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Cat With Tail Scabs

Dear Dr. Margaret:

I have a question. I have a female cat that’s 7 years old and is getting scabs on her back at the end were the tail just starts and all down her back. Even some under her chin! And, they’ve been there for about a year and seem to be getting worse. Is this anything to be concerned about? She seems spunky and normal and has no loss of appetite.

Dear Cat Lover,

Sometimes scabs around the tail-head and facial area are consistent symptoms of self-mutilation due to flea infestation. The chin and tail-head area are considered the flea "parking lot," as they afford increased moisture and a fairly safe haven for fleas to have meals and lay eggs.

Is it possible that you never noticed fleas on your cat? If you cat has FAD (flea allergic dermatitis), just an occasional bite may set her off. It is also important to remember that fleas do not really "live on our pets." They invade and proliferate within our pet's environment.

The average female flea may lay up to 60 eggs a day, these eggs typically imbed themselves in our furnishings and carpet. They can lay dormant for up to one year prior to hatching, and may hatch year round within a controlled environment like your home.

If you have completely ruled out fleas with a visit to your veterinarian or by using a prescription strength flea product, you might consider other external parasites, such as mange. Cats are most susceptible to a mange mite known as notedres cati. It usually affects the head, ears and neck area, but aberrant migration is not unheard of.

Mites are microscopic parasites that unlike fleas, do "live on" their host. They are most commonly diagnosed by microscopic examination of skin and hair samples. Your veterinarian should be able to perform such tests in house.

If external parasites have been completely ruled out, you might consider the possibility of an allergy. Cats, may be allergic to environmental items such as furnishings or household products. They may also harbor food allergies. All allergies may manifest as dermatologic problems. Your veterinarian may suggest a dermatologist to help you distinguish between the two.

Another possibility exists in dermatologic and immune-mediated disease complexes. There are many different conditions that may cause localized areas of ulceration and excoriation. Many of these conditions respond to topical therapies or systemic medications.

Finally, one should not dismiss the possibility of psychogenic barbering; this is a condition of the mind rather than the body. For whatever reason; environmental stresses, or mental lapses, a pet may begin to cause trauma to themselves. These cases are particularly frustrating, as all the above mentioned conditions must first be ruled out, and medical management of cats may be difficult.

If a psychogenic behavioral problem is diagnosed treatment is usually twofold. One first must curb the behavior. This is usually accomplished by tri-cyclic or antihistamines which may decrease your pet's anxiety level. These drugs are not without side effects (they may alter your pet's personality) and they must be given orally twice daily.

Once the mutilation is controlled, the secondary skin infections must be addressed. These often respond to topical or systemic antibiotics.

The bottom line is once an underlying cause is recognized, almost all of these conditions respond well to treatment. It may take a bit of time to reach a conclusion, but there is no doubt that your cat will be grateful!

Best of luck, Dr. M.C. Lane