Pyoderma Treatment in Cats

Posted by Lianne McLeod D.V.M. on

Pyoderma Treatment in Cats

Pyoderma, a term derived from the Greek words "pyos" meaning pus, and "derma" for skin, is a dermatological condition that is characterized by pus oozing from the skin even though it may sometimes not be visible. This condition occurs when the skin's normal bacterial population overgrows and breaches the skin barrier, resulting in a bacterial infection.

While pyoderma is more commonly associated with dogs, it can also affect cats, causing discomfort and requiring prompt attention. In this comprehensive exploration of pyoderma, we will delve into the causes, symptoms, and treatment options for pyoderma in cats.

Causes of Pyoderma

Pyoderma in cats can stem from a variety of underlying causes, each contributing to the disruption of the skin's natural defenses and leading to a bacterial infection. Some of them include:


External parasites like mange mites and fleas can irritate a cat's skin, leading to itching, scratching, and small wounds. These damaged areas become susceptible to bacterial colonization, resulting in pyoderma.


Cats can develop hypersensitivity reactions to various allergens, including certain foods, environmental factors, or even insect bites. The resulting itching can damage the skin, making it susceptible to bacterial infection.

Autoimmune Disease:

Autoimmune conditions, where the cat's immune system mistakenly attacks its own tissues, can compromise the skin's integrity. This weakened defense can allow bacteria to proliferate, leading to pyoderma.

Skin Folds:

Breeds with skin folds, such as the Persian cat, are more prone to pyoderma. These folds can trap moisture and debris, creating an environment conducive to bacterial growth.


Skin tumors or neoplasia can disrupt the skin barrier, providing an entry point for bacteria. Additionally, cancer can weaken the immune system, making cats more susceptible to infections like pyoderma.


Conditions or treatments that suppress the immune system, such as certain medications or diseases like feline leukemia virus (FeLV) or feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), can increase the risk of pyoderma.


Physical injuries, including cuts, bites, or scratches, can damage the skin and facilitate bacterial invasion. Cats involved in fights or accidents are particularly susceptible.

Abnormal Skin:

Cats with underlying skin conditions like allergies may experience changes in the skin's microenvironment. These changes can increase bacterial numbers, making the cat more prone to developing pyoderma.

cat sitting 1

Types of Pyoderma

Understanding pyoderma begins with delving into its intricate classifications. Pyoderma manifests in several distinct forms, each presenting unique challenges for diagnosis and treatment. Here, we delve into the three primary classifications of pyoderma:

Surface Pyoderma

Surface Pyoderma is the most superficial form of pyoderma, affecting the outermost layers of the skin. Surface pyoderma is commonly associated with bacterial overgrowth on the skin's surface and is relatively less invasive than its deeper counterparts.

Surface pyoderma includes two forms; hot spots and skin folds. Hot spots are sudden and intensely itchy patches of inflamed skin. The constant licking, biting, and scratching can break the skin's integrity, paving the way for bacterial infection.

Skin Fold Pyoderma occurs when cozy folds create an environment where moisture and debris accumulate, creating a bacterial breeding ground.

Superficial Pyoderma

This classification involves the bacterial infection reaching the hair follicles and glands within the skin. It often manifests as pustules, epidermal collarettes and crusts, and can be recurrent in nature.

Superficial pyoderma includes bacterial folliculitis and demodectic mange. Bacterial folliculitis pyoderma targets the hair follicles, leading to inflammation and infection. While demodectic mange presents as patchy hair loss, redness, and pustules, particularly in localized demodicosis.

Deep Pyoderma

When pyoderma infiltrates the deeper layers of the skin, including the dermis and subcutaneous tissues, it becomes a more severe and complex condition. Deep pyoderma is often associated with larger, more painful lesions, abscesses, and severe tissue damage. It requires more intensive treatment approaches.

Deep Pyoderma includes abscesses, bacterial pododermatitis, and other deep infections. Abscesses are typically painful, and swollen, and may rupture, leading to the drainage of pus.

Pododermatitis, on the other hand, refers to inflammation and infection of the paw pads. Deep pyoderma in this region can cause painful swelling, ulcerations, and discharge.

kitten playing with flower

Symptoms of Pyoderma

Some of the most common clinical signs indicating the presence of this bacterial skin infection include;

Skin Lesions: These can range from small pustules (pus-filled bumps) and papules (small raised bumps) to larger nodules or abscesses. These lesions can be red, swollen, and painful to the touch.

