Scabs on a cat’s head and body are unpleasant to look at and can make you feel concerned about your pet’s skin health. What’s more, a scab can easily become a scar if picked at or scratched off.
Scabs on a cat’s skin are usually due to miliary dermatitis. Common explanations include allergies, parasites, fungal or bacterial infection, and dry skin. Dermatitis leads to itching and scratching. This can cause sharp claws to break a cat’s thin skin. Scabs will follow as the cuts heal.
If your cat has scabs on its head or back, these must not be picked or scratched. That will open wounds and potentially leave scars. Instead, learn why your cat is struggling with miliary dermatitis. Scabs are a symptom, not a disease, so the cause must be resolved in order to get a recovery.
Table of Contents:
- 1 Why Does My Cat Have Scabs?
- 2 What Causes Feline Miliary Dermatitis?
- 2.1 Allergies
- 2.2 Parasites
- 2.3 Bacterial or Fungal Infection
- 2.4 Dry Skin
- 3 Cat Scab Treatment And Control
Why Does My Cat Have Scabs?
Scabs on a cat’s head and body can be uncomfortable. Scabs cause a constant itching sensation. When scratched with sharp claws, the scab will drop off and leave an open wound. This can invite bacterial infection.
It is a misconception that most scabs are caused by fighting. It is true that cats battle over territory, or for a potential mate. However, most cats back down before it comes to this. Hissing, growling and aggressive body language are designed to avoid conflict, not provoke it.
A cat will rarely prolong a fight once injured. If a feline draws blood, its opponent will usually flee. Cats are governed by survival instinct. It would take a long, drawn-out brawl to cover a cat’s head and body in scabs.
It is likelier that your cat has feline miliary dermatitis. This condition is so named as it caused small lesions on the skin that resemble millets. This will lead to spotty and flaky skin, which in turn causes itching. This can then lead to scabs. As per Companion Animal Practice, this common complaint has many possible medical explanations.
What Causes Feline Miliary Dermatitis?
Dermatitis has many potential causes in cats. In some instances, these can be avoided. You’ll need to remove the trigger for the skin reaction.
This is not always possible. Some cats develop idiopathic dermatitis, with no clear explanation. This may have been an inherited skin condition from a parent. Alternatively, your cat may just be unlucky.
Some cat breeds are likelier to have skin issues than others. Veterinary Dermatology namechecks Devon Rex, Abyssinian, and Domestic Mixed breeds as those at highest risk. If you cannot find a reason for feline dermatitis, skip straight to treatment. The problem may be genetic.
Take the time to investigate possible explanations, though. If you identify a root cause, you can permanently resolve the problem. This will save you time and money, while also improving your cat’s quality of life.
Allergies are the most common explanation for scabs on a cat’s skin. Felines can be allergic to a wide array of things. Allergies have a range of symptoms, including:
- Constant scratching
- Presence of hives and hotspots on a cat’s skin
- Sneezing and coughing
- Streaming eyes and nose
- Trouble breathing
- Vomiting and diarrhea
Itching is the most notable of these issues. When a cat scratches to excess, it breaks the skin. This is especially likely if the skin is already covered in hives or hotspots. Scabs will then form on the affected skin.
Allergies need to be pinpointed. It’s rare that a vet will be able to do this through testing. You’ll need to learn what is causing the reaction through trial and error. Once you have done so, prevent exposure to the trigger. This will clear up your cat’s skin concerns.
Food allergies are most common sensitivities can felines experience. Cats can allergic to any number of ingredients. Some human foods are outright toxic to cats. Even cat food can cause a reaction, though.
Cats can develop allergies at any time of life. Even if a food never previously caused problems, this may not always be the case. Always be vigilant about watching a for an allergic reaction after a cat eats.
If your cat is demonstrating allergies to food, make a gradual change. A sudden shift in food, such as changing from wet to dry, upsets a cat’s stomach. Start by switching to a different brand of wet food with alternative ingredients.
