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Diagnosis of Skin Disorders in Cats


Karen A. Moriello

, DVM, DACVD, Department of Medical Sciences, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Last full review/revision Aug 2018 | Content last modified Aug 2018
Topic Resources

A precise diagnosis of the causes of a skin disease requires a detailed history, physical examination, and appropriate diagnostic tests. Many skin diseases have similar signs and an immediate diagnosis may not be possible. Based on your cat’s history and the physical examination, your veterinarian may order any of a number of laboratory procedures. These may include microscopic analysis of skin scrapings and hair, cultures of hair or skin swabs, specialized skin tests, blood and urine tests, and even biopsies. It may take several days before laboratory results are available. Your veterinarian may also evaluate how your cat responds to treatment in order to diagnose a specific skin problem. More than one visit is often required for an accurate diagnosis.

Skin Disease History Checklist

When you bring your cat to your veterinarian for a skin problem, you can help your veterinarian diagnose the problem by having information about the following:

  • The primary complaint—what is bothering your cat?

  • The length of time the problem has been present.

  • The age at which the skin disease started. Some diseases are more common to particular ages of animals.

  • The breed. Some breeds are prone to specific diseases.

  • Behavior of the cat, such as licking, rubbing, scratching, or chewing of the skin.

  • How the problem started and how it has progressed. For example, problems that began with itching may lead to self-trauma that develops secondary skin wounds or infections.

  • The type of skin problems you saw develop and when.

  • The season when the problem first started. Some skin diseases are related to the season of the year.

  • The area on the body where the problem was first noticed.

  • Any previous treatments and how your cat responded to treatment. For example, if your cat did not improve if given antibiotics, this helps your veterinarian exclude certain diseases.

  • The presence of fleas, ticks, or mites.

  • The health of other animals with which your cat has been in contact.

  • The environment of your cat. Changes in the animal’s environment can influence the development of certain skin diseases.

  • The presence of any additional signs (such as increased thirst or urination, change in appetite or energy level, or increased panting). The skin can be the first place that signs of a body-wide illness are noted.

Also see professional content regarding diagnosis of skin diseases.

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