As groomers we see all kinds of skin ailments, but fleas and the dermatitis they may cause are by far the most common. Some cats are more sensitive than others when it comes to flea bites and they may exhibit more symptoms than the cat that is not at all bothered by the problem.
For instance, I have bathed cats infested with fleas and they seem oblivious to the pests. While on the other hand, I’ve groomed cats that have had adverse reactions to the fleabites and exhibit Flea Dermatitis. (Fig. 1)
Flea Dermatitis is characterized by pink–reddish swollen skin around the fleabites and in severe cases these cats have bitten and scratched the area raw. These hypersensitive cats are prone to secondary infections by self–inflicted injury to the skin.
Our first instinct is to rid the cat (and our salons) of all fleas. However, we need to be careful not to cause more injury by trying to alleviate the problem. The best course of action is to bathe the cat with a safe flea shampoo specifically formulated for felines. We have to be mindful of the ingredients in the shampoos we use and I suggest when shopping around for cat–safe shampoos make sure you read the ingredient list first before purchasing.
Toxins are absorbed through the skin and the foot–pads as well as by licking and swallowing the shampoo. As we know, felines are meticulous self–groomers so anything on the skin will eventually end up in the cat. Our goal is to kill the fleas and not the cats. That may sound like a strong statement but I cannot stress this point any clearer. As a professional cat groomer you need to know what toxins may be in the products you use.
Once you decide on a shampoo, follow the manufacturer’s directions exactly. If the label says soak for 10 minutes, don’t allow the shampoo to sit on the cat for 15 minutes. You will not acquire a better result by extending the time with flea shampoos and you could inadvertently harm the cat.
Ticks (Fig. 2) are not as common on cats as they are dogs, but they are worth mentioning. If you see a tick on a cat that you are grooming and confident in your removal techniques, I suggest that you place the tick in a zip–lock bag or a baby food jar with a little water in it. Write down the pets name and the date of removal and tape it to the container. This is a precautionary step in case the cat starts displaying symptoms of Lyme disease. The veterinarian will be able to test the tick for the disease only if it is kept in water not alcohol. Alcohol will ruin any evidence of Lyme disease.
Once the tick is safely removed and contained, we can now groom the cat. If the mouthpiece of the tick is still in the skin, recommend a veterinarian visit, we don’t want the skin to become infected. The veterinarian will remove any embedded tick and perhaps prescribe antibiotics. If the entire tick was removed and the skin isn’t irritated, go ahead and groom the cat as you usually would making sure to wash the affected area thoroughly.
Another bothersome condition we see is Feline Acne. This facial infliction is caused by the over active Sebaceous Glands on the cat’s chin and lip line. Under normal conditions this oil is useful in keeping the skin nice and supple, but when too much is produced it can clog the hair follicles. When the hair follicles are blocked it leads to the formation of blackheads. The skin underneath can be oily, swollen and infected so we need to be careful not to cause any more trauma to the area. Do not scrub this area and do not pick at the acne or remove any scabs.
Since the acne is caused by excessive oil we can sprinkle some cornstarch on the area allowing it to absorb some of the oil. After a few minutes you can follow up by gently combing any clumps and debris from the hair. Any remaining oil can be washed away with a gentle cat shampoo. Do not use alcohol products. Not only are they toxic to cats, they will burn and inflame the area even more!
When I groom a cat with chin acne, I recommend that the owner switch food bowls to glass or stainless steel. I explain that plastic bowls can get microscopic grooves in them that harbor harmful bacteria. When the cat eats, it touches the dish with its chin and it can become infected. I also suggest that the chin area be cleaned after eating especially if the cat is prone to acne.
Stud Tail is another form of acne that is located on the base of the tail. Just as in Feline Acne, the Sebaceous glands over produce oils called sebum. The care for Stud Tail can consist of a mixture of 50% cornstarch and 50% cornmeal. Sprinkle this on the area and allow it to absorb some of the oil. Follow up by gently washing the tail with a cat–safe degreasing shampoo and then rinse thoroughly. I have personally groomed a cat with Stud Tail that was so inflamed, irritated and painful I stopped the grooming, called the owner with my concern and the cat was taken in to their veterinarian. The cat was infected and treated with the proper antibiotics.
We must take care not to over step our bounds in “treating” any skin condition but we can assist by humanely handling the cat, being his voice with his owner and taking precautionary actions in our grooming. Our professional opinion, not our “diagnosis” means a lot to our clients and gives us authenticity to the vets in our area.
Due in part that there are other skin disorders that are similar in appearance to Flea Dermatitis, Feline Acne and Stud Tail, we absolutely need to recommend a veterinary diagnosis to rule out such ailments as bacterial Pyoderma, food allergies, and fungal infections. ✂