Healing Your Cat’s Painful Skin Ulcer – Top Tips from Vets

What is a Skin Ulcer in Cats?

A skin ulcer, also known as an open sore or lesion, is an area where the surface layer of skin is damaged and the deeper layer becomes exposed. Skin ulcers are typically caused by injury, inflammation, or infection 1.

Common locations for skin ulcers in cats include the head, neck, legs, toes, belly, and genital area. These areas are prone to injury and irritation. Ulcers can develop from cuts, scrapes, burns, chemical or insect bites, pressure sores, or underlying medical conditions 2.

Symptoms of a skin ulcer include an open, inflamed sore; discharge or bleeding from the wound; loss of fur around the wound; redness; swelling; pain; and itchiness. There may also be a noticeable odor from the ulcer. The cat may frequently lick or scratch at the affected area 1.

Causes of Skin Ulcers in Cats

There are several potential causes of skin ulcers in cats:

Trauma or Injury

Skin ulcers can form from trauma or injury, like bites, scratches, or burns. Cats that go outside are at higher risk for traumatic wounds that can turn into ulcers (1).


Certain parasites like fleas, mites, and ringworm can cause intense itching, scratching, and subsequent skin ulceration in cats. Flea allergy dermatitis is a common cause of ulcers, especially around the base of the tail (2).


Allergic reactions to food, medications, pollen, or other environmental allergens can lead to pruritic skin lesions and self-trauma. Cats may excessively lick, bite, or scratch at their skin, causing ulcers (1).

Immune Disorders

Autoimmune skin diseases like pemphigus complex can cause blistering and ulcerated lesions. Feline leukemia virus can also suppress immunity and lead to secondary skin infections and ulcers (3).


Certain skin cancers like squamous cell carcinoma may initially present as non-healing ulcers or crusty sores. Biopsies are needed to diagnose cancerous skin lesions in cats (2).

While trauma and parasites are common culprits, persistent or worsening skin ulcers should prompt veterinary examination to pinpoint the underlying cause.

Diagnosing Skin Ulcers

To diagnose skin ulcers in cats, veterinarians will first perform a thorough physical exam to identify the location, size, and severity of any lesions. They will visually inspect the wound and may perform a skin scraping to look for parasites like mites under a microscope (Source).

If the cause is still unknown, the vet may recommend a biopsy to examine the skin cells. They will numb the area, remove a small sample of skin, and send it for analysis (Source). This can determine if ulcers are related to underlying diseases. Blood tests may also check for issues like kidney disease or diabetes that could contribute to skin problems.

With a thorough diagnostic workup, vets can identify the root cause of feline skin ulcers and plan the most effective treatment.

Treating the Underlying Cause

To properly treat a cat’s skin ulcer, it’s important to identify and address the underlying cause. Some common underlying causes and their treatments include:

Parasite Treatment

Parasites like fleas, mites, and ringworm fungus can cause skin irritation and ulcers in cats. Treatment involves medications to kill the parasites, such as flea and tick prevention applied topically or given orally, lime sulfur dips for ringworm, or medications like ivermectin for mites [1].

Allergy Treatment

Allergies to foods, plants, or other environmental allergens can trigger skin inflammation and ulcers. Treatment may involve identifying and avoiding allergy triggers, medications like antihistamines to control itching and inflammation, or allergen-specific immunotherapy [2].


For autoimmune skin diseases like pemphigus, medications that suppress the immune system like corticosteroids, cyclosporine, or azathioprine may be used to reduce inflammation and allow skin ulcers to heal.

Cancer Treatment

Skin cancer like squamous cell carcinoma is a potential cause of skin ulcers in cats. Depending on the type and stage of cancer, treatment may include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or immunotherapy drugs.

Wound Care

Taking care of the wound is important for allowing skin ulcers in cats to heal properly. Keeping the area clean is essential to prevent infection. The wound should be gently cleaned two to three times per day with a mild antiseptic solution like chlorhexidine or an isotonic saline solution (PetMD, 2022). Lightly pat dry after cleaning.

Preventing licking and biting is also important. Cats have the instinct to lick wounds, but this can disrupt healing. Licking can introduce more bacteria and cause more irritation. Place an Elizabethan collar on your cat to prevent licking and biting at the wound (VCAAH, 2022).

Your veterinarian may recommend covering the wound with a sterile, non-stick bandage. Make sure to check the bandage daily and change it if it becomes wet or dirty (Clireon, 2022). The bandage will need to be changed frequently to keep the wound clean.

