Skin Troubles Part 2: Treating Flea Bites, Hot Spots, Acne, and Cuts in Cats

Posted on
July 11, 2018

Last week, we looked at how to treat these common issues in dogs, and this week in part two, it’s time to talk about how to treat cats!  Just to refresh your memory (or introduce you if you don’t have a dog and didn’t read last week’s article), we’ll be looking at

  • Fleas and flea bites
  • Hot Spots
  • Acne
  • Small cuts/open wounds

And how to treat them.  If you did read last week’s article, you’ll notice similarities in some of the ways to identify and treat these issues, but cats are a different animal with different symptoms and treatment needs.

Flea Bites

We’ll start by looking at the most-talked-about of common pet afflictions: fleas.  While nearly everyone has heard of fleas and knows that they’re tiny little pests that cause itchy bites, most people actually know very little about them unless they’ve been unfortunate enough to experience them first-hand.

In case you only have cats and didn’t read part 1 of this series last week, fleas have a lifespan of only 100 days, but during a lifetime, a female can produce up to 400-500 offspring.  Unfortunately this means that a single flea on a pet can quickly become hundreds.  They spend nearly their entire lives on host animals, which are small mammals, and domestic pets often pick up fleas by traveling through environments full of (or coming into contact with) wild animals like racoons or possums.  Even if your cat doesn’t touch another animal, the fleas can jump up to eight inches (vertically), which is roughly the same as a human jumping as high as the Empire State Building!  

cat scratching their ear
‍Source: wallpaper stock

When a flea bites your cat, their saliva contains the irritant that causes an irritated, itchy reaction, and if the parasite transfers to you or your family members from your cat, then flea debris can cause similar allergic reactions in humans.  It’s important to treat fleas quickly because in addition to reproducing at a fast rate, they can carry diseases like typhus and transmit other parasites like tapeworms.  Oh, and did we mention fleas (on rats) were the carriers of the Black Death Plague that you probably heard about at some point in history class?  Yeah, for something so tiny, fleas can be very nasty.  

What to Look For

flea stats with closeup

Fleas are tiny: 1/16th-1/8th of an inch long, with a reddish-brown color.  On a cat, they won’t look like more than a tiny, red-brown dot.  Rather than looking for individual fleas, it can be easier to look for their bites, which will leave small red bumps on your cat’s skin.  In addition, “flea dirt” (flea droppings) can be looked for by combing through your dog’s fur.  Flea dirt will look like ground pepper or regular specks of dirt, but if you put it on a tissue and wet it slightly, the dirt will reveal a reddish color which is the result of the blood the flea has ingested.  In addition, you may be able to see fleas moving and jumping in your cat’s fur (depending on what kind of coat you cat has).  If you see lots of little red-brown dots bounding from your cat’s head to hind, congrats, Fluffy has fleas.

It’s also important to remember that not all cats are allergic to flea saliva.  They may not scratch as a result of an infestation, and you may need to watch for other signs, like biting and pay attention to itchiness and red bumps on yourself as the fleas may transfer to you.

What to Do

Once you’re sure your cat has fleas, you need to understand that your home is also probably infested.  With the rate that fleas reproduce, any time your cat comes into contact with you or with anything in your house (carpet, furniture, drapes, etc.), chances are very good that fleas will transfer to these surfaces, where they may continue to reproduce and multiply.  Maybe don’t let your cat sit on your lap if you know they have fleas, and also confine them to a single space if you can.  

cat with elizabethan collar cone
Source: istock

As any cat owner knows, treatment for cats is often different than treatment for dogs in a variety of issues, and flea treatment is no different.  Whereas the first thing to do is wash your dog with a flea shampoo, washing a cat is possibly one of nature’s greatest challenges, and it really isn’t as effective of a treatment for them.  Spot treatments are typically more effective for cats, and it’s best to ask your vet which one is best for your fluffy friend.  Products like topical creams, flea collars, and oral medications can kill adult fleas and keep them away.  Also, make sure that you’re using flea products formulated for cats!  Products for dogs have different formulas that may be too strong and harmful to cats.  After treating your cat, vacuum your house daily and wash bedding and other linens as often as possible to get rid of the environmental infestation.  By doing this, you, your cat, and your home should be flea free after about two weeks, but if the problem persists, you may need to call an exterminator.

