Fur and Skin Diseases in Cats

The silky-soft cat fur is not only nice to look at and to stroke. Both the fur and the underlying skin have important protective functions in cats! As an important part of the cat’s body, they make immediately obvious if something is wrong: If the metabolic processes get out of balance, fur and skin diseases often develop in cats.

The Cat’s Skin

You may have heard before that the skin is the cat’s largest organ. That’s actually true! The cat’s skin is not only an important barrier organ against dehydration due to the loss of body fluids and the penetration of pathogens. It also regulates body heat and acts as an organ of excretion for sebum, sweat, and hormones. As the largest organ in the cat, the skin is also an important sensory organ.

The cat’s skin is made up of four layers: The outermost layer of skin, known as the epidermis, fulfills an important protective function against external influences. It contains sebum glands and hairballs, but these reach down to the lowest skin layer. Nerve endings and blood vessels are located in the dermis and cutis. These skin layers are particularly important for sensory perception. The underlying subcutaneous tissue stores fat, among other things.

The Cat Fur

From each hairball opening in the cat’s skin, a leading hair, several guard hairs, and an undercoat, called wool hair, emerges. Long and short-haired breeds may differ in the length of their fur – but in both cases, the hair has an important effect: it protects the cat’s body from temperature fluctuations through its insulating effect. In addition, it acts as a barrier against superficial injuries, caused for example by sharp twigs when roaming around in the undergrowth or a courageous bite when fighting with conspecifics.

Disorders in the Skin and Fur Metabolism

Skin and fur are important, but often overlooked, organs of the cat’s body. Fur and skin diseases in cats often indicate underlying diseases or malnutrition, but they can also be a sign of vermin or an independent disease. Cat owners should pay particular attention to sudden hair loss, increased scratching or licking, dandruff, bloody scabs, or suddenly dull fur. Skin injuries can often be covered by lush cat fur. If these changes occur over the long term and also outside of the coat change period in spring and autumn, a visit to the vet is called for! The same applies if the conspicuous fur development is accompanied by pathological behavior.

Fur and Skin Diseases in Cats: Diagnosis at the Veterinarian

Your vet will usually take a closer look at your cat’s coat and skin. Do the observed symptoms occur only in one place or are they spread over the whole body? Could they be traced back to an injury or can vermin be seen? If the cause is not obvious, a blood test can help. Deficiency symptoms can be excluded or precisely identified. If your cat suffers from an infection, there are clear signs in the blood count. Your veterinarian may prescribe medication or recommend supplements for your cat.

Dull fur, scales, and open spots can be caused by:

  • Parasites: Cats can suffer from external parasites such as mites, hair flies, or fleas, but endoparasites such as worms also affect the skin and fur of their four-legged friend. For outdoor cats, prophylaxis against external parasites is therefore often recommended – spot-ones that are simply dripped onto the neck of the cat are particularly common. Wormers put a strain on the cat’s body and should therefore only be given after a positive fecal examination.
  • Skin fungus: Skin fungi are uncomfortable for cats, but can also be transmitted to humans and other pets. If your cat suffers from a fungal infection, one thing is particularly important: hygiene! Your vet will also prescribe a mushroom remedy for external or internal use.
  • Malnutrition: Commercial cat food contains everything a cat needs to stay healthy – at least in theory. Every cat is different and especially kittens, seniors, or cats with chronic diseases often need more nutrients than their fellow cats. If a cat does not get enough vitamins, minerals, and trace elements from the food, this is often reflected in a dull coat or dandruff. However, please refrain from trying out dietary supplements if you are lucky. If your cat shows dull fur or other abnormalities, this is usually an essential deficiency that should be specifically remedied. A blood count can clearly identify the nutrients your cat needs.
  • Allergies: Allergies are no longer uncommon in the world of cats either – and they often manifest themselves in cats with fur and skin diseases. You can find out more in our article on cat allergies!
  • Change of coat: Every year the cat loses its thick winter coat or prepares for the cold season with a plush coat. This is completely normal and not a disease, however many cats show dull fur or scratch themselves to shed loose fur while they are changing their fur. Regular brushing helps here, and the administration of nutritional supplements can support a healthy coat change. Malt paste or cat grass can help shed hair that has been swallowed.
  • Mental illness and stress: If your cat licks more often, tears its hair out, or shows other abnormalities, chronic stress or mental illness can also be the cause. It is usually a good idea to rule out physical causes before you dare to see an animal behavior therapist.

Food Supplements to Support the Skin and Coat

When used as a preventive or supportive measure, after consultation with your veterinarian, dietary supplements can promote a shiny coat and healthy skin. Many products contain yeast – which supports the skin’s metabolism – or taurine. Taurine is an essential amino acid. As such, it cannot be made by the cat’s body itself. In order to meet its daily need for taurine, your cat has to get this amino acid with the food. A taurine deficiency first shows itself in dull fur, but can permanently lead to heart disorders or blindness. Fortunately, excess taurine is excreted by the body, so food supplements with taurine are usually harmless.

Mary Allen

Written by Mary Allen

Hello, I'm Mary! I've cared for many pet species including dogs, cats, guinea pigs, fish, and bearded dragons. I also have ten pets of my own currently. I've written many topics in this space including how-tos, informational articles, care guides, breed guides, and more.

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