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Seborrhea is a skin condition where the sebaceous glands in the skin produce too much sebum (an oily substance that lubricates the skin and hair). This causes the skin to be scaly, itchy, and red.
There are two types of Seborrhea:
- Dry Seborrhea: dry, flaky skin
- Oily Seborrhea: smelly, greasy scales and sticky, brown oil patches
Seborrhea is usually secondary to an underlying issue, including:
- Hormonal imbalances: thyroid disease, Cushing's disease
- Environmental factors: temperature, change in humidity
- Parasites: fleas, ticks
- Yeast skin infections
- Diet low in omega-3 fatty acids
In these cases, the cat will not show scaling at a young age. It will only develop from scratching due to other skin problems.
Sometimes, there is no underlying issue. This is idiopathic or primary Seborrhea. In these cases, it is usually genetic, and scales will form at a young age.
Seborrhea usually affects places with many sebaceous glands, including the back, underside, thighs, feet, armpits, and neck.
- Skin flaking off in white scales (which you may notice where your pet lies)
- Swollen skin, either oily or dry
- Excessive scratching
- Bad odor
Tests that your veterinarian will perform to diagnose Seborrhea and to check for underlying conditions may include:
- Skin biopsy: checks for an underlying cause or confirms primary Seborrhea
- Skin culture: checks for bacterial and fungal infections
- Skin scrapings/skin cytology: a swab of the skin checks for underlying skin infections
- Complete blood cell count (CBC): a blood test that checks for underlying conditions
- Hormone tests: tests for thyroid disease and Cushing's disease
The underlying condition must be treated. There is no cure for Seborrhea itself, but it is manageable with:
- Bathing: two or three times a week with medicated shampoo. Gently massage the shampoo into the skin for around 10 minutes. There are different shampoos and conditioners available, depending on the type of Seborrhea and the underlying infection. (for example, there are shampoos for dry skin, for oily skin, antibacterial, antifungal, anti-itch)
- Clipping: for cats with long hair. This makes bathing easier. With long, thick hair, the shampoo will not be able to reach the skin
- Antibiotics: to treat bacterial and fungal infections. You must give the medicine to your cat for as long as your veterinarian recommends to ensure the infection is completely cured
- Topical treatments: moisturizers
- Supplements: omega-3 fatty acid
After the skin is cleared up within a few weeks of treatment, you must bring your cat to the veterinarian for a follow-up.
If your cat has genetic Seborrhea, you can only manage it. A healthy diet with enough fatty acids is a good way to prevent the condition when caused by underlying issues.
There is a good prognosis if you treat the underlying cause successfully.
Medically Reviewed by Sara Ochoa, DVM