Contact dermatitis in cats

Contact dermatitis in cats is an allergic reaction after exposure to a substance or allergen. This results in inflammation of the skin. Cats can develop reactions to many things, like cleaning products, pollen or even insects. Most causes of contact dermatitis are uncommon, as cats tend to clean themselves, which removes the substance before it causes a reaction.

Contact dermatitis is not usually a life-threatening condition. It can cause your cat to be very itchy, but with appropriate management, the long-term prognosis is good. Any age of cat can be affected by contact dermatitis.



What is contact dermatitis in cats?

Contact dermatitis in cats occurs due to physical contact with irritating substances or allergens, such as:

  • Seasonal environmental triggers like grass, plants, fertilisers and pollen.
  • Changes in bedding, washing powder, shampoos, and other cleaning products.
  • Insect bites, especially fleas
  • Textiles, plastic and some medications

Contact dermatitis can be a life-long condition but avoiding the triggers will resolve the symptoms.

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Symptoms of contact dermatitis in cats

The most common signs of contact dermatitis include:

  • Sudden intense itch causing scratching, biting, and overgrooming
  • Hives
  • Red skin, a rash or blisters
  • Hair loss
  • Darkened skin (hyperpigmentation)

The area of the body affected is usually the part that’s been in contact with the irritating substance. These are usually the areas with less hair, such as the paws, underside of the body and muzzle.

Contact dermatitis can lead to skin infections if not treated, such as hotspots.



Are some cats more at risk of contact dermatitis than others?

Contact dermatitis can be more common in cats that have other allergies, such as to food or fleas.



How is contact dermatitis diagnosed in cats?

An important part of diagnosis includes a thorough history discussion with your vet. Let them know about any new changes in the house or your cat’s routine.

Other tests can help rule out other causes of itchy skin:

  • Skin scrapes, culture or biopsy
  • Flea paper test
  • Allergy testing
  • Diet trial

The diagnosis may sometimes be confirmed by avoiding the suspected trigger and then re-introducing it.


Vet treatment

What’s the treatment for contact dermatitis in cats?

Treatment of contact dermatitis is similar to that of atopic dermatitis, except medication is not usually needed long-term.

  • Anti-itch medication, such as anti-histamines or steroids
  • Antibiotics for secondary skin infections
  • Anti-parasite medication to reduce or control triggers


Home treatment

How to look after a cat with contact dermatitis at home

Cats with severe itching will need prescription medication from the vet. At home, you can also help by:

  • Avoiding contact with any known triggers, where possible
  • Bathing regularly to reduce contact with allergens or irritants
  • Preventing self-trauma by using a buster collar or medical suit until the itch is under control
  • Using vet-recommended skin-calming shampoos or mousses
  • Keep your cat up-to-date with parasite control



Tips on how to prevent contact dermatitis in cats

It’s currently not known why contact dermatitis develops in cats. Therefore, preventing it before it happens is not possible. Prevention, once your cat has been diagnosed with it, is possible if the trigger(s) are isolated and avoided.


Is my family at risk of catching contact dermatitis?

Contact dermatitis is not infectious to other animals or people.


When to worry

When should you be worried about contact dermatitis in cats?

Seek help from a vet if your cat:

  • Is constantly itchy
  • Suddenly develops hives all over their body
  • Is collapsed

Call us and speak to one of our Joii Vets

  • If you have any questions about how to diagnose allergies in cats
  • If you have any questions about what shampoo to use for your cat
  • If your cat has fleas
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