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Atopic Skin Disease in Cats

“Daisy” was a beautiful white Persian cat with the most amazing yellow-gold-coloured eyes

“Daisy” was a beautiful white Persian cat with the most amazing yellow-gold-coloured eyes. Her owner had brought her in on a few occasions now, with itchy inflamed skin and hair loss. A seasonal pattern was noted on checking when these episodes occurred, and after further work ups and a referral to a Veterinary Dermatologist, it was confirmed that beautiful “Daisy” had Atopic skin disease. 

Atopic dermatitis (Atopy) is a skin condition generally caused by an allergy to something in the environment, such as tree or grass pollens, moulds, or dust mites. 

Atopy causes symptoms such as itchy, inflamed skin, a rash and fur loss. It can develop at any age and in any breed of cat, although it is more common in certain breeds, such as the Abyssinian and Devon Rex. Atopy is a common condition in dogs but is quite rare in cats, before diagnosing it your vet will want to rule out other, more common causes of itchy skin, such as fleas and flea-bite dermatitis.  

Atopic dermatitis is generally caused by an allergy to substances in the environment such as grass and tree pollens, moulds, and house dust mites. This allergic reaction causes the affected skin to be reactive inflamed and itchy.   

Treatment for atopy often includes avoiding the things your cat is allergic to, medications to alleviate the itch, immunotherapy to control the allergic response and skin supplements to ensure a healthy skin. 

Symptoms include Itchy skin, Over-grooming (licking, chewing, biting), Hair loss, and hair thinning especially over the head, neck, sides, tummy armpits and inner thighs, an inflamed rash, recurrent ear infections and flaky and thickened skin. 

Whatever the cause, itchy skin very rarely goes away in its own, and is likely to eventually make your cat feel uncomfortable and miserable. 

Atopy can be caused by many things, including grass and tree pollens, dust mites and moulds. Blood and skin tests can be used to try to find out what your cat is allergic to. Skin testing is more reliable than blood testing, and for this, your vet may refer your cat to a consultant Dermatologist. Cats with atopy are very often allergic to more than one thing i.e., certain foods, as well as allergens in the environment. It can be helpful to find out what your cat is allergic to. However, this is not always easy, and often does not change the treatments that they may need to alleviate their atopic symptoms. 

If your cat has chronic atopy, they often will need lifelong management involving: Medicines used to control itchy skin; Immunotherapy vaccination treatments to try to counter the allergic response and by managing and avoiding the suspected allergy “triggers”. For example, in the winter cats indoors can react to allergens such as house dust mites. In the spring and summer, seasonal flower, tree, or grass pollen allergens may trigger skin rashes and inflammation.  In the autumn, the dampness and humidity can lead to mould spores, causing allergic reactions. Also, when flea populations rise indoors in the winter months and again in the warmer summer months, your cat may suffer allergic reactions to flea bites, so always make sure they have good, year-round flea protection. It is possible to reduce exposure to some allergens by: Vacuuming and dusting regularly; Keeping affected cats indoors when the seasonal pollen count is high; and by not using air fresheners and other irritant sprays in the home. 

Another way of managing atopy, is to control the symptoms of inflamed, itchy skin with medical management. Steroids, and other anti-itch medications can be used. These do not solve the allergic root cause of the problem, but they can alleviate and suppress the severe "itch-scratch" symptoms.  Antibiotics may be necessary if your cat develops a secondary skin infection because of severe skin inflammation. Your cat may be prescribed eardrops if they develop a secondary ear infection. If your cat has undergone testing to find out what they are allergic to, they can also be given tailor-made immunotherapy vaccines to reduce the allergic reaction they experience. Immunotherapy vaccines may need to be given regularly often throughout your cat's life. Immunotherapy does not work for every cat and additional anti-itch medications are still often needed to reduce symptoms. Skin supplements aim to improve general skin health, they can assist in providing and promoting a good, strong skin barrier. Your vet may also recommend a special prescription diet to keep your cat’s skin as healthy as possible. Your cat may have ‘flare-ups’ from time to time, but by working closely with your vet, or veterinary dermatologist, you will be able to catch and treat their symptoms quickly.   

“Daisy” has responded very well to her advised medical treatments, which are used for her seasonal skin allergies over the Spring and Summer months. 

Atopy can cause a lot of distress and discomfort. Having constantly itchy, sore skin can make a cat very miserable, but with a successful treatment and a good long-term management plan in place, they can have a much more comfortable life.  


Alison Laurie-Chalmers, 

Senior Consultant, 

Crown Vets. 

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