Cat Dermatitis

Feline Contact Allergies and Their Causes

Cat dermatitis caused by contact allergy – this is the least common allergy in cats.

When the cat has contact allergy, it has is a local skin reaction to some allergy-causing material it touches. The skin overreacts to certain substances in the air, environment and nature. Contact allergy does not cause sneezing.

There are really two kinds of contact allergies in cats:Irritant contact dermatitis

Irritant Contact Dermatitis

Irritant contact dermatitis means that the cat comes in contact with severely irritating chemicals such as acids and alkaline chemicals (these you can find for example in many household chemicals such as soaps and disinfectants). The connecting factor is that these chemicals are so irritating, toxic and damaging that they cause dermatitis in every cat that comes to contact with them. So, irritant contact dermatitis is not an illness as such.

A single exposure to these harmful substances is often enough for cat dermatitis to develop. And this kind of contact dermatitis is more common in young cats – who, of course, are more curious and exploring than our older couch potatoes, and as such more prone to come in contact with all sorts of unsafe things. (Ok, I have to admit that our dearly departed Abyssinians Bertha and Casanova who lived up to 17 and 16 years of age, showed considerable lack of dignified aging and were just as curious as younger cats, so young age is perhaps not the main factor here…)

At worst exposure to these harmful chemicals may cause skin ulcers – and even death, if you don’t take your cat to the vet quickly.

Allergic contact dermatitis

Now allergic contact dermatitis is a real illness. It develops slowly, needing multiple exposures to the allergen, so usually you don’t see it in cats that are less than two years old.

It takes a few hours for the irritation to occur, and then again a few days for them to vanish once the cat is no longer in contact with the irritant.

Causes of Cat Dermatitis

There are many things a cat can develop a contact allergy to.

One of the most often mentioned ones are flea collars.

Also house plants are a big cause of allergy – ones with oily leaves, or then just plain green grass or other outdoor plants.

Inside the house the cat may come in contact with many allergens like carpets, feathers, household cleansers and chemicals (deodorizers, dyes, fabric softeners), medication (like topical antibiotics), metal (yes, cats can be allergic to nickel too), plastic…

A cat may develop symptoms from its bedding too, wool being one of the allergens first suspected, but other fabric fibers do cause allergies too.

Rubber / latex is also an allergen (check the cat’s toys).

House dust and mold spores are a cause too. And if you cat likes to sit on your newspaper when you read, it may develop contact allergy to the newspaper ink (just like many humans do). And let’s not forget cat litter.


As with other cat allergies, the symptoms are again in the skin. This time it is a question of localized itching which is non-seasonal. And as with other feline allergies, here also the itching can be so severe the cat grooms and bites its own hair off.

The itching is localized to the spot that came in contact with the allergen. The itchy spot can be in the chin, ears, lips, inner things or armpits, underbelly, under the tail (around the anus), on toes and back of paws. Also facial swelling may occur. The common factor is that these parts of the cat's body have less and often shorter hair. Normally the cat’s hair is thick enough to act as a barrier between the allergen and the skin, but on these spots there is less protection.

The cat grooms excessively and cat dermatitis, hives and loss of hair is a very common result. Very red skin with papules, rash and small blisters is what you expect to see with contact allergy. This is why it is also called the feline acne. And the skin looks red and infected even if the fur is in place. There may be thickening of skin and pigment changes as well.

Read here more about diagnosing and treating cat contact allergy here.

Disclaimer: This website is not intended to replace professional consultation, diagnosis, or treatment by a licensed veterinarian. If you require any veterinary related advice, contact your veterinarian promptly. Information at is exclusively of a general reference nature. Do not disregard veterinary advice or delay treatment as a result of accessing information at this site. 

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