Skin Discharge or Odor in Cats

Skin Discharge or Odor in Cats

Skin odor is a common manifestation of a skin infection. In cats, the most common skin infections are bacterial (superficial pyoderma) and yeast (Malassezia dermatitis) infections. Skin discharge and/or odor can indicate that your cat may be suffering from a skin infection.

The bacterial infections are usually caused by bacteria that are part of the normal flora of the skin (e.g. Staphylococcus intermedius). For this reason the infection is not contagious to other animals. In cats that have abnormal skin (e.g. allergies) the bacteria increase in number and cause red bumps (papules) and rancid odor. Some cats with bacterial skin infections also develop excessive shedding, patchy hair loss and scaling. If the infection is left untreated, involvement of deeper parts of the skin is possible. In these cases nodules that have a purulent (pus) discharge develop. In most cases skin infections are secondary, so it is very important to pursue an underlying cause. Failure to do so will result in recurrent infections.

Animals often develop a yeast infection (Malassezia dermatitis), which manifests itself as greasy, red, itchy skin with a rancid odor. Areas most commonly affected include the ventral neck, groin, armpits (axillae) and perineal areas. This infection is also secondary to an underlying disease, most commonly allergies. In some cats this may be a consequence of chronic antibiotic and steroid therapy but, as a general rule, cats do not develop yeast infections after antibiotic therapy as commonly as people do.

Diagnosis of Skin Discharge or Odor in Cats

Treatment of Causes for Skin Discharge or Odor in Cats

Treatment for Bacterial Dermatitis

Treatment for bacterial skin disorders is antibiotics. Some of the more commonly used antibiotics include ampicillin, cephalexin, enrofloxacin, clindamycin, clavulinc acid and sulf based drugs. Other treatments may include:

Treatment of Malassezia Dermatitis​

Home Care for Cats

You will need to shampoo your cat with medicated shampoos. Benzoyl Peroxide is an excellent antibacterial antibiotic (e.g. Oxydex®, Pyoben® shampoo). Other antifungal shampoos contain miconazole or ketoconazole (e.g. Nizoral® shampoo for dandruff is now available OTC).

Contact time is important when using a medicated shampoo. You should allow a 10 to 15 minutes contact time for the product to be effective. Leave-on products are also available on the market for prolonged efficacy.

You may have to administer oral medications (either antibiotics or antifungal medications) to help treat the infection. Compliance is very important. Some cats may require medications for a prolonged time as skin infections usually take a while to clear.

If your cat keeps relapsing with infections, it is important to pursue an underlying cause. This will decrease the frequency of relapses and reduce the risk of resistance to medications used for prolonged periods of time.