Seborrhea in Cats-Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

Seborrhea in cats

What is seborrhea?

Seborrhea is a skin disorder caused by an overproduction of sebum, an oily substance produced by the sebaceous glands which lubricate and protects the skin. It is reasonably common in the dog, but not the cat. It is characterised by the accumulation of oil and debris on the skin which leads to scaling, flaky skin.

There are two forms of seborrhea, seborrhea sicca, which is a dry, scaly form or seborrhea oleosa, a moist oily form. It may also be primary or secondary. Primary seborrhea is an inherited condition, seen most often in Persian cats, secondary seborrhea is associated with a number of underlying diseases or conditions such as parasites,  Cushing’s syndrome, diabetes, hyperthyroidism, poor diet, food or inhalant allergy. Secondary seborrhea is the most common type of seborrhea found in cats.

Secondary bacterial or yeast infections (Malassezia) can occur in affected cats due to excess sebum and/or self-trauma, which can provide an ideal environment for these infections to take hold.

What are the symptoms of seborrhea in cats?

Symptoms vary depending on the type of seborrhea.

  • Itching may or may not be present depending on the underlying cause.
  • Seborrhea sicca may present as patches of dull, dry, dandruff like flakes in the coat.  This is the most common type of seborrhea in cats.
  • Seborrhea oleosa presents as patches of greasy/oily scales or crusts with a pungent odour.
  • Secondary bacterial or fungal infection occur quite often.

How is it diagnosed?

Your veterinarian will perform a thorough physical examination, checking for signs of parasites, evaluating the overall health of your cat. He will obtain a medical history from you including how long symptoms have been present, what food is he eating, does he have any known allergies or underlying conditions does he have any other symptoms, is he itchy? The age of your cat may mean your veterinarian can rule out certain causes. A young cat is less likely to have hyperthyroidism for example, as this disease is most commonly found in middle-aged to older cats.

Finding underlying diseases is important, and your veterinarian may run some diagnostic tests such as:

  • Complete blood count, biochemical profile, and urinalysis to check for underlying medical conditions such as diabetes.
  • Skin scrapings and skin cytology to check for bacterial or fungal infection.
  • Allergy testings including food elimination trials or skin prick tests.
  • T3 or T4 tests to check for hyperthyroidism.


Finding and treating the underlying cause is necessary. This may include:

  • Antibiotics for bacterial infection.
  • Anti-fungals for fungal infection.
  • Medicated antiseborrheic shampoos given every three days until the condition is brought under control. There are different types of shampoo depending on which form of seborrhea your cat has.
  • Fatty acid supplements may be of some use for treating this condition in cats.