Atopic dermatitis in cats is a skin condition that causes itching, redness and bald spots. Cats develop atopic dermatitis because they are allergic to something. Treating atopic dermatitis involves treating immediate symptoms and identifying the substance that the cat is allergic to. It can take a long time to properly treat a cat, depending on how quickly the allergen can be diagnosed.
Atopic dermatitis does not go away by itself and should not be ignored. The cat may become so itchy that it will scratch its skin open. This can lead to potentially deadly infections.
The symptoms of atopic dermatitis are similar to mange, ringworm and other problems. The cat will need a skin scraping to rule out these other conditions. There is no one diagnostic test for atopic dermatitis, but a blood test can determine if the cat’s immune system is reacting to an allergen by producing antibodies.
Locating the allergen can be difficult if the cat does not show symptoms other than skin problems. For example, cats that also have runny eyes and sneeze more than usual often have allergies to pollen. Some veterinarians may be able to perform a skin patch test on the cat but this may require going to a specialist.
Many cats suffer from food allergies. The best way to locate the food allergen is by a process of elimination. The cat is fed a bland diet for two weeks and then one ingredient is introduced. If that new ingredient does not cause symptoms, then another ingredient is added and so on until the ingredient is located.
Itchy spots can be treated with ointments or creams containing hydrocortisone. Do not use hydrocortisone creams made for people on cats unless a vet has instructed you to do so. Since cats will lick the cream, an Elizabethan or cone collar will need to be placed on the cat. Cats may be given hydrocortisone tablets or injections to stop skin swelling and itchiness. If the cat has scratched itself open, the cat may be prescribed antibiotics.
Vets may also prescribe anti-itch shampoos and rinses. These help in the short term. The cat’s bedding should also be washed frequently in very mild detergent. For chronic conditions, a cat may need corticosteroids, but these can cause bad side effects, so a vet may be reluctant to use them right away.
If cat is suffering from seasonal allergies then a vet may prescribe antihistamines to help reduce swelling and make it easier for the cat to breathe. Do not give human antihistamines to cats, as these are usually too strong for cats.