If necessary, start amending the food source. Slowly reduce the amount of problematic food, adding more and more of a new alternative. Eventually, your cat will be able to enjoy the new, non-reactionary meal full-time.
Insect Stings or Bites
If your cat is stung by a bee or wasp, it may experience an allergic reaction. The most serious of these is anaphylaxis. This will require emergency medical treatment. Even a mild allergy will cause discomfort, though.
It is not just stinging insects that can cause these problems. Insects that bite, such as ants, may also provoke a reaction. The red fire ant is particularly likely to pose problems. Arachnids like spiders, which can bite, and scorpions, who sting, can also spark a reaction.
Many cats like to chase bugs. The rapid, skittering movements of insects and arachnids activate a cat’s hunting instincts. While this is often a harmless behavior, be mindful of allergic reactions after the event.
Some cats have an allergy to plastic. This can obviously be problematic. Many cat food and water bowls, in addition to toys, are made of plastic.
Try switching your cat’s bowls to a different material. Ceramics or porcelain are popular alternatives to plastic. You could also invest in a water foundation. This will prevent your cat’s from touching any material while drinking. Try using a flat food dish, too.
If these changes cease your cat’s skin issues, you have your answer. If not, you need to look into alternative explanations.
Fabrics and Household Products
Cats are curious. They will investigate anything in the home, especially if it has a new scent. This can lead to allergic reactions. Your cat may be sensitive to the material of a new cushion or curtain, for example.
In addition, check if you have recently changed household products. A new fabric softener may cause a skin reaction in cats. The same can apply to air fresheners, or even perfume and cologne.
If your cat suddenly breaks out in scabs after a change in household products, switch back. This may be inconvenient or work against your personal preferences. All the same, your cat’s safety and comfort must come first.
If your cat roams outside, it may have environmental allergies. This may be something commonplace, such as grass or mud. Alternatively, the cat may have a seasonal allergy – felines experience their own equivalent to hayfever.
Run some experiments. Keep your cat home for a period of three days, seeing if this improves its skin. Allergies tend to take hold quickly. This period is long enough to test the environmental allergy theory.
If your cat still suffers outbreaks of scabs, something closer to home is causing the problem. If not, you will need to re-train your cat to stay home. Indoor cats can still live full, happy lives. You just need to make some lifestyle changes.
Parasites make life miserable for all animals. The term, “parasites” is broad, typically covering fleas, ticks, mites, and intestinal worms.
Worms are unlikely to cause skin issues in a cat. These are internal organisms that dwell in a cat’s stomach or colon. Threadworms, in particular, can be linked to flea infestations though. The other parasites can all lead to scabbing on a cat’s head and body.
Al pet owners are aware of the omnipresent nuisance of fleas. These tiny parasites are always looking for cats to feed on. This causes a cat to itch constantly. Cats can also experience allergies to flea saliva.
Either of these solutions will lead to constant scratching, and potential scabs. The only way to manage flea infestations is through prevention. Ensure that your cat is regularly treated with an anti-parasite spot-on treatment. These are available from any pet shop.
Even if you keep your cat indoors, you’ll need to manage flea exposure. Fleas can attach to human clothing and enter the home this way. They can even enter through a window. Do not assume that cat is immune to fleas because it doesn’t mingle with other animals.
Mites are often confused with fleas. They cause a different issue, though, Mites typically originate in a cat’s ears. This because they feed on ear wax. Mites can them spread around the head and body, leading to mange.
Mange will cause patches of dry skin all over the cat’s body. This will itch profusely and quickly scab over. Unless the mange is managed, the itching will continue. The scabs will invariably be picked off by a cat’s claws and become scars.
Mange is treated with a specialist shampoo. You will find this in a pet store. Prescription antibiotics may also be required to manage skin inflammation. Like fleas, though, mange can be prevented. Most anti-flea treatments will also prevent mites from taking hold.
Ticks differ from mites and fleas in that they are external parasites. Ticks are arachnids that attach to a cat’s skin. The tick will then feed on a cat’s blood. The more the tick eats, the more visible it will be. The tick’s body will become bloated and dark as it feeds.
