Stretchy, Saggy, Painful Skin in Cats

Feline cutaneous asthenia (FCA), also known as Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, is a condition that affects cats, characterized by a lack of collagen, a protein that provides strength and elasticity to the skin, ligaments, and other parts of the body. This genetic disorder results in stretchy and droopy skin and is often diagnosed through observation rather than skin and tissue samples.

The Impact of Collagen Deficiency

Collagen acts as the “glue” that holds the body together. When there is a deficiency of collagen, the body experiences abnormal collagen synthesis and fiber formation. Cats with feline cutaneous asthenia suffer from painful joint dislocation due to the instability of the ligament fibers that connect the bones. Normally, ligaments stretch with movement and return to their original form. However, without the necessary elasticity, they remain stretched, causing bones to pop out of their joints, leading to discomfort.

Moreover, the lack of collagen affects the structure of the skin. Without sufficient elasticity, the skin doesn’t retract when stretched away from the body, resulting in heavy drooping. This slack weakens the skin’s resilience, making it prone to injuries such as tearing, bruising, and scarring. Although this condition is rare and primarily diagnosed in young cats, it is crucial to identify its symptoms early on.

Recognizing Symptoms

Symptoms of cutaneous asthenia in cats typically include saggy and redundant folds of skin. The skin feels soft, delicate, and thin, lacking elasticity. It tears easily, leaving distinctive “fish mouth” wounds that bleed minimally but widen into scars over time. Cats may experience swelling under the skin of their elbows due to bone pressure when at rest. Bruising and bleeding (hematoma) can also occur under the skin throughout the body. Additionally, lacerations on the back and head are common, and internal bleeding can happen due to low collagen levels.

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Affected cats often display symptoms at around eight weeks of age. Even normal play with littermates can cause significant tears in the skin that heal quickly but leave lasting scars. Hernias have also been reported in cats with cutaneous asthenia. Certain breeds, including Domestic Shorthairs, Domestic Longhairs, and Himalayans, are more susceptible to this condition.

Genetic Causes

Feline cutaneous asthenia is primarily caused by a genetic mutation passed from parent to offspring. It can be either dominant, inherited from both parents without visible symptoms, or recessive, inherited from only one parent with no apparent signs. In either case, it is advised to prevent breeding with the parents of affected animals and their siblings.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Diagnosing cutaneous asthenia involves an examination of the skin’s extensibility. By measuring the extent to which the skin stretches, using the dorsal skin on the back, vets can determine the severity of the condition. The Skin Extensibility Index (SEI), calculated by dividing the stretched skin length by the length of the animal, should be higher than 19 percent for cats.

Unfortunately, there is no cure for this condition, and the prognosis is not favorable. Many pet owners choose to euthanize their cats due to the chronic pain and time spent treating chronic wounds. For those who decide to keep their pets, it is essential to ensure they are segregated from situations that may cause injury. Affected animals should be the only pet in the household or isolated from other pets to prevent unintentional injuries.

To minimize the risk of self-injury, declawing is recommended for affected cats. Avoid exposing them to potential sources of irritation, such as insects, pollen, or new foods that may trigger allergies. Neutering is crucial not only to prevent the passing of the mutated gene but also to prevent injuries during mating. Due to the inherent lack of collagen, affected cats cannot become pregnant.

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Living and Management

Promptly repairing any lacerations or cuts on the skin is essential to avoid the risk of infection. Keep antibiotics on hand, both oral and external, to treat your cat as needed. Some evidence suggests that Vitamin C can help improve the skin and is often recommended for managing this disease. However, consult with your veterinarian before administering any topical solutions to ensure your cat doesn’t have an allergic reaction.

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