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Beneath your cat’s beautiful fur coat is a layer of skin that’s both incredibly necessary and potentially problematic.
Skin serves a multitude of purposes for cats. The largest bodily organ, it covers your cat’s muscles, skeleton, and internal organs. Your cat’s skin completes functions ranging from protection to body-temperature regulation to serving as a barrier that prevents loss of moisture.
Despite its usefulness, though, your cat’s skin also serves as the source of various common diseases, some of which can affect your feline for the duration of his life. Everything from basic fungal conditions to cancer can have an adverse impact on your cat’s skin.
As an informed cat owner, you should be aware of the benefits a cat’s skin layer provides and, more important, familiarize yourself with those skin conditions and diseases that are most likely to afflict your cat. The following guide will help you accomplish these objectives.
General Structure of a Cat’s Skin
A cat’s skin consists of an outer layer called the epidermis and an inner layer called the dermis. Both layers serve functions crucial for your cat’s survival.
The epidermis is the body’s environmental shield. It’s comprised of a durable layer of cells that are continuously formed and shed from the surface.
Underneath the epidermis is the dermis, which rests on a supporting layer of fat and very thin muscle. The dermis is composed of a network of connective tissue that also contains nerves, blood vessels, hair follicles, and sweat and oil glands.
Function of a Cat’s Skin
As is the case with most skin-covered animals, this organ performs a number of vital roles for cats. “Skin-deep” may equate to shallowness, but your cat’s skin has tremendous depth when it comes to usefulness.
Serving as the first line of defense, your cat’s skin prevents trauma, protects against invasion of microorganisms and chemicals, and regulates temperature changes within the body. Skin also reduces the risk of dehydration, acting as a reservoir for fat, electrolytes, water, carbohydrates, and protein.
Skin may reflect the state of health of a cat, as well as indicate the presence of internal diseases.
Skin Discharge or Odor in Cats
Skin odor is a common manifestation of a skin infection. In cats, the most common skin infections are bacterial and yeast infections. Skin discharge and/or odor can indicate that your cat may be suffering from a skin infection.
History is very important for proper diagnosis of skin diseases. Your veterinarian will ask questions regarding the age of onset, progression of disease, and response to previous treatments. In some cases, a biopsy may be necessary to establish a final diagnosis.
Treatment for bacterial skin disorders is typically done using antibiotics. However, in the case of a localized bacterial infection, topical therapy with vet-prescribed shampoos and conditioners can also prove effective.
Skin Lesion or Sore in Cats
There are many different types of skin lesions that can occur in the skin of cats. Some lesions are a manifestation of a dermatological disease while others are a manifestation of an internal disease.
A thorough physical exam and various diagnostic tests can help determine the cause of skin lesions or sores and direct a course of treatment. The underlying cause will dictate the treatment, which can range from oral medications to minor surgery.
Cat Scratch Fever: Allergic & Parasitic Skin Diseases
If your cat spends a large portion of his time scratching, then it may be a sign that your feline is suffering from an allergic or parasitic skin condition.
Flea allergy is the most common allergic skin disease in the United States. Cats with flea allergies tend to scratch their back ends leading to lesions on the rump, hind legs, tail, and belly. Other allergic reactions in cats can result from food, insects, and airborne allergens.
Parasitic skin conditions can result from exposure to fleas, lice, and ear mites, among other sources. While many of these conditions can be relieved with proper medication, it’s possible for the itching to recur once the medication dosage is complete.
Winter Skincare for Cats
Winter weather can cause cats to have dry, flaking skin. To help your cat survive the dry, chilly weather with a healthy skin and coat, here are a few suggestions:
- Avoid bathing your cat during cold weather, thus leaving more essential oils within the skin. If bathing is absolutely necessary, use a moisturizer.
- Brush your cat often to remove dandruff and any shedded hair.
- Feed your cat a high-quality diet containing nutrients that support good skin health.
Skin Cancer in Cats
Skin cancer encompasses a broad category of tumors that includes any uncontrolled growth of cells of the skin or associated structures such as glands, hair follicles, and supportive tissues. The skin is the second most common site of cancer in cats.
As a cat owner, you should examine your cat’s skin on a regular basis. If you notice a new lump, a sore that does not appear to heal, or other changes in the skin, seek veterinary attention as soon as possible.
While the cause of most cat skin cancers is unknown (only a few types are known to arise from over-exposure to the sun), treatment options include surgery to remove the tumor, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy.
Resources for Cat Skin Conditions
It’s important to remember that this article presents just a partial list of the skin ailments that can affect your cat. For more thorough analysis of your cat’s perceived skin condition, consult your veterinarian.
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