Finally, you need to remember that just because you treated your cat’s flea problem and rid your home of the pests doesn’t mean that you’re all flea-free for good.  If you have an outdoor cat, make sure they wear a flea collar or are treated with anti flea/tick topical treatments containing ingredients like Fipronil, midacloprid, and Selamectin to keep the tiny pests away.

Hot Spots

cat meowing outside
Source: deviantArt

Unfortunately flea bites can lead to other issues like acute moist dermatitis or miliary dermatitis, as it is sometimes called in cats (aka. “Hot spots”).  Hot spots happen as an immune response to the irritants in fleas’ saliva, but they can also be caused by a variety of other things, such as poor grooming, bug bites (from other insects in addition to fleas), or underlying disease.  

What Else Can Cause Hot Spots?

Hot spots can be caused by a host of things, including both physical and emotional issues.  These include, but are not limited to:

  • allergic reactions
  • Insect, mite, or flea bites
  • poor grooming (dirty or matted fur)
  • underlying ear or skin infections
  • Chronic conditions that cause pain (a cat will try to lick, scratch, bite the skin over the area in pain in an attempt to lessen the feeling)
  • constant licking/chewing/scratching prompted by stress or boredom

What do Hot Spots Look Like?

Unfortunately hot spots are pretty gross.  They’re red, inflamed lesions on the skin that are often moist and sometimes ooze, and they can appear anywhere on your cat.  You’ll probably first notice them because their scratching of the affected area will cause the fur to fall out.  Your cat may have a bald spot with the red sore apparent on the skin.  Because hot spots are more common in cats with longer fur, they can be hard to, well, spot if you’re not parting the hair and looking for them on the skin.  You should watch to see if your cat is itching, biting, or licking an unusual amount, and if they are, start checking them for hot spots (among other things).

hot spot on cat's neck
‍Source: Pet Premium

What To Do

Obviously regular vet visits should help you rule out if the hot spots are caused by a disease, but causes like the bug bites or poor grooming should be obvious.  You’ll be able to tell if the hot spots are caused by flea or other bug bites because you’ll find the tiny pests on your cat.  Getting rid of the fleas/parasites should cause your cat to stop scratching, which should lead to the hot spots healing.  If bug bites are not the cause, the hot spots will persist, and it’s time to go to the vet.  A vet will figure out what the best course of treatment for your cat is, and this may include treatments for the underlying causes of the hot spots in addition to the symptoms.  While it may be disheartening to learn that your cat has something else wrong, it’s a good thing to know what it is!  Treating the underlying causes of hot spots will keep them from coming back and will keep your pet healthier in the process. A vet will probably take the following steps:

  • Shaving off the matted fur (can require sedating the cat to make shaving the area of the lesion possible): Shaving the vet to see how big the lesion is and how deep the skin infection is, and it also helps the skin to heal faster.
  • Cleaning the skin with a surgical scrub like chlorhexidine
  • Taking steps to stop the itch. (This is usually done by giving an injection of cortisone, and it can ease your mind to know that cats are not prone to most of the side effects from cortisone that people and dogs get!)
  • Treating the skin infection, sometimes accomplished with an injection of Convenia (a long-acting antibiotic).
  • Placing an Elizabethan collar (the “cone”) on the cat to prevent them from licking and chewing at the skin lesion

Some other treatments may include:

  • Medication to prevent and treat parasites
  • Balanced diet to help maintain healthy skin and coat
  • Dietary supplement containing essential fatty acids
  • Hypoallergenic diet for food allergies
  • Keeping the areas clean with a wound spray like Fauna Care Silver Spray

To protect your cat and prevent Hot Spots, make sure they are regularly groomed, are free from ticks and pests, and keep them in as stress-free of an environment as you can manage.

Note:  NEVER give your pets any antibiotics, painkillers, or medications that are not marked as being 1) exclusively for pets or in this case, cats and/or 2) prescribed by your vet.  Human painkillers and medications are not safe for pets.


cat being treated by doctor
‍Source: Lovecats

While acne is most commonly associated with teenage humans, “teenage” pets are not immune to the unfortunate skin condition; both cats and dogs can get acne, and unfortunately for cats, it can continue past their “teen” months for the rest of their lives.  

