Cat's Sore Could Be Food Allergy

Cats can get "hot spots" like dogs. Our veterinary expert explains what causes cat skin outbreaks.

By Arnold Plotnick, DVM | Posted: August 23, 2012, 4 p.m. EST

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Cat With Food Allergy at Dish
A food allergy can cause a skin outbreak in cats.
Q: My 3-year-old cat has a persistent sore on her upper back. We have taken her to the vet three times now. She was treated with antibiotics and cortisone shots as well as flea treatment. The sore persists although it is now dry and scabbed over. Can we do anything else for her? The vet did not know what could cause this; maybe a food allergy although she has not been given any new foods.

A: Many cats with skin allergies will develop a large circular red sore on their back, often right in the middle of their back in the shoulder blade area. Often, the sore will ooze a little serum, and it can sometimes become infected. These are similar to “hot spots” that commonly develop in dogs. A few things can cause them.

Inflammatory or Auto-Immune Condition Anti-inflammatory medication — steroids such as prednisolone, a synthetic version of cortisone — often cause the sore to resolve. I personally prefer to prescribe tablets rather a steroid injection, as I feel it is safer. Steroids didn't work, so an inflammatory or an auto-immune condition seems unlikely.

Bacterial Infection If a secondary bacterial infection develops, it might need antibiotics. Antibiotics didn't work, so an infection is unlikely.

Flea Allergy Cat flea allergy can certainly cause scabs throughout your cat's skin, but usually doesn't cause a persistent open sore. Flea treatment didn't help, so fleas are unlikely to be the cause.  

Food Allergy Cat food allergy can present in a variety of ways, although a persistent sore is not your typical presentation. I'm surprised that the steroid injections had no effect. The next step is to determine whether your cat has a food allergy.

How to Determine Whether Your Cat Has Food Allergies
•    Start a hypoallergenic diet. A hypoallergenic diet contains a protein source that your cat has not been exposed to before, such as rabbit, venison or duck. (Most veterinarians carry prescription diets designed for this purpose.)
•    Feed this food, and ONLY this diet, for up to 10 weeks, before concluding whether or not food allergy is the culprit.
•    Alternatively, you may opt for a skin biopsy. This simple procedure will very likely reveal the diagnosis. 

Considering the number of treatments that you've tried with no success, I think you need a biopsy at this point. Another option would be to consult with a board-certified veterinary dermatologist. Your veterinarian can direct you to an appropriate referral center.
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Reader Comments

Carol Butterfield    West Warwick, RI

12/4/2014 5:48:41 PM

My 10 yr old male cat seems to constantly scratch and has many sores and fur missing all over his body. He mostly has this type of problem in the winter months. Is there anything I can do for him so he will stop scratching and giving himself sores?

Ann K    Fort Myers, FL

3/3/2014 11:08:38 AM

I have a Maine Coon cat (12 pds) Found her in my shed and fell in love with her! She's about 4-5 yrs and has a problem I can't solve! Just paid vet $160.00 for little help! She scratchs her nose till bleeds each time she's out! Very hard to med her! Vet did not know why or what? if you know please email me @ "a1azusa@yahoo.com"

lou    boston, MA

1/1/2014 10:17:24 AM

keep in mind some cats are allergic to various cat treats

Alma    Dayton, OH

12/28/2013 7:29:31 AM

I love this article because it helps me with my investigation of why my cat continues to break out with small red sores around his head and ears and his back. I have put the spray from the pet store for hotspots and tried Vaseline to keep it from being dry, but nothing is working.

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