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Cats usually look beautiful and elegant with luxurious soft coats and dazzling eyes. As such, seeing a scab on your cat’s face and body can look unsightly. Plus, it makes us feel a little concerned over the health of our cats’ skin.
If you’re anything like me, whenever I see a scab I get a sudden urge to pick it off. However, should you pick scabs off cats? Or can this make them worse? It’s lucky you’ve asked this question as the simple answer is no, you should never pick scabs off cats. You’ve got to resist the urge to pick!
Picking a scab will reopen the wound that the scab is covering, meaning it can become infected again. Besides, this disrupts the skin’s healing process and could lead to permanent scarring. Unfortunately, scabs on a cat’s skin are usually itchy and uncomfortable. When your cat scratches their itch, they may accidentally pick the scar off themselves, even if you’ve avoided temptation!
Thankfully, there are some remedies you can try at home to soothe the scab and help it heal naturally. In this article, I run through all there is to know about the dos and don’t of cat scabs, these remedies you’ve got to try, and answers to all your other scab-related questions.
Why Do Cats Get Scabs?
I’m going to start back at the basics: Why do cats get scabs in the first place? In all cases, the purpose of a scab is to cover and protect an open wound. Scabs do this successfully, sealing the wound away from the outside world and all the germs and bacteria that could cause infection.
When thinking of an open wound, most owners assume cats will only get scabs as a result of large injuries. For example, getting into a fight with the neighborhood cat. While this is true – scratch and bite marks that do draw blood will likely scab over – there are other reasons why cats get scabs.
In fact, the most likely reason for scabs in cats is feline miliary dermatitis. This is a skin condition where your cat’s skin becomes dry and itchy thanks to tiny lesions and scratches on its surface, comparable to a rash. Your cat will then scratch at their skin more, damaging the surface and leading to your cat getting dry skin scabs.
Miliary dermatitis can affect both outdoor and indoor cats and has a range of different causes, including the following:
- Allergies: This is the most common reason for miliary dermatitis on cats. Cats can be allergic to all kinds of allergens, including pollen, dust, mold, cat litter, insect bites, or their cat food. This can cause the skin to become itchy and scabs can form.
- Fleas: When a cat has fleas, its skin will become increasingly itchy as these tiny pests bite their skin and feed off your cat’s blood. As your cat scratches at its flea bites it can damage the skin and cause scabbing.
- Mites: Mites are another parasites that can live in your cat’s ears and feed off of ear wax. However, some mites spread to the whole body known as mange, causing extremely dry and itchy skin. Once your cat starts scratching these areas with its claws, scabs will form.
- Skin Infection: Bacterial and fungal infections can also be a cause of miliary dermatitis and scabbing in cats. Examples include the bacterial skin infection pyoderma and the fungal infection ringworm.
Should I Pick Scabs Off Cats?
The answer here is simple – No! No matter how big the urge is, you should always try to resist picking scabs on your kitty as this does more harm than good.
A scab serves an important purpose in the skin’s healing process. They act as a barrier between an open wound and the outside world, almost like a natural bandaid. This helps to protect the cut or scratch from bacteria and dirt which could otherwise work its way inside and infect the wound.
While this is going on, the skin beneath the scab is starting to heal. The cells will start to fuze back together and close the wound. When this happens, the scab will naturally fall off of its own accord, revealing new and healthy skin underneath. Depending on the severity of the wound, the scab should fall off within 1-2 weeks.
Picking a scab off means removing it early. The skin underneath won’t have healed properly and by ripping it off you could reopen the wound. This is bad for several reasons, including:
- The wound is once again vulnerable to dirt and bacteria, which could lead to infection
- All of the repair work already completed is undone, making the healing process longer
- Where the same skin is broken twice, it can disrupt the healing process make makes scarring much more likely
While we as humans can understand why picking scabs off cats is a bad idea, cats don’t have quite the same capacity to understand. They will end up scratching their scabs as they feel itchy and uncomfortable, which could cause them to rip off. This has exactly the same consequences and your cat will be stuck in a cycle of itchy, forming scabs, scratching them off, and new scabs forming.
How To Stop My Cat Scratching Scabs?
To prevent your cat from scratching and picking off their scabs, they’re going to need a little help from you to promote healing and reduce the itchiness. Here are five things that you should do if you notice your cat has dry skin and scabs that it cannot seem to stop itching. They’ll help the skin heal and scabs go away more quickly.
1. Check for Parasites
One of the most common causes of scabs on your cat is a parasitic infection of either fleas or mites. If you notice scabs on your cat, you should check for both of these parasites immediately.