When are Cats Susceptible to Acne?

Unfortunately, any age, gender, and breed of cat can get acne.  It often happens on cats’ chins when the fur follicles become clogged with sebum (oil) as a result of the sebaceous (oil) glands there.  (This oil carries your cat’s unique scent, and that’s part of the reason why they like to rub their chins on things!)  When the follicles become clogged, blackheads and whiteheads can form (just like in humans).  The excess in sebum can be caused by both lack and excess of grooming, as well as other skin irregularities.  

What to Look For

Both in terms of cat behavior and the physical appearance of acne on skin, you should watch for:

  • Red bumps
  • Blackheads
  • Whiteheads
  • mild red pimples
  • watery crusts that can develop on the chin and (less commonly) lips
  • swelling of the chin

More severe cases can include:

  • Nodules
  • bleeding crusts
  • Pustules
  • hair loss
  • a severe redness of the skin and the cat exhibiting signs of pain (which can indicate boils)

What to Do and How to Treat

As with any abnormality or issue with your pet, you should take them right to the vet, where it can be confirmed that the skin irritations truly are acne and not something else like ringworm or mange.  

Once the skin irritations are confirmed as acne, they can be treated as such.  Unfortunately, it’s common for cats to experience secondary bacterial infections with their acne.  Because of this, antibiotics are often prescribed (both oral and topical), and the infected area should also be cleaned with a gentle antiseptic.  This is also one issue that calls for washing your cat with special shampoos, and all of this should be done over a two-three week period.


cat with big pupils
‍Source: HowStuffWorks.animals

We’ve saved the most common for last in this list of topical cat wounds.  Cats can easily get cuts and scrapes from anything; if they’re an indoor/outdoor cat, playing in a yard can put them into contact with other animals or dangerous places that can cause cuts.  Even just running around the house puts your cat into contact with potentially dangerous items that can give them scrapes, and they can even accidentally cut themselves with their claws if they don’t have access to proper scratching materials/areas.

What to Look For

Obviously if you see blood, your cat has a cut or some sort of open wound, which needs immediate attention.  If you don’t see blood but notice your kitty licking a particular area an unusual amount or if they seem to be in pain if a certain area of them is touched, then you should check that area for cuts, lesions, or any other kind of skin abnormality.

When to See a Vet

Seeing a vet is necessary if a cut on your cat is at or larger than a half inch in either depth or length or if they have any sort of puncture wound.  It’s particularly important to see a vet for deep cuts/punctures because they can be difficult to clean at home, and surgical debris removal may be needed.  As with humans, longer cuts may also need stitches.

What to Do for Home Treatment

The most important part of treating a cut is cleaning it thoroughly.  Wash the area gently by filling a syringe with a mixture of water and antiseptic solution.  You can also just was the whole cat if your cat doesn’t usually mind that.  Dry the area with a soft towel, and then see if any fur around the wound should be trimmed or shaved.  It’s important to keep fur away from the immediate areas of cuts and other open wounds because it can hide dirt in or near the wound, increasing the likelihood of infection.

cat being washed with shower head
Source: Ogena Solutions

Once the cut is clean of both fur and debris, spray the area with a wound-care spray like Fauna Care’s First Aid Spray or Fauna Care Silver Spray. This will promote quick healing by both disinfecting the area and applying minerals that can aid tissue regrowth.  Don’t worry about using any other kind of disinfectant first!  Other disinfectants like hydrogen peroxide or straight silver sulfadiazine can be too strong for use on many pets, especially smaller animals like cats, and can lead to slower healing times as they can actually kill cells along with bacteria. In addition, bandages are often unnecessary; a wound that can “breathe” can heal faster.

Last Words

Hopefully, now you can identify and treat any of the minor skin issues that your fluffy friend may get, but remember, if you’re unsure of the seriousness of the issue or what to do, visiting your vet is always the best idea.

2 cute kittens cuddling
‍Source: ASPCA

Have a dog as well as a cat?  Know someone who has a dog with these same skin issues?  See Part 1 of this article from last week, “Skin Troubles Part 1:  Treating Flea Bites, Hot Spots, Acne, and Cuts in Dogs.”

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Posted on
July 11, 2018