Information on symptoms of allergic contact and atopic dermatitis in cats and dogs.
Select a Topic
- What is Dermatitis?
- What Causes Dermatitis in Cats and Dogs?
- Diagnosing Dermatitis in Pets
- Help for Dermatitis
- More Information on Dermatitis for Pet Owners
What is Dermatitis?
Dermatitis is inflammation of the skin. An itchy, red rash develops in the affected areas and worsens over time.
The intense itchiness causes affected cats and dogs to scratch at their skin in search of relief. Unfortunately, this scratching leads to skin lesions, which in turn make the itching worse.
The red, itchy skin isn’t merely an annoyance for your pet. It can negatively impact their quality of life and lead to secondary infections. If left untreated, dermatitis can cause hair loss in affected cats and dogs.
What Causes Dermatitis in Pets?
There are several distinct types of dermatitis in cats and dogs, including:
- Flea-bite dermatitis – cause by flea saliva residue on your pet’s skin.
- Allergic contact dermatitis – delayed hypersensitivity to allergens such as house dust mites, environmental allergens, cleaning products or food allergy. Allergies in cats and dogs can be treated through immunotherapy.
- Atopic dermatitis – an allergic reaction accompanied by wheezing, asthma and very dry skin. Canine atopic dermatitis and feline atopic dermatitis are the second most common allergic skin diseases in pets, after flea allergy dermatitis.
- Seborrheic dermatitis – yellow, greasy scales like dandruff on the skin of certain breeds, especially those with wrinkles or folds.
- Autosensitization dermatitis – an itchy rash that occurs in response to an intense inflammatory response somewhere else on the body, especially fungal infections.
- Lichen simplex chronicus – rash caused by long-term scratching of an area, producing thickened skin.
- Pyotraumatic dermatitis – often referred to as a hot spot. Red, moist, hairless, painful-looking sore that appears suddenly. This licking and scratching often occurs overnight, so the sudden appearance of the sore can be an unpleasant surprise for pet owners.
- Canine acral lick dermatitis – a fairly common skin condition in dogs. Affected dogs usually spend a considerable part of their day licking at one particular spot on one leg. An infected wound eventually arises at the site.
- Canine sarcoptic mange – an extremely irritating condition caused by the sarcoptes mite, most often affecting a dog’s abdomen, chest, legs and ears.
- Feline notoedric mange – similar to canine sarcoptic mange, notoedres cati is a microscopic mite that infests the skin of cats and affects the ears, face and neck.
Common symptoms of dermatitis in pets:
- Persistent scratching of a particular area
- Persistent licking of a particular area
- The appearance of a red, painful-looking sores, often overnight
- Scaly, rough or oozing areas on the skin, usually accompanied by hair loss
Dermatitis is usually diagnosed based on the history and appearance of the rash. Your veterinarian will inspect the affected area and, if possible, identify the exact type of dermatitis. This can be difficult, though. Skin tests can be performed to identify contact or atopic dermatitis or a fungal infection.
If your vet thinks an allergy is causing your pet’s problems, allergy tests can help determine what your cat or dog is allergic to.
When a food allergy is suspected, determining the specific food allergen is key. A food trial, during which certain allergenic foods are eliminated and then reintroduced one at a time, can help reveal the culprit.
Help for Dermatitis
Corticosteroids such as injectable dexamethasone and oral antibiotics may be given to calm the itching and inflammation.
Topical steroid creams are available by veterinarian prescription and may provide relief for itchy pets. These creams are powerful and can have unwanted side effects, especially with long term use.
Hot spots need prompt veterinary attention to prevent infection.
An herbal supplement for pets like Skin and Coat Tonic™ for Shiny & Glossy Fur helps promote cat and dog skin health.
More Information on Dermatitis
Tips for dermatitis-prone pet skin
- If the dermatitis is caused by flea allergy, take action to rid the home of fleas.
- Don’t bathe pets too often. Use a natural, gentle shampoo and always dry them off properly. Never use human perfumes, moisturizers or talc on your pet’s skin.
- Treat other rashes, especially fungal infections, even though they may not seem related and watch out for infection.
- Avoid dressing your pet in clothing. Pet skin needs to ‘breathe’ and in the case of dermatitis related to allergies or triggers, detergents may be irritating your pet’s skin.
- Make sure your pet’s diet is rich in the proper fatty acids to support the immune system.
- Dell, Darin. “It’s not magic: the skinny on treating canine atopic dermatitis.” DVM360. Accessed February 21, 2020. https://www.dvm360.com/view/it-s-not-magic-skinny-treating-canine-atopic-dermatitis
- Bajwa, Jangi. “Atopic dermatitis in cats.” The Canadian Veterinary Journal. Accessed February 21, 2020. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5819051/
- “Atopic Dermatitis in Dogs: Causes, Symptoms and Treatments.” PetMD. Accessed February 21, 2020. https://www.petmd.com/dog/conditions/skin/c_dg_atopic_dermatitis
- “Skin Problems in Cats.” Fetch by WebMD. Accessed February 21, 2020. https://pets.webmd.com/cats/ss/slideshow-skin-problems-in-cats