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Feline Miliary Dermatitis — Scabby Cat Disease

Feline miliary dermatitis is an allergic reaction seen in cats that causes your kitty's skin to feel 'scabby' and irritated—thus the more common name scabby cat disease. Today's post provides information on miliary dermatitis in cats, its causes, and immunotherapy treatment.

What is feline miliary dermatitis (scabby cat disease)?

Feline miliary dermatitis is an allergic condition that affects the skin of cats. It is named after the Latin word milium, which means "millet," and is distinguished by small, crusted lesions that can be felt rather than seen.

What are the signs of feline miliary dermatitis in cats?

Scabby cat skin tends to be itchy and irritated. This means that affected cats often lick, bite, or scratch their skin excessively, in many cases increasing the irritation and causing infections to occur. Areas most affected by this condition are the lower spine, around the base of the tail, as well as the face, ears, neck, flanks, and belly.

What causes miliary dermatitis in cats?

While there are many different reasons why a cat may develop miliary dermatitis, by far the most common reason is flea bites. Some cats are very allergic to flea bites and develop extremely irritated and sore skin when bitten.

Some other reasons why a cat may develop miliary dermatitis, include:

  • fleas
  • pollen allergy
  • ear mites
  • skin mites
  • chiggers
  • deep hair follicle mites
  • ringworm
  • bacterial infection
  • lice
  • ticks
  • nutritional deficiencies.

Miliary dermatitis can also indicate an allergy to something in the cat's food or an environmental allergy (such as pollen). And while a contact allergy can happen, it is very rare in cats.

How does a veterinarian diagnose miliary dermatitis?

Your cat's medical history and the clinical signs displayed by your feline friend will be used to make a diagnosis. If fleas or flea dirt are found, the diagnosis may be a flea allergy. Skin scrapings, biopsies, allergy tests, a hypoallergenic food trial, or a referral to a veterinary dermatologist may be recommended if another cause is suspected or if the condition does not respond to symptomatic flea treatment.

How is miliary dermatitis treated?

The treatment for scabby cat disease depends upon the underlying cause of your cat's condition but removing the irritant or allergen is essential for reducing the cat's clinical signs.

If flea allergy dermatitis is suspected, a flea preventive is used. In cases of parasite infection, topical treatments may be used. A hypoallergenic food trial is advised in cases where a food allergy is suspected to be a component of the allergy. Antihistamines, essential fatty acids, topical treatment, and cyclosporine may also be used.

Can immunotherapy work for miliary dermatitis?

Immunotherapy, or allergy shots, is the final option. It involves changing how the immune system perceives the antigens that cause an immune reaction.

It begins with a blood or skin test to determine which environmental antigens your cat is allergic to, followed by allergy shots administered several times per week. Immunotherapy takes about a year to see if it is effective.

It should be noted that there are currently no cures for allergic skin disease. All therapies are designed to reduce and manage the amount of inflammation caused by allergies, as well as to prevent infections and discomfort.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

At Veterinary Specialty Center of Tucson we provide emergency care 7 days a week for pets in need. Contact our Tucson vets if your cat needs emergency or specialist care.

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