October 2009 Issue

The Challenge of Skin Disorders

Allergies to food or environmental factors can be hard to diagnose and difficult to treat. Hereís why.

One of your favorite things about your cat is her sleek, shining fur. Lately, though, it seems like your cat has been having a bad fur day. Nothing can be more frustrating and annoying than skin disorders. Nutritional deficiencies or food hypersensitivity; parasites; fungal, viral and bacterial infections; and environmental allergens can cause problems that range from dry, brittle hair and coat to baldness and open wounds. "Most skin diseases are simple and straightforward," says William Miller, Jr., VMD, professor of dermatology at Cornell Universityís College of Veterinary Medicine, "and common problems such as flea bite allergies, abscesses (see related article in this issue) and ear mites are easily recognized, treated and resolved." If a cat can absorb the nutrients in food and is being fed a nutritionally complete diet, food is probably not the cause of the skin problem. If a cat has abnormal absorption or a gastrointestinal disease, or is being fed nutritionally inadequate home-cooked food or unbalanced "people" food, the problem may show up either as vomiting or diarrhea or as skin disease. "We donít usually see both," says Dr. Miller. The more esoteric causes of skin disorders are allergies, and they may require some investigative work to uncover. "From a dermatologic point of view, we see allergic reactions more often than other skin problems," says Dr. Miller. "And you canít always tell if the allergy is to food, drugs, pollen or other sources."

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