn’t oozing pus or won’t stop bleeding, it shouldn’t be a concern.
What kind of scabs should you worry about?
When you notice scabs on your cat, it’s always wise to contact your veterinarian. Your pal’s doctor should be able to find a diagnosis and recommend treatments after conducting a thorough examination.
Some signs you see can cause extra concern. If you notice any of these signs with your kitty’s scabs, schedule an examination as soon as possible:
- Bleeding scabs
- Pussy scabs
- Restlessness or irritability
- Loss of appetite
- Vomiting or diarrhea
- Breathing issues from scabs around the nose
When to call your vet
If the scabs are bleeding or have pus, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian.
When you bring your cat to the vet, you shouldn’t have to collect any samples beforehand. Expect the doctor to ask you when the signs appeared and if there have been any recent changes to your cat’s diet or environment. He’ll also want to know if you did anything at home to help relieve inflammation and itching.
How can your vet help, and how much will it cost?
Diagnose the cause
Your veterinarian will start by performing a physical exam. The location and appearance of the scabs may provide clues to the cause. Others may require additional diagnostic tests, including:
- Skin scrapings
- Fungal cultures
- Intradermal allergy tests
- Food elimination trials
Treat the condition
Once the doctor has a diagnosis, she’ll be able to develop a plan to treat the underlying cause. We discussed some treatments above. Additionally, your doctor may recommend or prescribe:
- Flea bite dermatitis: Your kitty should be treated with a feline flea medication for 2-3 months to eliminate the pests. Other skin parasites may call for a medicated bath or spray. Cost of treatment runs about $200-400.
- Allergies: Your veterinarian may prescribe corticosteroids or other anti-inflammatories to reduce irritation and itching along with eliminating the offending allergen. The cost of treatment for allergies in cats can run $50-150 per month.
- Ringworm: Your cat needs antifungal treatment to kill the infection. Cost of treatment can range from about $100-500.
- Feline Acne: Your vet will prescribe topical antibacterial treatments to remove excess oils and blackheads. The cost of treatment ranges widely depending on the severity of the condition.
How long does it take for various types of scabs to heal?
Below, we offer typical recovery times for different scabs. Remember, however, that no two cats are alike, so the actual recovery periods can vary.
- Flea allergy dermatitis: While the bites should heal once fleas are eliminated, your cat may continue to itch for 1-2 weeks.
- Allergies: Allergies require ongoing control and management.
- Ringworm: Ringworm takes an average of 3-5 weeks to heal.
- Feline acne: Mild acne cases often resolve on their own, but severe cases can take 4-6 weeks to heal.
Are there other skin conditions that look like scabs?
A few conditions can mimic the appearance of scabs on cats.
- Dry, flaky skin can look like scabs in some cats.
- Some lumps may have a scab-like appearance. Warts (papillomas) can appear on the skin as a nodule that you may mistake for a scab. Some cats also develop injection site fibrosarcomas, which are malignant cancers.