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Why Are My Cat’s Nipples Scabby? Vet Answer

Dr. Kim Podlecki, DVM (Vet)

By Dr. Kim Podlecki, DVM (Vet)

pregnant cat nipples

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Dr. Kim Podlecki

DVM (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Contrary to what some people believe, both male and female cats have nipples. A general rule of thumb is that cats will have a total of eight nipples (though mild variations do occur). Typically they will have two mammary chains, or one nipple on each side of the body, that runs the length of the underside of the chest and abdomen. However, cats can sometimes have unpaired nipples.

You may notice that one or multiple of your cat’s nipples have scabs on them. It could be a skin infection or something more serious. Continue reading to learn more about five possible reasons why your cat may have scabby nipples.

Why Are My Cat’s Nipples Scabby?

1. Skin Infection, Otherwise Known as Pyoderma

What is it: Pyoderma, or a skin infection, can appear in many different ways. Sometimes, you may notice small pimples, or pustules on your cat’s skin. Other times, your cat may have large areas of crusting, flaking skin and/or areas of moist, ulcerated skin.

Pyoderma is extremely itchy. Because of this, your cat will want to lick, chew, and bite at the areas that bother them—further spreading the infection. If your cat has any type of skin infection around its nipples, it may cause scabs to occur in areas where they are licking, chewing, and/or biting at themselves.

When to go to the vet:
  • Not only do skin infections need to be treated with appropriate antibiotics, but the underlying cause of your cat’s itchiness also needs to be addressed. Because of this, you should always seek veterinary care if you are concerned your cat’s nipples are scabby from an infection.

Note: You should never give antibiotics without first consulting with your veterinarian about the appropriate medication and dose. Antibiotic creams, salves, and ointments are not recommended as they may be toxic to your cat if they lick them off.

vet holding a senior cat
Image Credit: Alice Rodnova, Shutterstock

2. Inverted Nipple

What is it: Nipples are typically pointed outwards. Sometimes, one or multiple nipples will become inverted, or point inwards. When this occurs, scabs, infection, debris, and dead skin cells can develop within the area of the inverted nipple. This is a common occurrence with overweight and/or obese cats.

When to go to the vet:
  • If your cat will allow it, you can take a plain, unscented baby wipe and gently clean out the debris and scabs from the inverted nipple area. As long as this area is not swollen, red, painful, or grossly infected, you likely don’t have to bring your cat to the vet. However, if you are concerned because this area is painful, red, swollen, has discharge and/or an odor, you should seek veterinary care. You may be able to send your veterinarian’s office a picture of the inverted nipple for them to determine if your cat should be seen or not.

3. Mammary Cancer

What is it: Mammary cancer is exactly what it sounds like—cancer of the mammary glands. These cancers can occur in both male and female cats. However, more than 95% of mammary cancer is diagnosed in female cats with the majority being found in intact, or unspayed, females. You may start to notice scabbing, ulceration, pain, swelling and drainage of the affected nipples and mammary glands.

When to go to the vet:
  •  If, at any time in your cat’s life, you feel a small bb-sized mass associated with a nipple, or notice a swelling associated with any of their nipples or mammary glands, you should seek veterinary care as soon as possible. Your veterinarian will likely recommend sampling of the mass(es) to determine if they are cancerous or not. When in doubt, always seek veterinary council, as mammary tumors can be extremely aggressive and treatment options limited once spread has occurred.
a black cat with swollen nipples is sleeping on concrete floor of a building
Image Credit: WKanadpon, Shutterstock

4. Mastitis

What is it: Mastitis is inflammation and infection of one or multiple mammary glands. It’s most commonly found in cats who are actively nursing, or who have just finished weaning their kittens. Sometimes, it’s only one mammary gland affected, while at other times, it can involve multiple mammary glands.

The infection will cause severe, firm, painful swelling of the mammary gland and associated nipple. The gland and nipple may break open or become ulcerated, and the associated discharge can cause scabbing of the nipple.

When to go to the vet:
  •  If your cat is actively nursing kittens, or has just finished weaning her kittens, and you notice painful, red, scabby nipples, seek veterinary care as soon as possible. Kittens will need to discontinue nursing immediately, as they may ingest the bacteria in mom’s milk and become severely sick.

Mama cat will need to be started on aggressive antibiotics, and oftentimes, her mammary glands need to have the infection milked out. Without appropriate antibiotics, your cat will likely suffer from septicemia, or bacterial infection in the blood, and eventually pass from this.

5. Wound &/or Nipple Irritation

What is it: Your cat may suffer a wound near or involving one or multiple nipples. This is more common in cats who go outdoors, live with other cats in the house, or who are overweight. Overweight cats will more frequently drag their underside areas of their body along the ground. When they go to jump up or onto something, they may hit or scrape a nipple on their way up, causing scabbing.

When to go to the vet:
  •  If your cat has a wound and/or irritation that is actually a laceration, or a gash through the skin, you should see a vet. If the wound is painful, red, swollen, bruised, and/or has discharge, you should see a vet. If your cat is just suffering mild irritation or an abrasion to the nipple, you can monitor it at home and make sure it heals.

Related Read: Scabs on a Cat

cat at vet with owner and veternarian
Image Credit: 4 PM production, Shutterstock


Both female and male cats have nipples. This is important to remember because that means that both boy and girl cats can get scabby nipples.

Five common reasons your cat may have scabby nipples are an infection, an inverted nipple, mammary cancer, mastitis, and a wound. How severe your cat is affected and what the cause of the scabby nipple is will determine if and when you should take your cat to the veterinarian.

Featured Image Credit: Bill Roque, Shutterstock

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