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Allergic Dermatitis in Cats

By: Dr. Erika DePapp

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As discussed, there are multiple types of allergies. In addition to different classes of allergy, there are a number of other causes of dermatitis that result in the same clinical signs. The following is a list of possible diagnoses in animals with itchy, red, crusty, scaly skin.

  • Flea bite hypersensitivity- Animals with this type of allergy can have severe dermatitis even with a low flea burden. In some cases the fleas are not easily identified on the patient. This usually occurs in 3-6 year old animals. The distribution of skin lesions is predominantly on the back end of the pet.

  • Atopy- This condition is also known as allergic inhalant dermatitis. Most patients with this disorder are 1-3 years of age. The face, feet, neck and armpits are the areas of the body most commonly affected by atopy. As the disease progresses, the signs may spread to the whole body.

  • Food allergy- Animals may develop an allergy to a certain component of their diet. This can occur at any age, and often occurs after an animal has been eating the diet for an extended period of time. In addition to dermatitis, some pets with food allergies will also develop vomiting and diarrhea.

  • Drug allergy- Many drugs, especially certain antibiotics, have been shown to cause allergic reactions. The signs may range from scratching and redness, to hives, to severe illness and sloughing of the skin. If a drug allergy is suspected, the drug in question should be discontinued immediately.

  • Contact allergy or irritant- Animals can be allergic to fibers in a carpet, finishes on a floor or topical shampoos or medications. Additionally, some substances may cause irritation even in animals that do not have an allergy. The dermatitis is often confined to ventral areas (along the underside of the body) or areas where there is a sparse haircoat.

  • Pyoderma- A bacterial skin infection can occur alone, or in conjunction with allergic dermatitis. Many animals develop secondary pyoderma from chewing and licking at their skin. The normal skin has many bacteria, which will colonize an area of inflamed or irritated skin and worsen the clinical signs.

  • Yeast infection- Infection with skin yeast can also occur secondary to allergy. Some patients will have yeast and bacterial ear infections secondary to allergies.

  • Scabies- This is an intensely itchy disorder caused by mites. Human family members can contract this as well.

  • Cheyletiellosis- This is another type of mite that may cause minimal to severe scratching. Humans may also be infected.

  • Pediculosis- Lice infestation.

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