Pus or Discharge: As the name suggests, pyoderma often involves the formation of pus within or around skin lesions. The pus may be white, yellow, or greenish in color and can ooze from the affected areas.

Itching and Scratching: Cats and dogs with pyoderma often exhibit increased itching and scratching behavior. They may continuously lick, bite, or chew at the affected areas in an attempt to alleviate discomfort.

Hair Loss: Over time, the constant licking and scratching can lead to hair loss in the affected regions. This can result in patchy or uneven fur in these areas.

Redness and Inflammation: Pyoderma can cause the skin to become red, inflamed, and warm to the touch. In more severe cases, the affected areas may appear swollen.

Epidermal Collarettes: Superficial pyoderma, in particular, may lead to the formation of circular lesions with a central clearing, known as epidermal collarettes. These are a distinctive feature of this type of pyoderma.

Pain or Discomfort: Cats and dogs with pyoderma may experience discomfort or pain, especially when the skin lesions are touched or manipulated.

Foul Odor: In cases where the pyoderma involves deep or extensive skin tissue, a foul odor may emanate from the affected areas due to the presence of pus and bacteria.

Secondary Infections: If left untreated, pyoderma can lead to secondary infections, which may manifest as more severe symptoms, including fever, lethargy, and systemic illness.

How Veterinarians Diagnose Bacterial Skin Infections in Cats

Veterinary experts employ a range of diagnostic techniques to pinpoint the specific infection, its severity, and any contributing factors. Here are the key methods used:

Skin Cytology: This technique involves collecting samples from the affected skin and examining them under a microscope. Veterinarians look for the presence of bacteria or white blood cells, which can indicate a bacterial skin infection.

Skin Scraping: A mild irritation or scraping is performed, and the collected samples are observed for mites or signs of their presence, such as mild bleeding.

Wood's Lamp Examination: A Wood's lamp emits ultraviolet (UV) light and is useful in detecting certain fungal infections, such as ringworm. Infected areas may fluoresce with a yellow-green color under the lamp's UV light.

Trichogram: In this diagnostic procedure, plucked hairs from the affected area are examined under a microscope. Veterinarians look for fungal spores or evidence of mites, aiding in the diagnosis of skin conditions.

Fungal Culture: This technique involves cultivating a sample from the affected area to encourage fungal growth, which can then be identified.

Bacterial Culture and Sensitivity: This test identifies the type of bacteria present and determines which antibiotics are most effective for treatment.

Cat sitting 2

Diagnosis and Testing

Diagnosing bacterial skin infections in cats encompasses a comprehensive evaluation, as these infections often have underlying factors. The diagnostic process typically includes:

Physical Examination: The veterinarian conducts a thorough physical examination to assess the cat's overall health and inspect the skin for visible signs of infection, such as redness, lesions, or discharge.

Blood Work: Blood tests may be recommended to rule out systemic issues or underlying conditions that could be contributing to the skin infection.

Microscopic Skin Examination: Microscopic evaluation of skin samples, obtained through techniques like skin cytology or skin scraping, is crucial for diagnosing the type and severity of the infection.

Bacterial Culture and Sensitivity: For persistent or severe infections, a bacterial culture and sensitivity test may be performed to identify the bacteria responsible and determine treatment options.

Allergy Testing: Allergy testing can help identify any underlying allergies that may be triggering or exacerbating the skin infection.

Viral Blood Tests: In some cases, viral blood tests may be recommended to rule out viral infections that could be affecting the skin.

Treatment and Recovery

Successfully managing pyoderma in cats involves a comprehensive approach that addresses both the infection itself and any underlying issues contributing to its development. Here's a detailed overview of the treatment and recovery process:

Antibiotics: They target bacterial infection directly. Oral or topical antibiotics may be prescribed.

Antiparasitics: In cases where parasites are involved, antiparasitic medications may be necessary.

Anti-Itch Medication: These medications alleviate the discomfort and help reduce itching, which can contribute to the progression of the infection.

Topical Creams and Lotions: In cases of small lesions or localized pyoderma, topical creams and lotions containing antibiotics or antiseptic agents may be useful. However, for extensive infections, this approach may not be practical.

Immune Stimulants: Immune stimulants or immune modulators like staphage lysate aim to boost the cat's immune response.

Whirlpool Baths: Whirlpool baths can be beneficial for treating deep pyoderma. The warm water and gentle agitation help cleanse and promote healing of affected areas.

