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Skin & Coat Health in Cats

Your cat’s coat may be fluffy and perfect for pats and snuggles, but you may not know that skin and coat condition can reveal a lot of important health information as well. The practical purpose of a cat’s skin and fur is to help keep important elements like water and heat from exiting their body while keeping potentially harmful elements such as viruses and bacteria from entering. A cat’s fur also provides excellent insulation from the elements while also being an overall indicator of their health. Illnesses, diet, grooming and environmental factors like the changing seasons can all affect a cat’s skin and fur. As a pet parent, you can support good health and help your cat show off a lustrous coat by providing them with a nutritious diet full of the protein, fat, vitamins and minerals they need.

In general, a healthy cat has a shiny, smooth coat and skin that is clear and free of flakes, bumps and grease. Since your cat’s coat and skin play such an important role in regards to their overall health, it’s important to be aware of changes that could indicate an underlying issue that needs veterinary attention.

Identifying issues with your cat’s skin and coat

If you know what to look for when it comes to changes in your cat’s fur and skin, you may be more likely to seek out veterinary help early, before a minor issue turns into something bigger.

cat at vet

Watch for:

  • Your cat is losing hair: Hair loss from the back near their tail, can be a sign of fleas. To detect fleas on your cat, combine a visual inspection of their skin and coat with the use of a metal flea comb designed to catch and trap these pests in its teeth. Your veterinarian can advise you about the best products for battling a current infestation as well as devising a regular treatment strategy to help prevent future infestations. If your cat seems to be losing hair because they are pulling or licking excessively, this could be a sign of a more serious issue and you should consult your veterinarian immediately.
  • Your cat is shedding excessively: Your cat’s breed determines their fur texture, whether they are short-, medium- or long-haired, and how often they shed. Some seasonal shedding is normal for most cats, but excessive shedding can be a sign of stress or illness. If your cat is shedding more than normal or you see clumps around the house or coming out during grooming, consult your veterinarian for next steps.
  • Your cat’s fur is matting: Although cats are skilled at personal hygiene, most breeds do require some occasional grooming help from their pet parents or a professional. This is especially true if your cat has medium or long fur. Fur can become matted from pressure (from lying down) and in areas where rubbing or movement causes friction (like between their legs or on their chest, for example). Matted fur can prevent essential oxygen and moisture from reaching your cat’s skin, which can then lead to dry, scaly and irritated skin. If the mats are fairly small, you might be able to remove them yourself with a mat comb. Another option is to book an appointment with a professional stylist who specializes in cat grooming.
  • Your cat has a lusterless or brittle coat: The proper nutrients are essential to keeping your cat’s fur healthy. If your cat is lacking certain nutrients from their diet—things like protein, fat, vitamins and minerals are especially important for coat health—their coat may suffer. A well-balanced commercial cat food should contain the right balance of these nutrients, so if you have questions about your pet’s diet, contact your veterinarian. A brittle coat could also be a sign of an underlying issue, though. Either of these issues would warrant a trip to the veterinarian to figure out next steps.
  • Your cat has dry skin: It’s important to understand that your cat’s coat and skin will change over time, and dry skin is common in kittens. However, dry skin can also be a sign of a health issue like inadequate nutrition, gastrointestinal parasite infections or external parasites like mange. If your cat’s dry skin isn’t easily corrected with an over-the-counter product—like a moisturizing conditioner–then a trip to the veterinarian can help you narrow in on the underlying cause.
  • Your cat has patchy, discolored skin: If your cat is ill, their skin may change color or even appear dry and patchy. Check with your veterinarian if you notice this particular change in your cat’s appearance.
  • Your cat has flaky or scabby skin: Pests like fleas can cause flaky or scabby skin, as can allergies and environmental sensitivities. If you notice fleas you can try an over-the-counter treatment, but if you think allergies may be at play, consult with your veterinarian for advice and perhaps further testing.
  • Your cat has itchy skin: Itchy skin has a number of potential causes. Flea bites can cause itchiness, but so, too, can dry skin or allergies or sensitivities to environmental factors or foods like beef, fish, chicken, eggs, corn, wheat, soy and milk. If you believe your cat is having an allergic reaction, consult your veterinarian. For dry skin, they might recommend a supplement or an oatmeal shampoo formulated to ease this type of irritation.

How to keep your cat’s skin and coat healthy

Cat on couch

Regular grooming with the proper tools is an essential step in keeping your cat’s fur and skin healthy. Regular brushing helps spread essential natural oils throughout your cat’s skin, and it also helps remove loose dirt and stray hairs. Grooming also gives you a great opportunity to check for abnormalities or injuries.

If you need expert input on your cat’s coat and skin health—whether that’s with regular grooming sessions or a trip to the veterinarian to determine any underlying issues—Petco has you covered.