Be very gentle when handling the wound area to avoid damaging fragile new skin. Follow your vet’s recommendations closely to properly care for the wound.


Some common medications vets may prescribe for cats with skin ulcers include:


Vets often prescribe antibiotics like amoxicillin to treat or prevent secondary bacterial infections associated with skin ulcers (Source). Topical antibiotic ointments or creams may also be recommended to apply directly to the wound area.


Anti-inflammatory medications like prednisone help reduce inflammation and pain caused by skin ulcers (Source). These drugs can make cats more comfortable as the ulcer heals.

Pain Medication

Pain medications like buprenorphine or NSAIDs are often prescribed to alleviate discomfort associated with skin ulcers in cats. Controlling pain is important for healing and your cat’s well-being.


In some cases, surgery may be required to treat skin ulcers in cats. The main surgical procedures used are debridement and skin grafts.

Debridement involves removing dead, damaged, or infected tissue from the wound bed and edges of the ulcer. This allows better healing by getting rid of non-viable tissue that can slow the healing process. Debridement may be performed manually with a scalpel or curette, through medical means like enzymatic debriding agents, or autolytically by allowing the wound to self-debride.[1]

Skin grafts involve taking a patch of healthy skin from another part of the cat’s body and transferring it over the wound bed to help heal the ulcer. There are several grafting techniques that may be used depending on factors like wound size, location, and depth. Common types of grafts include full-thickness skin grafts, split-thickness skin grafts, axial pattern flaps, and island pedicle flaps.[2]

The type of reconstructive surgery depends on the severity of the ulcer and whether there is adequate surrounding tissue for grafting. Surgery may significantly improve healing, especially for large or chronic ulcers.

Home Care

Home care is crucial for properly treating skin ulcers in cats. Be sure to closely follow all instructions provided by your veterinarian. Give your cat all prescribed medications exactly as directed, including antibiotics, anti-inflammatory drugs, and any topical ointments.[1]

Monitor the wound at home and keep the area clean. Use a soft, warm, damp cloth to gently clean around the ulcer once or twice per day. Avoid scrubbing or irritating the area. Check for signs of infection like increased redness, swelling, odor, and discharge. Contact your vet if you notice any changes or have concerns about how the ulcer is healing.

Prevent your cat from licking, scratching, or biting the wound by using an Elizabethan collar if necessary. Provide soft, clean bedding and keep your home calm to help your cat rest and recover. Follow any dietary recommendations from your vet, such as feeding wet food or a high-calorie diet to aid healing.

With proper home care under veterinary guidance, most minor skin ulcers will heal within 1-2 weeks. Monitor the lesion closely and do not hesitate to call your vet if you have any questions or the ulcer seems to worsen.


There are several steps cat owners can take to help prevent skin ulcers in cats:

  • Avoid trauma/injury – Keep cats indoors and supervise their play to avoid injuries. Trim nails regularly.
  • Control parasites – Use monthly flea and tick control products prescribed by your veterinarian. Treat for mange and ringworm if necessary.
  • Manage allergies – Identify and eliminate food allergies. Treat environmental and flea allergies as recommended by your veterinarian.

Keeping your cat’s skin healthy and avoiding trauma, parasites, and allergens can help prevent painful skin ulcers from developing. Check your cat’s skin regularly for any abnormalities. See your veterinarian if you notice signs of skin ulcers like sores or scabs that don’t heal. Early treatment can help prevent ulcers from worsening.


The prognosis for skin ulcers in cats depends heavily on the underlying cause that led to the ulceration. If the underlying condition can be identified and treated promptly, the prognosis is often good.

For example, if the ulcer is due to an autoimmune disease, parasitic infection, or other treatable illness, the skin ulcer will likely heal once that condition is resolved. However, ulcers related to chronic kidney disease may be more difficult to resolve.

Early treatment and keeping the wound clean, protected, and free from infection are key to a good prognosis. Left untreated, skin ulcers can worsen, spread, and lead to dangerous secondary infections. Cats who develop multiple recurring ulcers generally have a guarded prognosis.

Overall, identifying and addressing the root cause as soon as possible provides the best chance for the ulcer to heal fully. Even if an underlying cause cannot be found, keeping the wound properly cared for and free of infection is essential.

With prompt veterinary treatment and good at-home wound care, most cats can make a full recovery from skin ulcers.

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