Ticks, in and of themselves, will not cause itching. They can pass on a range of diseases, though. A tick may have fed on a wild animal. In doing so, it will have absorbed any disease through the animal’s blood. This can be passed onto your cat.
If you spot a tick on your cat’s head or body, follow these steps to remove it:
- Put on a pair of gloves and find a pair of tweezers
- Grasp the tick with the tweezers as close to possible to the skin
- Pull the tick away in one straight, fluid motion
- Place the tick in a sealed jar, ideally containing alcohol
Never twist a tick’s body while it is attached to the cat. In doing so, you will only remove the head. The tick’s teeth may remain within the cat’s body. Once the tick is removed, kill it by drowning. This may seem cruel, but it is necessary. Ticks are a menace to pets and animals.
After the tick is removed, watch your cat carefully. A scab can form over the bitten area. What’s more, the tick may have passed on a health concern. If your cat develops additional scabs or skin issues, or otherwise behaves erratically, seek professional advice.
Bacterial or Fungal Infection
One of the biggest risks of scabs is inviting bacterial infection by scratching them. Bacteria often enters a cat’s body through open wounds. It is possible that a cat has scabs due to an existing bacterial or fungal infection.
These ailments typically impact outdoor cats. The more time a cat spends outside, the more external elements it will interact with. This includes potential contagious disease, or contaminated food or water. Fighting with other cats can also provoke an infection.
Bacterial and fungal infections can usually be treated with minimal difficulty. You will need to act quickly, though. The longer your cat lives with infection, the more severe it will grow.
Feline acne commonly forms around a cat’s chin. In many respects, it resembles human acne. The skin will become inflamed, covered in blackheads, pimples, and pustules. These will eventually scab over.
The Japanese Journal of Veterinary Dermatology notes that any cat, regardless of age, sex or breed, can develop acne. Sometimes, the problem can be treated at home. Ensure that the impacted skin is regularly washed and cleaned.
If cleaning clears up the acne, no further treatment is needed. This was clearly a temporary outbreak, potentially hormonal in nature. If the problem persists, check with a professional. Your cat’s skin may have a bacterial infection that requires treatment with drugs.
Pus Pockets (Pyoderma and Abscesses)
Pyoderma is a bacterial infection caused by pus in a cat’s skin. Scabs will form as a result of this. Pyoderma usually arises due to excessive bacteria. If your cat is not grooming properly, the risk is heightened. Stress can also provoke an outbreak of pyoderma.
Pyoderma was long believed rare in cats. Clinical Techniques in Small Animal Practice explains that it is more common than previously believed, though. Pyoderma is always worth investigating as a possible explanation for scabs on the skin. If pyoderma is diagnosed, your cat will be prescribed antibiotics to resolve the issue.
Another potential explanation is an abscess. Abscesses are concentrated areas of bacterial pus on the skin. They usually arise from puncture wounds, such as bites from another animal. If your cat is prone to fighting, abscesses will be an ever-present risk.
As an abscess is clearly visible, a vet will attempt to drain the pus. If bacteria have entered your cat’s bloodstream, antibiotics will also be required. This will prevent further scabs from forming on the skin.
Pemphigus Foliaceus (PF) is a rare autoimmune disease in cats. PF causes a cat’s immune system to work to excess. Rather than focusing on harmful invaders, it indiscriminately kills all bacteria in the body. This leads to crusty scans all over the body.
Veterinary Dermatology recommends a corticosteroid called prednisolone to treat PF. This drug has a 97% success rate in causing complete remission of PF within two months. In more extreme diagnoses, further treatment may be required. A vet will advise on this.
Ringworm, aka dermatophytosis, is a common and highly contagious fungal infection. Ringworm is caused by a fungus called Microsporum canis. This causes dry, circular patches of skin to form on a cat’s skin. This is where the name, “ringworm” comes from.
These patches of dry skin will be itchy and uncomfortable. Your cat will scratch, and as the skin is already delicate, it will quickly break. Scabs will then form, and scarification becomes likely. As ringworm is so contagious, it must be treated quickly.
The Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery explains that medically prescribed shampoos and creams are used for this. Microsporum canis fungi are shed regularly, though. You’ll need to quarantine your cat until fully recovered, and wash anything the cat encountered.
This includes yourself. Ringworm is a zoonotic concern, so touching your cat without gloves will infect you. You will need treatment yourself to manage the ringworm. Failure to do so will lead to a constant cycle to exchange between you and your cat.
Dry skin is a common complaint in felines. If a cat has dry skin, its flesh will become increasingly delicate and paper-thin. It will also itch. Dry skin makes it particularly likely that your cat will open a wound by scratching. Scabs will quickly follow. Common causes for dry skin in cats include:
- Lack of moisture in the air
- Unbalanced diet that lacks key nutrients
- Excessive time in the sun
- Use of inappropriate shampoo when bathing
- Lack of grooming, often a result of arthritis or obesity
- Excessive grooming, usually caused by stress
Indoor cats are particularly likely to suffer with dry skin during the winter. When the ambient temperature drops, artificial heating sources are turned on. This can lead to a lack of moisture in the air. Consider investing in a humidifier to improve air quality.
Moisturize your cat’s skin, too. An oatmeal bath is an easy way to achieve this. Alternatively, apply feline-friend moisturizing lotions. Shea butter or coconut oil are effective and safe to consume. They are fatty though, so don’t allow your cat to lick to excess.
Cat Scab Treatment And Control
If you spot scabs on your cat’s skin, resist the urge to pick at them. This is a short-term solution that will cause longer-term issues. The skin will bleed, and your cat may develop a bacterial infection.
Preventing scabs is always preferable to curing them. If you learn what is causing this skin complaint, you can protect your cat. Removing triggers and following an appropriate lifestyle plan will help.
If your cat already has scabs, offer comfort. There are multiple ways to achieve this aim using lotions and medications. If unsure, speak to a vet. You can typically find remedies over the counter at a pet store, though.
Prevention of Scabs
The easiest, and most effective, way to prevent scans forming is managing your cat’s skin. Watch your cat carefully. If it is scratching or grooming to excess, something is amiss. Take a closer look and see if your cat’s is living with miliary dermatitis.
If this is the case, don’t go rushing to the vet at once. Follow the advice that we have laid out above and attempt to pinpoint the trigger for your cat’s skin complaint. You may only need professional intervention if the cat has an infection or genetic issue.
Remember, scratching is not always a matter of miliary dermatitis. All cats scratch on occasion. You may also want to protect your cat from general scratching, though. Keep your cat’s claws blunt and trim. A scratching post will help with this.
This will prevent easily avoidable injuries from scratching. In addition, if your cat is prone to conflict with other felines, keep it indoors. Eventually, regular fighting will take a toll. When cats fight, they fight to win. To protect your pet, keep it away from such skirmishes.
If you spot scabs on a cat’s skin, these should be soothed. Scabs feel rough and unpleasant to a cat. This will lead to temptation to pick them off. Both you and your cat need to resist this urge. Scans turn into scars if picked off before healing naturally.
Instead, focus your efforts on soothing your cat’s skin. As is always the case with feline care, avoid human products where necessary. Cats have delicate skin with a unique pH. Human medications, or those meant for other animals, can inflame an already bad situation.
Take a trip to your local pet store. Here, you will find a range of steroid creams designed for feline skin complaints. Scabs are comparatively common, so there will be plenty of choice. It may take a little trial and error to find the perfect product.
Creams and ointments will not necessarily heal scabs. Nature needs to take its course. These remedies will reduce inflammation and itching, though. This means that your cat is likelier to leave the scabs alone. This allows them to heal over and drop off naturally.
Do not ignore scabs on your cat’s head and body. Your cat will be in clear discomfort, experiencing constant itching. This will only lead to further scabbing on the skin. Identify the cause of the issue and take action, whether through treatment or lifestyle changes.