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
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.
1. Dermatophytosis, likely secondary to immunosuppression from gastrointestinal lymphoma and diabetes mellitus, was diagnosed
in this cat with an unkempt coat.
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.