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Scabby Cat Disease: How to Treat Feline Miliary Dermatitis

Miliary dermatitis is a cutaneous reaction pattern that is only seen in cats. Because the cat's skin starts to look 'scabby', the more colloquial term for the condition is scabby cat disease. Today, our Orange Park vets discuss miliary dermatitis in cats, what causes it, and if immunotherapy can help with the condition.

What is feline miliary dermatitis?

Feline miliary dermatitis is an allergic skin condition that affects 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?

Affected cats will develop an itchy rash and may lick, bite, or scratch the affected skin. The lower spine, around the base of the tail, face, ears, neck, flanks, and belly are the most commonly affected areas.

The rash can become infected in severe cases as the cat spends a lot of time grooming and scratching the affected areas.

What causes miliary dermatitis in cats?

There is a long list of reasons why a cat may develop miliary dermatitis, including

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

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 extremely allergic to flea bites and thus develop a severe skin reaction when bitten.

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?

The medical history and clinical signs of a cat are 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 consists of removing the irritant or allergen and 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.

Do you suspect your cat suffers from miliary dermatitis? Contact our Orange Park vets today to have your cat examined by one of our experienced veterinarians.

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