A diagnostic approach to skin disease in geriatric cats - Veterinary Medicine
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A diagnostic approach to skin disease in geriatric cats
When an older cat develops a skin problem, the presenting complaint will point you to a group of possible diagnoses. From there, a thorough patient history and core diagnostic tests can help you identify the underlying problem.



Unkempt hair coat

An unkempt hair coat is a generalized clinical sign that typically indicates a cat is not grooming itself as it normally would. It can be characterized by increased oiliness, matting or adhered tufts of hair, scales, odor, fecal or urine contamination of the coat, exudate accumulation, evidence of bacterial or yeast overgrowth on the skin, or paronychia.2

1. Dermatophytosis, likely secondary to immunosuppression from gastrointestinal lymphoma and diabetes mellitus, was diagnosed in this cat with an unkempt coat.
It is important to question the owner to try to establish when the signs of the unkempt coat started and how they progressed. Many causes of an unkempt coat are the result of a problem with a cat's mobility stemming from arthritis, lethargy, or obesity. If a cat is still reported to be grooming well and has a normal activity level, then inadequate nutrition or an endocrine disorder could be the underlying cause (Figure 1). Cardiac disease or neoplasia is another possible cause of decreased activity leading to decreased grooming.

Core diagnostic tests are certainly indicated to rule out parasites as well as to determine if bacterial or yeast infections are the primary cause or are complicating a definitive diagnosis. A complete blood count, serum chemistry profile, and urinalysis are indicated as first-line diagnostics to begin to rule in or rule out an endocrine or metabolic disorder (e.g. hyperthyroidism, hyperadrenocorticism, diabetes mellitus, renal disease).

Examination of the oral cavity and palpation of the thyroid gland can also help to make a complete differential diagnosis list. If the patient seems to be in pain or has mobility, joint, or gait abnormalities, a radiographic examination to check for arthritic or other bony changes should be considered.

It is important to discuss pain management strategies with the owner. This is not only in the form of medications but also can entail environmental changes, such as making sure that litter boxes are accessible and that the boxes do not have high walls or small openings where an arthritic cat would have trouble maneuvering.


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