Allergies Cause Skin Disease
Reggie, our three-year-old cat is covered with scabs especially on his neck. To make matters worse, his hair is thinning especially near his tail where he constantly bites and chews. We thought he might have fleas but we found only a few. Can you tell us what is going on?
The symptoms you are describing could well be miliary dermatitis, which is an allergic reaction to some stimulus. The fact that you found even a few fleas is very important. The pattern of hair loss and scabs is classic for what we see in an allergic reaction to fleas.
Reggie is reacting to the saliva that fleas inject under the skin when they bite. The saliva actually stimulates a chemical reaction under the skin which leaves Reggie scratching uncontrollably and turning around to chew away whatever hair he can reach.Your description of the skin matches what we see in cats that are allergic for other reasons too. Reggie, for instance, could be allergic to something in his food, some airborne pollen or even a worm in his intestinal tract. A fungus on his skin also could cause the itching. However, since we know he has fleas, this most obvious possible allergen needs to be addressed by your veterinarian.
To find the specific allergen at work on Reggie, your veterinarian probably will do a fecal exam and skin fungus culture as well as look for fleas and examine the pattern of skin damage. Even though you do not believe your cat has a flea problem, keep in mind that cats have an incredible ability to feel a flea, find it and eat it. So you may think he has no fleas or only a few fleas when he has many of the little pests jumping on him and biting him every day. Remember that even one flea on an allergic cat can trigger this severe and painful scratching and chewing syndrome.
Treatment is aimed at curing the underlying problem if possible and thus eliminating the dermatitis. Remember though that recurring exposure to an allergen, such as a flea, will still result in dermatitis, so it is paramount that you keep Reggie and any other animal in the household flea-free on a year-round basis. You and Reggie have an advantage right now since it is winter and cold temperatures have killed the outdoor fleas and left you with only the indoor ones to eliminate.