Healthy Skin and Fur for Cats

Your cat’s fur and skin condition can be a good indication of their overall health. In fact, skin and fur problems in cats are one of the most common reasons they require veterinary care. When a problem exists, your cat may respond by excessively scratching, chewing, and licking itself. Skin problems have a wide range of causes – from external parasites, allergies, hormonal imbalances, autoimmune conditions, stress, or any combination of these.

Some common causes of skin problems include:

  • Ringworm: This highly contagious fungal infection can result in inflammation, scaly patches, and hair loss. Lesions are most commonly seen on the head, ears, and paws, but sometimes no signs are seen. You’ll want to have your veterinarian treat it immediately to prevent other pets and people in the household from becoming infected.
  • Fleas: Not only do fleas irritate the skin, but cats can also have an allergic response when exposed to them. Symptoms commonly include excessive scratching, thinning of hair above the base of the tail, crusts, and red raised skin lesions. Some cats may also be sensitive to flea-treatment products. Some flea collars, for example, may cause redness and irritation around the neck.
  • External parasites: Ear mites usually cause itching and redness around the ears and a dark, coffee ground-like material can be seen in the ear canals. Lice can produce intense itching, and mange mites can cause severe flaking and scaling.
  • Abscesses: A painful collection of pus at the site of a bite or puncture wound. Abscesses form a firm swelling that becomes soft with time and can rupture and spill out the purulent discharge. Although most fight-related abscesses are found on a cat’s forequarters or abdomen, they can sometimes appear near the tail if a cat is bitten while trying to flee. The best way to prevent abscesses is to keep your
  • Food Allergy Dermatitis: Some cats are very sensitive to certain ingredients or preservatives in their food. This sensitivity can result in severe itching over the head, neck and back, and swelling of the eyelids. It is often complicated by hair loss and oozing sores from constant scratching and biting. Treatment for this condition typically involves an elimination diet to see what ingredient(s) the cat is reacting to. Some vets may give steroid shots to ease the swelling and itching and give the skin a chance to heal from any damage.
  • Feline Acne: In this condition, comedones (also known as blackheads) form on the underside of the chin and edges of the lips. This condition may be associated with plastic or rubber food and water dishes. In severe cases, anti-seborrheic shampoos, such as those containing benzoyl peroxide (at a concentration of 3% or less), or benzoyl peroxide gels are used to break down the excess oils. Supplementation with Omega-3 or Omega-6 fatty acids may be beneficial but check with your vet first.
  • Contact Dermatitis: Symptoms of this condition include red, itchy bumps and inflamed skin at the site of contact with chemical or other irritants. It can also be caused by rubber or plastic food dishes. The best way to prevent contact dermatitis is to keep cats away from areas where chemicals are being used and to feed your cats with glass, stainless steel, or lead-free ceramic dishes.
  • Stud Tail: This is caused by glands near the tail that excrete excessive oils. The result is a greasy, rancid-smelling waxy brown material at the top of the tail near the base. This condition is most often found in un-neutered toms, but fixed males and females can get it, too. Treatment involves neutering if needed, and twice-daily washes with an anti-seborrheic shampoo to break down excess oils.
  • Psychogenic Alopecia: is the thinning of the fur in a stripe down the back or on the abdomen caused by compulsive self-grooming due to stress. Compulsive grooming behavior is often caused by stress, so treatment involves minimizing the affected cat’s stress level through the use of feline pheromone diffusers, creating a calm environment, and redirecting the cat’s nervous energy through play. In severe cases, vets may recommend a short course of anti-anxiety medication.
  • Sunburn: Cats with light-colored fur and hairless breeds such as the Sphynx are very prone to sunburn and should be kept out of direct sunlight between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. to reduce the risk of sunburn and minimize the long-term risk of developing skin cancers such as melanoma.

Additional Skin Problems Affecting Cats Include:

  • Grooming products: Some shampoos and grooming products can irritate your cat’s skin.
  • Seasonal changes: Many cats, like people, get dry, flaky skin in the winter.
  • Seasonal allergies: Your cat’s constant scratching may be due to her sensitivity to common allergens from trees, mold, and grasses.
  • Bacterial or yeast infections: These infections most commonly follow the onset of another skin disorder.
  • Tumors: A variety of benign and malignant skin growths can develop in cats.


Keeping your cat indoors may eliminate exposure to many of the causes of skin problems. Cleaning and vacuuming your cat’s primary indoor environment frequently, brushing your cat, and using natural, hypoallergenic soaps and shampoos recommended for cats can also help alleviate several skin conditions. If you are in a high-risk area, implement a flea-treatment program, but be cautious as some cats have allergic reactions to certain flea medications.

Feeding your cat a healthy, balanced diet without fillers or artificial ingredients is important and, when necessary, supplementation can be valuable as most pet foods available today do not contain the proper nutrients needed for healthy skin and coats.

Nutritional Impacts

The skin and hair coat must protect your pet against environmental insults, such as insects, bacteria, parasites and weather. Unfortunately, the skin and hair coat are on the bottom of the priority system when it comes to being fed the nutrients needed to remain healthy. Nutritional rationing always favors the internal organs. When diet is poor in quality, fed in insufficient amounts, or the demands of the dog or cat exceed their nutritional intake, the skin & coat are the first to show signs of a deficiency. Perhaps this is why veterinarians see more skin and coat problems than anything else these days.

Tips on Maintaining Healthy Skin & Coats

We all would like our pets to look like those show dogs and cats we occasionally see. Is there a reason why most of our pets do not resemble our breed champions?

One reason is that today’s pet foods only provide maintenance levels of protein, fatty acids, vitamins and minerals. Owners of performance and show animals know the value of feeding higher quality diets and supplementing to achieve the desired effect.

When nutrient needs go up, such as we see during increased activity, reproduction, injury, disease or stress…it becomes easier to see why the skin and hair coat of our pets can be affected so easily.

Today’s foods are also known to make our pets more susceptible to inflammation; something science tells us contributes greatly to disease.

Giving our pets more food just to provide additional skin and coat nutrients is not a good idea. More food – equals more calories – equals unnecessary weight gain. We all know about canine and feline obesity and the problems it presents.

Supplementation is actually the best solution. A high-quality nutritional supplement can provide specific skin and hair coat nutrients in a concentrated form that does not increase the daily caloric intake of the dog and cat.

It also makes sense that preventing skin & coat problems before they occur would be easier and less expensive than treating one of the many skin and coat problems we often encounter.

By Clayton Bolinger
February 28, 2023