A Guide about Miliary Dermatitis in Cats

Miliary dermatitis, also known as miliary eczema, refers to an inflammatory skin condition in cats that causes tiny red bumps and scabs all over the body. These bumps, known as papules or pustules, are usually very itchy and irritating for your cat. The word ‘miliary’ refers to its resemblance to millet seeds.

There are several possible causes for miliary dermatitis in cats. Parasites such as fleas, mites and lice are common culprits, especially in kittens and outdoor cats. Allergic reactions to food, pollen or household products can also trigger this skin reaction in cats. In some cases, underlying conditions such as infections, hormonal imbalances or autoimmune disorders may be the cause.

With prompt diagnosis and treatment, miliary dermatitis can be managed well. However, recurrence is common so vigilance and follow-up care are important.

Common Symptoms of Miliary Dermatitis

One of the first signs of miliary dermatitis in cats is excessive scratching and licking. As the skin irritation develops into small bumps and scabs from self-trauma, your cat may start losing patches of fur. Check your cat regularly for any bare spots or red, irritated skin on its face, ears, feet, and abdomen.

1. Skin lesions and crusts

The hallmark symptom of miliary dermatitis are small, raised bumps on the skin that develop into crusty scabs. These lesions usually start on the face, especially around the eyes and mouth, before spreading to the ears, paws, and belly. The scabs may be yellowish in color and come off easily when scratched, leaving behind raw, weeping skin.

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2. Hair loss

Excessive scratching and the development of lesions can lead to hair loss and bald spots. Your cat may lick or chew at the irritated areas of skin, pulling out clumps of fur. The hair loss usually occurs in the same areas where the skin bumps and crusts first appear.

3. Redness and irritation

The skin surrounding the lesions is often red, swollen, and inflamed from your cat’s constant scratching and biting. There may be open sores that weep fluid and become infected if left untreated. The reddened skin and irritation usually starts on the face before spreading to other parts of the body.

4. Ear infections

Cats with miliary dermatitis frequently develop ear infections, known as otitis externa, due to scratching and irritation. You may notice your cat shaking its head frequently, scratching at its ears, or rubbing its ears along the floor. The ears may be red and inflamed with a foul-smelling discharge. Ear infections require treatment to avoid permanent damage.

Treatment Options for Miliary Dermatitis

There are several treatment options for miliary dermatitis in cats. The specific treatment will depend on the underlying cause of the skin lesions.

1. Antibiotics

If a bacterial infection is suspected or confirmed through skin testing, your vet will prescribe oral or topical antibiotics. Oral antibiotics, such as amoxicillin, are usually given for 3 to 4 weeks. For topical treatment, your vet may prescribe medicated shampoos or ointments containing chlorhexidine, mupirocin, or fusidic acid to help clear the infection and reduce inflammation.

2. Anti-parasitics

In cases where parasites like fleas, mites or lice are the culprit, your vet will recommend anti-parasitic medication such as Revolution, Frontline or Advantage. These medications are available as spot-on treatments, sprays, shampoos, dips and collars. Multiple treatments 2-4 weeks apart are usually required to fully eliminate an infestation. Strict flea control and hygiene measures will also need to be followed in the home environment.

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3. Corticosteroids

For miliary dermatitis caused by an allergic reaction, corticosteroids such as prednisolone or dexamethasone may be used to reduce inflammation and ease the itching. Corticosteroids can be given orally, by injection, or applied topically to the skin. They work by suppressing the immune system to decrease the body’s reaction to allergens. Long term use of corticosteroids needs to be carefully monitored by your vet.

4. Allergy testing

If the underlying cause is suspected to be an allergy, allergy testing such as blood tests or skin prick tests may be recommended to determine what your cat may be allergic to. Allergy shots or other immunotherapy treatments may then be options to help desensitize your cat to the offending allergens.

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In conclusion, dietary changes, essential fatty acid supplements, and keeping your cat indoors can also help improve skin health and decrease flare-ups. With proper treatment and management, most cases of miliary dermatitis in cats can be cleared up and recurrence prevented. But some may require life-long care and monitoring.