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Why Does My Cat Have Scabs All Over the Nose?

May 20, 2012
The bridge of this cat's nose is crusted with 1-2 mm bumps with scabs on top.  She does not flinch when it is touched.  This is fly -bite hypersensitivity.

Fly Bites on a Cat’s Nose

Scabs All Over a Cat’s Nose

“Doc, Shadow’s nose just looked this way one day,” said Maria as she held the scared black cat’s head pointed toward the veterinarian. “What is it?”

Bumps and crusted scabs covered the top of Shadow’s nose.  She did not itch it very much and it did not look ulcerated or raw (see the exact picture at the right.)

“It looks just like fly-bite hypersensitivity, but we must do a few tests to rule out some other problems that can look similar to this,” said Doc Truli.

“Is it contagious?” asked Shadow’s worried mom.

“We’ll know when I can run a few tests and diagnosis what it is,” said Doc Truli. (By the way- a doctor cannot honestly answer a question of contagion or survivability without a diagnosis – unless they are psychic or lying to make you feel better. So save your worried questions for later if you have anywhere to be in a hurry; you will just slow down the doctor’s thought process!)

Appropriate Tests for a Crusted, Scabby Cat Nose

Because the skin reacts to attack, there is a limited look to the patterns of reaction.  For example, the skin gets red and sore and bumpy from infection, allergy, parasites, injury, autoimmune disease and cancer.  After all, it is skin, it can only react in certain ways.  Sometimes the pattern of reaction can sway a veterinarian to form an opinion as to what caused the problem.  It is always an educated guess.

If you have a good account of the history of your cat’s activities, you can help the veterinarian narrow down the likely possibilities.  By knowing your cat’s whereabouts and habits, you could save time and money on tests that are unlikely to show the problem.  For example, if your cat is always indoors and never around other animals, then a cat bite injury is highly unlikely and parasites are less likely!

Tests for a Scabby Crusty Cat Nose

  • Skin cytology – pressing a sample from the skin against a microscope slide, preparing it with fixative and special stains, especially useful to find cryptococcidiosis (a fungus)
  • Skin scrape cytology – scraping a sample from the capillary beds under the skin – especially good for finding mites
  • Dermatophyte culture “ringworm test”
  • Skin Biopsy – certain tumors and autoimmune diseases will only reveal themselves after a small surgical biopsy sample is analyzed
  • Empirical guesswork – this means trying different medicines and if they work, guessing the what the diagnosis must have been.  For example, if you use insecticide cream and it works, probably the problem was an insect! (You can see the obvious uncertainty and potential loss of valuable time in this approach, not to mention the chance of making the nose worse. Why do I mention this approach?  It saves money or costs nothing.)

When Skin Tests Find Nothing

Shadow’s tests showed no parasites, no cancer, no bacteria, no yeast, a few immune cells called eosinophils, and very much scabby stuff that was non-diagnostic of anything. Based on knowledge and guesswork, Doc Truli treated Shadow with an anti-inflammatory medication designed to treat fly-bite hypersensitivity.  Shadow was better in a few days and cured in a week.

When a Skin Problem is Confusing

Here’s the glitch to this story: Shadow’s mom Maria reported her to be a 100% indoor-only cat.  How on Earth did the little girl get so many fly bites on her nose? Well- it turns out mom’s definition of indoor and Doc Truli’s were not a match.  And this happens every day.  Here’s how it goes:

Nurse asks: does your cat go outside?

Mom replies: no.

Nurse: does your cat ever escape and get outside, even for a few hours?

Mom: no, never.

Nurse: do you have a screened-in porch your cat has access to?

Mom: of course, she really likes it in there.

Bingo!  A screened-in porch (here in Florida, they are called lanai – pronounced lah, nigh) is almost the identical health risk environment as actually being an outdoor cat.  How?  Fleas, ticks, feline leukemia through hissing, fecal parasites through dirt particles, tapeworms through lizard hunting, and in this case, flies.  The screened porch precludes car accidents and falling out of trees, probably prevents unwanted kittens (although Doc Truli met a big orange cat that used a claw to surgically cut a round hole in the screen and then go in and out as he pleased), and prevents dog attacks.  Otherwise, the disease list is similar to an outdoor cat.

Moral of the story?  If you are a pet parent, tell your veterinary team about the screens.  If you are a veterinary team member, remember to ask!


P.S. No fly bite hypersensitivity is not contagious.

19 Comments leave one →
  1. Sandy permalink
    March 6, 2017 1:38 pm

    If this is cause by insects what do you recommended for clearing this up?