Fleas can live anywhere on your cat’s body but usually congregate around your cat’s neck or at the base of their tail. These creatures will bite your cat, causing the formation of cat scabs on the neck and other areas and leading to extreme itchiness. To check for fleas, follow the below steps:
- Put a white pillowcase on your lap and sit your kitty on top
- Use a flea comb to brush their coats, concentrating mostly on the common flea-infested areas at the base of their tail and around their neck
- If you see any tiny black bugs, your cat likely has fleas
On the other hand, mites live all over the surface of your cat’s skin. Three different types of mites cause mange, some being more contagious and causing more relentless itching than others. The worst are burrowing mites that burrow into the top layer of skin to lay their eggs, forming extremely crusty scabs on cats.
Only a few mites can cause a huge amount of itching, making it harder to see the bugs themselves. The better way to check for mites is to pay close attention to your cat’s symptoms. If they have mange, you will recognize some of these signs:
- Excessive licking and overgrooming
- Intense itching and scratching
- Hair loss, often around the face and ears
- Scaling of the skin where infected
If you think your cat has a parasitic infection of fleas or mites, you can apply treatment at home. Your veterinarian will be able to offer recommendations if you’re unsure of which brand and treatment type is best. By helping your cat to cure the scab-causing infestation, their skin – and their scabs – will soon recover.
2. Eliminate Allergens
Having ruled out parasites, if your cat has scabs on its neck but no fleas, allergies are a top suspect. After all, they are the most common cause of miliary dermatitis and crusty scabs on cats. Therefore, improving allergy symptoms will help reduce itching, scratching, and scabbing.
This is best done by removing and eliminating the substance that is triggering an allergic response from your home. Unfortunately, it can be difficult trying to work out what this allergen is – it’s a classic case of it is easier said than done!
If you have suddenly introduced a new cat litter or brand of food, try switching back to the old one and seeing if it helps. In fact, these are the two most common causes of non-environmental allergies in cats. Even if you haven’t changed the products you are using, cats can develop allergies at any time, so you may want to try switching to a low dust fragrance-free cat litter or try elimination diets.
You can further help remove environmental allergens by cleaning thoroughly and regularly, ensuring your home is well ventilated, or buying an air purifier. Having removed the allergens from your home, it can take your cat a few weeks to adjust, so don’t be disheartened if you don’t see immediate improvement.
3. Apply Topical Creams
There are topical steroid creams available over the counter which help to soothe scabs and irritated skin. After applying, you should notice your cat scratching its dry skin and scabs a lot less, helping its skin condition to heal and recover move quickly.
You can apply these topical treatments at home, making them an easy option. However, before doing so you should always speak to your vet. Depending on the cause of the scabbing, they may recommend another type of soothing medication or an antibacterial or antifungal medication instead.
4. Apply a Bandage
If your cat is pulling out fur and scabs despite following my advice so far, you may need to bandage the area. This won’t make their skin any less itchy, but it should prevent them from scratching to the point of drawing blood, giving their skin the time it needs to heal.
A cat overgrooming scabs can also end up ingesting the topical treatment used to soothe their sore skin. Them eating a little is nothing to worry about, but ingesting large amounts could be problematic. Applying a bandage will prevent this from happening as well.
If you do bandage your cat, be sure to use a proper bandage rather than a makeshift one. Using a slightly sticky or rough material could pull on your cat’s fur or irritate their skin further. You should also ask your vet for a proper bandage-wrapping technique so you know how to securely wrap the area. You’ll need to change the bandage each day to keep the wound clean and fresh.
5. Make Them Wear a Cone
Your cat won’t thank you for this one! But if you’ve tried everything else it may be time to force your cat to wear the dreaded cone. You can get these from your veterinarian, local pet store, or even online on sites such as Amazon.
These cones – also known as Elizabethan collars – attach around your cat’s neck and make it harder for your cat to bite at the scabby injured area. A cone also prevents your cat from being able to scratch its face, ideal for stopping them from picking cat scabs on the neck or face. However, if the scabs are in a place your cat can easily reach to scratch with its claws, their effectiveness is limited.
MY FINAL THOUGHTS
Your cat needs scabs to cover an open wound and promote healing while protecting against infection. Picking them off could re-open the wound, increasing the risk of infection and leading to scarring.
Unfortunately, cats frequently pick their scabs themselves by overgrooming and scratching. This can be detrimental to their skin healing and make their condition worse. However, by using the five suggestions above, you should be able to help your cat’s dry skin and scabs heal quickly. They’ll be happy, itch-free, and scab-less again in no time!