Cats spend most of their time in keeping themselves clean. While dogs employ the mechanism of panting to cool off, cats lick themselves and rely on the evaporation of saliva to maintain their body temperature. Licking also promotes the production of sebum by the sebaceous glands that’s present at the base of hair. It facilitates the even distribution of sebum or natural oil around its coat. The cat’s saliva also contains certain enzymes that can help guard against an infection or heal wounds. The process of licking also helps remove dirt and parasites.
Though grooming is essential for a cat’s health, inadequate or excessive grooming could be indicative of a health problem. For instance, cats might scratch excessively when they are exposed to a parasite, allergen, or an irritant. Acute moist dermatitis or pyotraumatic dermatitis, which is commonly called hot spots, is a condition that can affect both cats and dogs. It is often referred to as a self-inflicted condition. The term ‘dermatitis’ refers to the inflammation of the skin, and feline hot spots or acute moist dermatitis refers to reddened areas of skin that form when the cat scratches, bites, or licks a certain part of the skin excessively. Unfortunately, the inflamed area of the skin can turn into an open sore due to incessant and compulsive scratching.
Though cats are known to keep themselves clean, they can be exposed to disease-causing microbes. If their skin becomes itchy, they scratch over that area of the skin, which in turn aggravates the condition. This could lead to the formation of a lesion. At times, compulsive scratching might be attributed to poor grooming. Feline hot spots could also be attributed to boredom or stress in cats. Cats might scratch or bite, if they are bored or stressed.
Hot spots mostly occur when the cat is already affected by a condition that causes itchy skin. Here are some of the common causes of hot spots on cats:
✦ Bacterial infections (mostly caused by Staphylococcus bacterium)
✦ Infection caused by fleas
✦ Scabies or Demodex gatoi (Infection caused by mites)
✦ Fungal infection (Infection caused by Malassezia yeast)
✦ Insect bites
✦ Allergic reaction to a food item or an environmental irritant
✦ Contact irritant dermatitis
✦ Seborrhea sicca (dry, flaky skin); Seborrhea oleosa (Greasy skin)
An allergic reaction occurs when the immune system perceives an otherwise harmless substance as a threat, thereby leading to a host of symptoms such as itchy skin, increased scratching, itchy eyes, runny eyes, itchy ears, paw chewing, sneezing, wheezing, diarrhea, vomiting, etc. The allergen could be airborne. It might be present in food or applied to the skin. An allergic reaction could also be triggered by flea bites.
An allergy could be triggered by tree pollen, grass pollen, weed pollens, dust mites, mold, cleaning products, perfumes, rubber, fabrics, drugs, fleas, etc. In case of contact dermatitis, skin irritation and itching is experienced only at the areas that come in contact with the allergen. Flea bites can also cause itching in cats. While feeding, fleas inject saliva into the cat’s skin. Their saliva contains proteins that can trigger an allergic reaction. In such cases, the cat is likely to scratch vigorously, thereby leading to the development of open sores and bald patches on the affected area. Fleas can also transmit other parasites such as tapeworms.
✦ Compulsive scratching, biting, or licking
✦ Formation of lesions
✦ Miliary dermatitis
✦ Skin irritation
✦ Lesions that ooze
✦ Lesions that are warm to touch
✦ Crusty skin
✦ Pain at the affected area
✦ Hair loss at the affected area
✦ Hair matting over the affected area
The underlying cause can be diagnosed by taking a swab of the affected area and examining it under the microscope. Blood culture and other diagnostic tests can help in identifying the causal pathogen. The treatment should be aimed at providing relief from the symptoms of hot spots, along with treating the medical condition that is responsible for causing them. More often than not, antibiotics are prescribed for treating infections and preventing secondary infections. Also, the treatment involves topical application of medicated creams and shampoos.
In case of a food allergen, it is essential to identify the food item that is causing an allergic reaction. Thus, cat owners must watch out for untoward symptoms that appear after the consumption of food items. Some of the food items that are known to cause an allergic reaction in cats include corn, wheat, soy, dairy products, beef, chicken, pork, and turkey. Once you identify the offending food, eliminate it from the cat’s diet. Refrain from giving table food, scraps, or treats to the cat. Consult a veterinarian about the food items that can be given to the cat. Make sure that you buy hypoallergenic cat food. Do inform the veterinarian if your pet develops an allergic reaction after taking a drug. If your cat is allergic to plastic, don’t keep plastic toys or utensils.
If your cat has developed a hot spot, you can try the following home remedies and preventive measures:
✦ First of all, the hair surrounding the hot spot should be shaved off. This will improve the air circulation, and make it easier to apply the prescribed ointment or lotion.
✦ Thereafter, cleanse the affected skin with cold water, using a mild antiseptic/antibacterial solution.
✦ Application of cold compresses can also provide relief from itching.
✦ An Elizabethan collar or cone can be used to prevent the hot spots on the cat’s neck or face from worsening due to incessant scratching.
✦ As far as the use of drugs is concerned, it’s best to consult a veterinarian for proper diagnosis and treatment. More often than not, topical corticosteroids are prescribed for alleviating the inflammation. In some cases, oral antibiotics and anti-inflammatory drugs might be prescribed. The veterinarian might also prescribe a drug for drying out the skin.
✦ When it comes to allergic reactions, the avoidance of the allergen is the best measure. Allergic reactions can occur due to exposure to allergens that might be present in the environment.
✦ Contact dermatitis could also occur if your cat is allergic to any of the ingredients used in grooming products. Maintain a diary where you record information on allergic reactions and the suspected allergen. Refrain from using such products.
✦ Keep the cat’s bedding clean, and vacuum the carpets and upholstery regularly.
✦ Brush the coat and inspect it for ticks, mites, fleas, etc., on a regular basis. Using medicated shampoos or tick/flea collars can help prevent an infestation.
If you notice hot spots on the cat’s back, neck, or belly, consult a veterinarian at the earliest. You will be surprised to see how incessant scratching and biting by the cat can turn a superficial skin infection to a deep skin infection in a short period. This condition is quite painful, which is why steps must be taken to prevent it. Avoiding allergens, practicing proper grooming techniques, and using flea control products can help in preventing hot spots. Differentiating hot spots from other skin conditions can be difficult, which is why you should leave the task of diagnosis and treatment to the veterinarian.