    • March 27, 2017 11:06 pm

      Dear Sandy,
      I cannot give medical treatment advice as it would not be responsible since I am not your vet. I know this seems harsh, but suggesting an ineffective treatment could delay your seeking specific proper local veterinary advice. So I advise you to see your vet for diagnosis and treatment advice.
      Good Luck!
      Doc Truli

  2. Cathy permalink
    August 18, 2016 12:31 pm

    My only black cat gets this every summer when the flies, mosquitos and fleas are at their worse. I find it interesting that black cats seem more prone to this. I have 5 other cats who are not affected (thank God!) I’ve been using a OTC cortisone & antibiotic cream to help him, but it really never goes away until the weather cools off in the Fall. Its so hard to see him go through this but he doesn’t seem to be in pain at least.

  3. Meg G permalink
    January 27, 2016 5:47 pm

    My indoor cat has almost THE EXACT same small scabs on his nose which have slowly spread and leave bald marks when the scabs clear. There are no flies or mosquitoes in my downtown highrise apt, however. My other cat is not affected. The Scabby-nosed cat is not bothered at all by this derm issue. Can I use 1% of 0.5% hydrocortisone cream or ointment on unbroken skin? Of yea, when should I expect a response. I took a picture, but I do not see a way to upload here. Thank you in advance for your help!

    • February 6, 2016 11:41 pm

      Dear Meg,
      I love your enthusiasm, but it would be irresponsible and illegal for me to advise you about cream to put on your cat’s nose. You should consult a trusted local veterinarian. There are other differentials for the same appearance on the nose. If your veterinarian seems unconcerned and you still are, consult a holistic veterinarian. You can find one through the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association website if you are in the United States.
      Good Luck!
      -Doc Truli

    • Sebastien Ranger permalink
      February 22, 2017 7:44 am

      Hi Meg, I have nearly the same experience as you: black cat with scabs on the nose (but doesn’t seem to mind) and another cat that is perfectly fine. Also living in a highrise condo. Did you ever figure out what the problem was, and the treatment?? Many thanks! Seb

  4. Brenda permalink
    August 7, 2014 9:33 pm

    This looks just like what is going on with our 13 month black cat. She is completely indoors. we live in Reno, NV…we do not have any mosquitoes inside the house the windows are not open because of the heat, we use air conditioning. She has being digging in some of the house plants (philadendron type vine). The vet has given her an antibiotic injection and I am giving her oral antibiotics and topical medication. We are waiting for the lab results. Her brother does not seem to be affected. She looks identical to the picture… Could it be the plant or dirt?

  5. August 2, 2013 1:20 pm

    Really? My cat has had the same thing on and off for the last year. I thought it was associated with dust cus she likes to sleep in the corner of odd places with loads of dust. But maybe it is mosquitos because i live north of Miami and it seems like its an issue in Florida.

  6. Judy permalink
    June 26, 2013 8:51 pm

    Allergy to plastic can also cause bumps like this. If you feed your cat from a plastic dish or water dish change to glass, metal or pottery and it might start clearing up.

    One of my cats had a nose like this and when I changed his dishes it cleared up.

    • June 26, 2013 10:42 pm

      Dear Judy,
      I, too have seen chin acne and bumps under the mouth clear up with changing from plastic to stainless steel, crockery or glass. I’m not certain it’s an allergy. I was thinking about how plastic holds bacteria in the molecular spaces in it’s structure. It could be we just can’t ever sanitize plastic adequately like the other materials.

      I have not seen the top of the nose clear up from changing out the plastic. That’s interesting. I have also seen scabs and bumps on cat and dog lips and chins clear up with filtered or spring water instead of tap water here in the US. We should be careful not to confuse anecdotal observations with scientific fact. (Seeing a cat’s face clear up after switching out the plastic does not mean they are allergic.) but it sure is interesting!

      Thank you for sharing your experience.

      -Doc Truli

  7. October 30, 2012 9:13 pm

    It’s methylprednisolone, a steroid.

  8. CosmoCat permalink
    October 30, 2012 1:59 pm

    apologies for the double post.

  9. August 30, 2012 7:57 pm

    Feline leukemia viruses is spread through saliva. It can be spread by cats grooming each other and by sharing water dishes. The cornea is an entry point for pathogens. Why not hissing?

  10. s davies permalink
    August 13, 2012 6:47 pm

    OMG-That looks just like my cat’s nose! My cat is black as well. We’ve had him to two vets with lots of testing for mites, leukemia, AIDS etc and injections-such as steriod to stop the itching. I now have him on zertec-5mg. I know it’s related to mosquitos and he’s not getting any better. He’s been this way for 6 months or more. We live in N FL. Do you know what the injection was called? I’d like to try it for him

    • August 13, 2012 8:41 pm

      Doc Truli gave him Depo Medrol. But ideally, get him away from the Mosquitos!

      • s davies permalink
        August 22, 2012 8:21 pm

        thanks. I wish I could get him away from the bugs. He’s an indoor outdoor cat and the mosquitos are bad this year because of the mild winter and the wet weather. thanks again for your response.

    • May 23, 2012 5:26 pm

      Thanks Teri!
      Mosquitoes are the most likely culprits. Thanks for the tip!
      Doc Truli

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