Addressing Underlying Issues: Efforts to address these issues may include managing allergies, treating hormonal imbalances, or addressing other health conditions.

With appropriate treatment, the prognosis for cats with pyoderma is generally good to excellent. Superficial pyoderma often resolves within 2-3 weeks, while deep pyoderma may require 8-12 weeks of treatment.

Cat laying down

Prevention and At-Home Care

Preventing the recurrence of pyoderma in cats hinges on effective management of the underlying triggers. Here are key strategies for prevention and at-home care:

Control Underlying Triggers: Identify and address the underlying triggers that may have led to pyoderma.

Regular Grooming: Regular grooming practices can help maintain healthy skin and prevent the accumulation of dirt and debris that can contribute to skin infections.

Allergy Medications: If allergies are a contributing factor, follow your veterinarian's guidance on allergy management.

Skin Supplements: Consider adding skin supplements, such as fatty acid supplements, to your cat's diet to support skin health and reduce inflammation.

Medicated Shampoos: Use medicated shampoos as prescribed by your veterinarian. Ensure that the shampoo has 10-15 minutes of contact time with your cat's skin to maximize its effectiveness.

Administer Oral Medications: If your cat has been prescribed oral medications, ensure that you administer them as directed by your veterinarian.

Are Bacterial Skin Infections in Cats Contagious to Humans?

The question of whether bacterial skin infections in cats can be contagious to humans is a critical one. It is more crucial for households with both feline companions and individuals with compromised immune systems.

Yes, some bacterial infections in cats have the potential to be transmitted to humans. One notable example is Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), a strain of Staphylococcus aureus bacteria that is resistant to many antibiotics. MRSA can be carried by cats and may be transmitted to humans through close contact.

To reduce the risk of transmission, it's essential to maintain good hygiene practices. This includes:

  1. Washing Hands
  2. Cleaning Litter Boxes
  3. Covering Open Wounds with Clean Bandages

If you have concerns about the potential transmission of bacterial infections, consult your healthcare provider for personalized guidance.

cat sitting 3

Prognosis for Pyoderma in Cats

The prognosis for pyoderma in cats is generally favorable when appropriate therapy is administered. However, successful management of pyoderma hinges on two crucial factors: identification of underlying factors and administering appropriate therapy.

With proper medical care, the majority of cats with pyoderma experience a successful recovery and a return to healthy skin. Regular veterinary check-ups and proactive skin care can also play a significant role in maintaining your cat's skin health and overall well-being.

The Bottomline

Pyoderma in cats is a complex dermatological condition. While it is more commonly associated with dogs, our feline companions can also suffer from this bacterial skin infection. Through this comprehensive exploration, it is evident that early recognition, prompt veterinary care, and a holistic approach to treatment are essential for the well-being of our furry friends.

When we address underlying factors, administer appropriate therapy, and maintain good hygiene practices, we can ensure a positive prognosis and a return to healthy skin for our beloved cats. Remember, their well-being is in our hands, and with knowledge and care, we can help them thrive.

cat laying in bed


  1. Sykes, J. E., Nagle, T. M., White, S.D. (2014). Canine and feline infectious diseases. Elsevier Health Sciences.

  2. Wildermuth, B. E., Griffin, C. E., & Rosenkrantz, W. S. (2006). Feline pyoderma therapy. Clinical techniques in small animal practice, 21(3), 150-156.

  3. Van Duijkeren, E., Kamphuis, M., Van der Mije, I. C., Laarhoven, L. M., Duim, B., Wagenaar, J. A., & Houwers, D. J. (2011). Transmission of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus pseudintermedius between infected dogs and cats and contact pets, humans, and the environment in households and veterinary clinics. Veterinary microbiology, 150(3-4), 338-343.


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Lianne McLeod, DVM, is a former writer for The Spruce Pets, contributing articles for 11 years. Before Dr. McLeod began writing about pet care, she worked several years in small animal practice. She has written extensively about the care and keeping of exotic pets and pet health care. She now researches water quality and chronic disease at the University of Saskatchewan. Lianne McLeod earned her Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine from the Western College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Saskatchewan. She also received a Bachelor of Science degree in biology from Simon Fraser University. She continued her education and received a Ph.D. in Epidemiology from the University of Saskatchewan. Now, she splits her time between her family, research and writing about pet health for all the animal lovers out there.
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