How To Tell If Your Cat Has A Skin Condition

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One of the things we love about our cats is what clean creatures they are. They devote hours a day to keeping their fur and skin in tip-top condition. In fact, most cats spend between a third and a half of their waking time grooming themselves. So if things go wrong and your cat develops a skin problem, what will be the telltale signs?

There are lots of things that can make your cat’s skin itch or become inflamed and uncomfortable. Some of the most common ones are:

  • Parasites such as fleas and mites.

  • Environmental allergies (atopic dermatitis).

  • Skin infections.

  • Food allergies.

  • Contact reactions to chemicals.

  • Abscesses and fight wounds.

You can read more details about some of these here.

Signs of skin disease in cats

Skin conditions often cause itching and inflammation, so lots of the signs of skin problems are due to that irritation and how your cat reacts to it. Some signs are very obvious, while some may be more subtle.

  1. Excessive grooming. As we said, cats spend hours a day grooming, but if it starts to feel like your cat does little else besides groom, there is likely something else going on. You may also notice that your cat is walking along or doing something and then very suddenly starts grooming, as if startled by something. This is a classic sign of itchiness in cats.

  2. Scratching or skin twitching. One of the more obvious signs, if your cat is scratching a lot or you notice their skin twitching all the time, it may be a sign they are feeling itchy.


  3. Hairballs. Cats are quite private creatures and are also active some of the time that we are asleep, so you may not notice their grooming becoming excessive. However, hairballs may be a knock-on effect of the overgrooming, especially if your cat is long-haired. If you suddenly start noticing that your cat is bringing up more than usual, you should see your vet.

  4. Hair loss. Because cats have barbed tongues, like a mini hairbrush, overgrooming can cause extensive hair loss. This may be through pulling fur out, but more often it’s the constant trauma that makes hairs break off near the base. You’ll see bald patches, but if you look closely there may still be hair spikes left. This will be different if your cat has a true hair loss issue – for example, the hair has stopped growing or is being lost at the root for some reason – because then the skin will be bald.


  5. Redness or inflammation. Because our pets have fur, you may not notice inflamed, red skin unless it affects hairless areas like the insides of the ears or tummy, or if there is hair loss. If you’re concerned, you can part the fur and see if there are places on the skin that are redder than others.

  6. Signs of parasites. Fleas are a common cause of skin issues, especially in allergic cats. Look for parasites themselves, flea dirt (this is flea poo full of blood that looks like specks of dirt but will turn red if moistened on tissue paper), and scabs, especially round the tail base and ears/neck.

  7. Abscesses. Cats are solitary animals by nature and usually view other cats as a threat. Abscesses are a common result of fighting. They are often on the face and head or near the rear end. They are pockets of infection and pus that gradually build up like a pimple and then burst. Abscesses appear as soft swellings at first, but can leak pus and cause hair loss when they come to a head.

  8. Scabs. Again, these may be well hidden, but if your cat likes to be petted, you may feel crusts or scabs in the fur.

All of these signs mean your cat may have a skin condition or an underlying medical issue. With any concern you have, no matter how small, don’t hesitate to talk to your vet. You will never be time-wasting. We would always prefer to be safe than sorry and the earlier you tackle a medical issue, the better.

Reviewed by Dr. Hein Meyer, DVM, PhD, Dipl-ECVIM-CA