Crusts on cats? What causes them and how do you treat them?
Millet is a type of hardy, nutritious grass seed that humans have cultivated for thousands of years. It is very adaptable, with an abundance of functions that provide food and nourishment for livestock and humans. We say “it”, but millet is actually an umbrella term for at least 50 different types of this staple food. They’re drought-resistant, have a fast growth and harvest cycle, and are usually gluten-free, so millet is experiencing something of a renaissance in people with food allergies. But why are we concerned with old farming? What does this have to do with scabs in cats?
Stroking your cat and finding scabs can be alarming. This feline skin condition is miliary dermatitis and takes its name from scabbed sores that resemble millet. Like millet itself, this cat skin allergy is not just a thing, but a symptomatic name that encompasses a range of potential allergens and reactions to it. Let’s take a closer look at the possible reasons for scabs in cats and why they appear on your kitten’s back, neck, and tail.
What is feline junctional dermatitis?
Because cat skin allergies have so many possible causes and provocations, what we call miliary dermatitis goes by multiple names. Some you may have heard: the acne in cats, the cat eczema, the colorful and unspecific “stain”, the very descriptive “shabby cat disease” and the dermatitis in flea allergies. This last term describes the most common cause of scabs in cats and the one that confuses most cat owners. More on that in a moment.
Connected: 10 common cat skin problems
There are many causes of miliary dermatitis in cats, both external and internal, but they manifest themselves in the same way and with the same symptoms. We mentioned scabs in cats, but these are just the most obvious and telling signs. Before scabs appear in cats, you may find that your pet is doing an outrageous amount of self-grooming. Now cats spend almost half of their waking life licking and cleaning themselves. So is there a difference?
In dermatitis, the first result of skin inflammation is an itchy rash, which can be difficult to spot depending on the length of a cat’s coat. A sure symptom of miliary dermatitis? Repeated attention to a specific and localized area by licking, scratching, or biting. As the rash spreads, not only can a cat obsessively groom, but it can go bald in those areas as well. Typically the neck and the point where the tail meets the trunk are affected.
What causes cat dermatitis?
Allergies themselves do not cause crusts in cats on the back, neck or at the base of the tail, but rather through the cat’s sole focus on alleviating the allergy. The more intensely a cat scratches, licks and bites, the more these tell-tale crusts form. Time is of the essence. The longer the condition progresses, the more likely a cat will develop scabs. When it comes to scabs in cats, scratching the scabs clears the way for secondary infections from normally harmless bacteria that live on cats.
Rashes and lesions are now present from the cat’s self-care trauma, and these are caused by several possible pathogens. Things that can cause these allergic reactions and make the ball roll toward scabs in cats:
- Materials in new beds, carpets, or other furnishings
- An ingredient or ingredients in cat food
- Seasonal allergens like pollen
- Common household chemicals, including cat shampoo
- Mites, such as a sudden spread of ear mites or cheyletiella (dandruff)
- Fleas and flea bites
By far the most common cause of miliary dermatitis in cats and the scabs in cats that accompany the disease is the bite of a flea.
Flea allergy dermatitis in cats
Since many house cats spend most of their time indoors, we can anticipate the screams of protest and alarm. How can a cat express allergic reactions to fleas if it does not have fleas? Is the house cleaned regularly? What if the cat is taking preventive medication or wearing a flea collar? In cats with flea allergies, especially cats with sensitive skin, or in younger cats and kittens with a developing immune system, the distinction between fleas and flea bites does not matter.
All cats, especially those indoors, are demanding snow groomers. Their rigorous cleaning routines mean that even cats who occasionally encounter fleas don’t necessarily have to crawl and hop all over their bodies. In other words, a cat doesn’t have to have “fleas” per se to experience the negative effects of a bite. If a cat walks out of the house during the warmer times of the year, when fleas are abundant, it can expose itself to these pesky critters for a brief period of supervised caturday excitement.
For cats with sensitive skin, domestic cats with limited exposure to nature, or those whose homes are so immaculate that they don’t even wear flea collars, the saliva from a single flea bite is enough to cause an allergic reaction. This condition, known as flea bite hypersensitivity, is an increasingly common, if not the most common cause of skin allergies in cats and dogs. This is also the first step in the formation of millet-shaped crusts in cats – usually on cat backs, necks, and tails.
Treatment of cat dermatitis and therefore also of scabs in cats
Diagnosing miliary dermatitis is fairly straightforward for a skilled veterinarian. Placing a rash, lesion, or crust in cats – depending on how far the problem has progressed – gives a veterinarian a clearer idea of the real cause of the allergic reaction and a good start to a reliable method of treatment. Determining the exact cause of your cat’s skin allergy is key.
For cats who already have over-grooming wounds that are responsible for flea bites, knowing they have a flea allergy is not a condemnation of you as the cat owner or your cleanliness at home. Cortisone injections can help relieve persistent itching, and antibiotics, which may be prescribed to treat existing wounds, may be used.
Your vet can recommend preventive measures once you are aware of the cat’s allergy. Domestic cats who like to venture outside under supervision may be warned, or regular use of anti-flea prophylactic drugs may be recommended. By implementing prevention strategies, you and your cat may change your normal routine. However, following the new routine will ensure that your cat does not have recurrent attacks of miliary dermatitis.
Tell us: Have you ever seen scabs on your cat? How did you treat her In your case, what was the cause of scabs in cats?
Top photogprah: © chendongshan | Thinkstock.
This piece was originally released in 2016.