Dermatitis (red, inflamed, sore skin or a rash) in cats

black cat on white background


Has your cat got red, inflamed or angry looking skin? Do they have a rash? We often call these symptoms ‘dermatitis’.

Skin problems can be very irritating and painful and can be caused by many different things.

Dermatitis should always be checked by a vet, it’s often something that can be easily treated but could be a sign of something more serious.

Symptoms to look out for

photo of a rash on a cat's skin

Skin problems in cats often cause a crusty rash


Fleas and other parasites

  • Fleas are a common problem in cats. They cause itchy, red, skin rashes, especially around the lower back, neck and head.
  • Ringworm is a fungus which causes circular patches of red, raised, hairless, itchy skin. Fortunately, ringworm is quite rare in cats.
  • Other parasites – for example mites, lice and ticks often cause irritating skin problems.


  • Allergic skin disease causes itchy skin and rashes.
  • Food allergies often cause a rash and itchy skin.
  • Severe allergic reactions can cause hives, rashes and swellings anywhere on the body. Contact your vet ASAP if you suspect your cat is having a severe allergic reaction – this is an emergency.

Skin infections

  • Bacterial infections often cause red, inflamed circular patches on the skin that can smell pungent.
  • Cat bite abscesses are very common. They often develop over a few days, causing a painful, red, hot swollen area of skin.


  • If your cat has developed a rash that looks like blood spots or bruising it could be a sign of an injury or a blood clotting disorder. This is something you need to see your vet about ASAP.


  • Sunburn is a common problem especially around the ears and nose of white and ginger cats. Sunburn can be very painful and eventually lead to a skin cancer called a squamous cell carcinoma.
  • Feline eosinophilic granuloma complex is a skin condition caused by the immune system. It’s a fairly common condition that causes lumpy, sore, red, crusty skin.
  • Stress – some ‘highly strung’ cats will start over-grooming themselves making their skin sore if they are stressed.

When to contact your vet

Get in contact with your vet if you notice anything wrong with your cat’s skin – skin disease can cause a lot of suffering.

You know your cat best. If they don’t have the symptoms listed above but you are still concerned it’s always best to contact your vet.

Consider insuring your cat as soon as you get them, before any signs of illness start. This will ensure you have all the support you need to care for them.

Published: October 2018

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Written by vets and vet nurses. This advice is for UK pets only. Illustrations by Samantha Elmhurst.