Cat ownership, (ok who am I kidding, I meant being owned by a cat), is a huge responsibility.
If you’re anything like me, you take that responsibility seriously and that means making sure that fluffy friend is as healthy and happy as possible.
It goes without saying that if you notice scabs on your cat, you’re bound to be concerned and maybe a bit alarmed. So, what are the different types of scabs and how do you treat them?
What Are Cat Scabs?
Cat Scabs (miliary dermatitis) are defined as dry, crusty lesions or patches that form while a wound heals. So if you find a large or small scab on your cat, it means that your cat has been wounded either from an external source or from excessive scratching due to irritation.
There are several different types of scabs that cats can be afflicted with, but let’s have a look at 5 common types:
- Scabs around the neck and back
- Scabs around the head and ears
- Chin scabs
- Non-seasonal scabs
- Scabs as a result of stress
1. Scabs Around The Neck and Back
- These type of scabs can be indicative of a hypersensitivity to flea bites, particularly if they are located close to the tail. This is the most common type of scab. Fleas are wingless parasites that live on your cat’s skin and feed on his blood. Read my guide on flea control to see treatment options
- It is common for cats to develop an allergy to flea saliva, causing a localized reaction. These can become quite uncomfortable and itchy, and when your cat scratches at them, they can bleed and may result in an infection. The scabs can range in size from 3 mm to more than 1 cm.
- As with most things, prevention is the best way to make sure your cat doesn’t suffer. If your cat goes outside, a flea collar is a must. Every time they come in, check their fur and skin for any signs of lesions or fleas (ticks too!). Your vet may prescribe topical cream to rub on the scabs to heal faster and/or to stop the itching.
- Ask your vet before using any home remedies like PolySporin, as it could be dangerous for your feline. Your vet may also prescribe a cream to kill and prevent fleas. If you have more than one cat, it’s important to treat them all.
- Flea powder is NOT ALWAYS effective, so ask your vet before applying it to your cat. Also make sure that the environment indoors is free of fleas – that includes the cat bed, blankets, toys, etc.
2. Scabs Around The Head and Ears (Miliary Dermatitis)
- These scabs can be indicative of food allergies. While it doesn’t happen often, cats can develop allergies to food, just like humans, although the actual cause is unclear.
- This would start out in a similar fashion to hives, and become very itchy. The most common spot for food allergy scabs is around the head and ears.
- Allergic reactions may occur from a weak immune system or dust mites. There is an allergy test that can be taken known as the, “skin-prick test”.
- Other symptoms of food allergies include hair loss, excessive itching around the area, and vomiting. If you notice these along with the scabs then you can be pretty sure it’s caused by food allergies. Of course, your vet can give you the proper diagnosis after a thorough examination.
- If you have recently changed your cat’s diet, then switching back to their old food may be the quick and easy solution. If they’ve developed the allergy from a diet they’ve had for a long time, then treatment may take a bit longer.
- The first thing your vet will recommend is changing your cat’s diet completely to something they’ve never eaten before. Once on this new diet for a few weeks, the scabs should clear up.
- Then, you can introduce him to his usual food; if the symptoms reappear, then food was definitely the cause of the scabs. In this case, you should give your cat a hypoallergenic diet.
- There are many brands of cat food on the market that are hypoallergenic so it shouldn’t be too difficult to find one that suits your cat. You may have to try one or two before finding one he likes.
3. Chin Scabs
- These are usually caused by feline acne (yes cats get zits too!). These are characterized by a cluster of acne spots under the chin. These become red and inflamed and can cause swelling, making your cat very uncomfortable.
- While it’s unclear exactly what causes acne in cats, some experts believe it could be caused by either stress, or diet.
- Some cats are sensitive to plastic, so consider switching out plastic bowls for a stainless steal or porcelain bowl.
- Luckily, these normally clear up fairly quickly by applying ointment that contains benzoyl peroxide or by using an anti-bacterial soap. As with other types of scabs, your vet is the only one who can make a positive diagnosis by conducting a thorough physical examination.
4. Non-Seasonal Cat Scabs
- These are usually associated with allergies or dermatitis, especially if accompanied by itching and scratching.
- Cats can become allergic to many different things around the house, such as shampoos, soaps, plants and medications. These allergies can be in the form of excessive itching and scratching, which may break the skin and appear as scabs.
- If you give your cat baths, (‘cause cats love water!) you may have to switch to a hypoallergenic shampoo. Finding the culprit means taking things away one at a time until the scabs and itching clears up. If your cat has recently been prescribed medication, that could be the culprit as well.
- Your vet can give your cat a physical exam to determine the likely cause of the scabs. They may prescribe a topical cream or tablet to control the itching. They may ask questions such as what type of soaps or shampoo you’re using or if you’ve noticed your cat eating any specific plants.
- The problem could even be from your fabric softener or laundry detergent. If your cat lies on your bed or a blanket you regularly wash, the remnants could rub off on their fur. It’s unclear why some cats develop allergies and some don’t.
5. Scabs from Stress
- Cats can get stressed for any number of reasons, including a new addition, whether animal or human, being excessively teased or handled, moving house, sickness, or being left alone for long periods of time.
- As a result, cats may over-groom themselves which can result in skin lesions and scabs can form on various parts of the body. Other cats may show stress by running off and hiding, or by not using their litter box.
- There are a number of anxiety-reducing products on the market today, including collars, plug-ins (resembling air fresheners, but they emit a calming effect for kitty) and treats that are meant to calm and relax your cat.
- To help reduce stress, give your cat a regular routine and a dedicated area where they can go to sleep, play or just relax. Play therapy may also be recommended by your vet. If the stress is very severe, prescription medications may be needed.
Other Causes Of Scabs:
I’ve listed the more common conditions, but in some cases, there are other reasons why your cat may have scabs.
Here are a few examples:
- Skin Cancer: Yes, the sad truth is that cats can also get skin cancer. The more common types are:
- Basal cell carcinoma
- Mast cell tumor
- Squamous cell carcinoma
- Pemphigus: An autoimmune condition that results in anti-bodies attacking healthy cell tissue. Some cats have a hereditary predisposition for this condition. Irritation results in your cats clawing and scratching a specific location which results in scabs.
- Ringworms are a fungal infection of skin, hair, or claws known as a dermatophyte. In most cases, fungal infections can clear up without treatment, but anti-fungal treatments offer faster results.
Note: this list is not comprehensive.
You’ll want to take your cat to the veterinarian AS SOON as you notice any lesions or scabs; otherwise they may become infected, especially if your cat keeps licking and scratching at them. These can be quite uncomfortable and downright painful for your cat so you want to make sure you help ease the pain as quickly as possible.
The good news is that most of the time, creams and oral medications work fast – usually within 24 hours. If I didn’t stress it enough yet, I’ll say it one more time – always get a proper diagnosis from your vet and don’t try to put any creams or lotions that you would use yourself. Most topical ointments that you find in your local drugstore can be harmful or even fatal for your cat.
When it comes to pet ownership there is no such thing as being over-cautious so don’t worry about calling your vet the minute you notice something out of the ordinary.
Other related content:
Why does my cat have diarrhea? Let’s talk about a few of the more common causes of diarrhea in cats.
Have you ever dealt with scabs on your cat? How did you deal with it and how did your cat recover? I’d love to hear your thoughts!