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Whole-body Disorders that Affect the Skin in Cats

By Karen A. Moriello, DVM, DACVD, Professor of Dermatology, Department of Medical Sciences, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Thomas R. Klei, PhD, Boyd Professor and Associate Dean for Research and Advanced Studies, School of Veterinary Medicine and Louisiana Agriculture Experiment Station, Louisiana State University
David Stiller, MS, PhD, Research Entomologist, Animal Disease Research Unit, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, University of Idaho
Stephen D. White, DVM, DACVD, Professor and Chief of Service, Dermatology, Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital; Department of Medicine and Epidemiology, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of California, Davis
Michael W. Dryden, DVM, PhD, DACVM, University Distinguished Professor of Veterinary Parasitology, College of Veterinary Medicine, Kansas State University
Carol S. Foil, DVM, MS, DACVD, Professor, Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences, School of Veterinary Medicine
Paul Gibbs, BVSc, PhD, FRCVS, Professor Emeritus, College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Florida
John E. Lloyd, BS, PhD, Professor Emeritus of Entomology, University of Wyoming
Bernard Mignon, DVM, PhD, DEVPC, Assistant Professor, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Department of Infectious and Parasitic Diseases, Parasitology and Parasitic Diseases, University of Liège
Wayne Rosenkrantz, DVM, DACVD,
Patricia A. Talcott, MS, DVM, PhD, DABVT, Associate Professor, Department of Food Science and Toxicology, Holm Research Center, University of Idaho
Alice E. Villalobos, DVM, DPNAP, Director; Director, Animal Oncology Consultation Service; Pawspice
Patricia D. White, DVM, MS, DACVD,

Also see professional content regarding systemic dermatoses.

A number of whole-body diseases also affect the skin. In some instances, the skin changes are characteristic of the particular disease. Often, however, the signs are not obviously associated with the underlying condition and must be carefully distinguished from primary skin disorders. Some of these secondary disorders are mentioned briefly below and are also described in the chapters on the specific disorders. Some skin disorders may be associated with a poor diet. However, this is uncommon in cats fed modern, balanced diets.

Dermatitis (skin inflammation) is sometimes seen in association with disorders of internal organs, such as the liver, kidneys, or pancreas. Liver disease and diabetes can cause death of skin tissue in old cats. The skin changes include redness, crusting, oozing, and hair loss on the face, genitals, and lower legs, as well as thickened skin and ulcers of the footpads. The skin disease may be noted before the onset of signs of the internal disease.

Fragile skin syndrome (the skin becomes very fragile and is easily broken) in cats has been associated with pancreatic, liver, or adrenal disorders. Pancreatic cancer may cause crusting of the footpads and hair loss in cats.

Hypothyroidism (low levels of thyroid hormone, see Disorders of the Thyroid Gland in Cats : Hypothyroidism) is very rare in cats. The disease can cause skin changes with diminished hair growth and hair loss. The skin is dry, scaly, thickened, and folded. Secondary skin infection and seborrhea may occur.

Hyperadrenocorticism (high levels of adrenal gland hormones) also causes skin changes such as darkening, hair loss, seborrhea, and secondary infection. In cats, the skin becomes extremely fragile.

Treatment of all these conditions depends on identifying and treating the underlying disease. The earlier in the disease process your veterinarian can examine your cat, the more rapidly a diagnosis may be obtained and an outcome predicted for the animal.