A Rare Skin Condition in Cats

Take extra precaution so cats with cutaneous asthenia don't get injured.

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Cat Expert Dr. PlotnickQ: I've had my 3-year-old male longhaired cat, Smokey, since he was 6 weeks old. Around 8 weeks of age, I noticed his skin seemed to shed a layer, for lack of a better term. Since then, I've spent approx $2500 in veterinary costs trying to find out why.  It started with skin tears around his neck and head. Even though he wasn't bleeding, his skin looked like hamburger meat and stretched like a rubber band. After several trips to the vet, multiple stitches, and several weeks with an Elizabethan collar around his head, we decided to remove his back claws because he was apparently wounding himself when he scratched. This worked for the most part. The initial biopsy gave a diagnosis of allergic dermatitis with severe ulceration and inflammation. I was told that there was nothing I could do for him. The vet wanted me to take him to a nearby veterinary university for further studies, but I couldn't bring myself to put my poor cat through any further tests without some sort of diagnosis. Everyone I've asked has never heard of this before. Have you? Would it benefit Smokey if I do take him to the university for treatment? (One of his littermates was euthanized at less than 1 year old for the same skin issues.) Smokey seems very healthy otherwise, and lives a very spoiled life. The skin disorder does not prevent him from any normal cat activities.

A: It sounds to me like your cat has a condition called cutaneous asthenia, an inherited disorder of collagen metabolism characterized by excessive skin fragility. This condition resembles the Ehlers-Danlos syndrome in humans. It causes decreased tensile strength of the skin. I am familiar with this condition because in 1992 I published a case report of a cat with this condition in the journal Feline Practice. Cats with this condition may have a normal lifespan, providing that the cat is in an environment where the possibility of skin trauma is minimized. Affected cats should not be allowed to go outdoors. Declawing of the rear paws, or all four paws, has been recommended to reduce the likelihood of self-inflicted trauma. Ideally, no other cats should be kept in the household, to minimize inter-cat interactions that can lead to trauma. Of course, it is impossible to eliminate every source of trauma from the cats environment, and when a laceration occurs, it should be addressed immediately. Small lacerations often heal quickly, but larger ones require sutures. Owners of such cats should be advised against breeding, not only because of the heritable nature of the defect, but because mating and birthing may result in serious trauma to the affected animal. If this is indeed what your cat has, I'm surprised the biopsy didn't reveal it. The disease is uncommon, and it is possible that the pathologist misread the specimen. Rather than take the cat to the university, have your veterinarian instruct the laboratory to forward the original slides to a pathologist at the university for a second opinion, along with a detailed history. Ask them to specifically evaluate for cutaneous asthenia. 

Arnold Plotnick, DVM

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A Rare Skin Condition in Cats

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Pam    Columbia, SC

5/21/2010 12:27:34 AM

5/18/2010: I posted about my cutaneous asthenia cats, Cutie (now deceased) and Gus, now 10 yrs old, back in 2008 (the posts are below - scroll down). Anyone with a suspected c.a. kitty is welcome to contact me for ideas. Pam Jackson, founder, Carolina Cats - rescue in Columbia, SC. Gus has a Facebook fan page under "Carolina Cats" and you can e-mail us at carocats"@lycos.com

Cindy    peoria, IL

2/1/2010 9:07:55 PM

My cat has been diagnosed with ehlers-danlos syndrome (feline cutaneous asthenia). She also tends to scratch and lacerate her head/neck area, but has also had to have her front limbs stapled up a couple times. She has a skin extensibility index of 23.6% and I currently own my own skin stapler to patch her up. Her skin biopsy resulted in hyperkeratosis with mild follicular and sebaceous gland atrophy. She is currently on Comfortis for flea control as she can no longer use frontline since it stopped working (sebaceous gland atrophy) and she had a bad reaction to revolution. Glue did not work well for her wounds. She has only been sutured following her hysterectomy - she managed to untie them while wearing the elizabethan collar... She is wearing soft paws on her back feet, but took some of them off. My vet recommended 4-paw declaw, but that is a last resort. I am against declawing but do think I would choose to lose my toes if it could save my life (declaw vs euthanasia). Elizabethan collar and any other collar causes her to scratch at her neck. I have been looking for other pet owners that have cats with this condition. If you can offer any advice, it would be much appreciated.

Pam    South Coffeyville, OK

5/14/2008 12:42:24 PM

my cat has this! poor little guy. is there any treatment...pills or anything else?

Pam    Columbia, SC, SC

4/16/2008 1:02:07 PM

I do not know how old this article is and whether input would still be helpful (you might consider dating articles for this reason), but I have a cutaneous asthenia kitty, Gus, now age 8 years. I also had his brother, Cutie, who was affected more severely; I lost him when he was a year old to a sudden massive intestinal hernia. Hernias are part of the syndrome in people, and apparently also in cats - Gus also had a hernia but his was umbilical and able to be repaired. Although Gus' skin is pretty hyperextensible, he does not tear as readily as Cutie did - I was constantly repairing him! Vet glue and Facilitator are very helpful. Neither cat is/was declawed - I don't believe in it myself under any circumstances but can understand, perhaps, why some people might back- declaw a c.a. kitty. But you can trim claws very short and also consider using soft paws. Cutie wore a preemie all-in-one with all four legs sewn closed initially; Gus wears suits also - I found Dr. S. Krebsbach in Wisconsin who also owns a c.a. kitty and she had special suits made up out of swimsuit fabric and sent me one to use as a pattern. Now with all the dog clothes in fashion you can sometimes find suitable clothing of the right body-shape in doggie style stores. I never had to have either sutured - Cutie didn't hold sutures (a previous owner's vet had tried). I got him when he was about 10 weeks old. I got Gus when he was about 4 months. Both survived neutering without a problem, although I spent 2 hours afterwards repairing the tears in Cutie even though my vet and techs were careful. It was very hard to lose Cutie - he was fluffy and blonde and looked persian, and was very sweet and lay totally still when I debrided or dressed his wounds (he didn't like getting dressed much, however - especially having legs stuffed into leg holes!). He was not very active, and lived in my bathroom, where he didn't even get up onto the edge of the bath or toilet - he stayed on the floor, but he did play with toys and seemed very happy, coming to me every morning and putting his little paws on my legs as I sat, wanting me to pet and pet him as he kept his eyes squeezed shut in delight! Gus, on the other hand, has always been very active - he thinks nothing of leaping three or four feet from the top of one cat tree perch to another, even in his suits. He is very relaxed and likes to "hang" out of his bed or off the edge of the cat tree, front legs trailing, sleeves rolled up - looks almost human. He has lots of purrsonality (he also has an overbite, is shorthaired, black with only a tiny bit of white on his tummy, and has a complete corkscrew flush to his back for a tail, out of which then grows about 5 inches of regular tail - talk about a genetic anomaly! Gus in mid-life has developed some gingivitis and I'm getting worried about how my vet is going to cope w/ that (she's a bit squeamish about working on the c.a. cats - Dr. Krebsbach was as sad as I was when I told her my vet said there was nothing she could do for Cutie's hernia and we had to put him to sleep - I think Dr. Krebsbach at least would have tried to repair the hernia). I give my c.a. kitties vitimin C and E supplements. They are pictured at www.bemikitties.com/carocats/cats.html - I think Gus is in bed with Buddy on page one, and there are several pix of Cutie on about p. 4 or 5. Hope this helps the person who inquired if you can still forward it to him, or future people who may inquire about c.a. kitties.

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