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. The condition is characterised by the accumulation of oil and debris on the skin which leads to scaling, flaky skin.
There are two forms of seborrhea which can be primary or secondary.
- Seborrhea sicca is a dry, scaly form
- Seborrhea oleosa is a moist oily form
Primary seborrhea is an inherited condition which usually affects Persian cats. Secondary seborrhea is the most common type of seborrhea and 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 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.
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.
The 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.
Find the underlying cause, your veterinarian may run some diagnostic tests which may include:
- Biochemical profile, complete blood count, and urinalysis to check for underlying medical conditions such as diabetes.
- Skin scrapings and skin cytology to check for bacterial or fungal infection.
- Allergy testing such as food elimination trials or skin prick tests.
- T3 or T4 tests to check for hyperthyroidism.
The goal of treatment is to find and treat the underlying cause which will include:
- Antibiotics for bacterial infection.
- Anti-fungals for fungal infection.
- Medicated antiseborrheic shampoos applied every three days until the condition is 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.