Overgrooming – or, My Cat is Licking Itself Bald!

May 9, 2013 by     No Comments    Posted under: Tips & Advice

Almost every day I examine a cat that has areas of hair loss. Sometimes people think that their cat’s hair is falling out. Sometimes people see the cat licking itself or find clumps of hair on the floor. What causes hair loss in cats?

The most common cause is allergies. Cat allergies usually cause itchy skin. Allergic cats can also sneeze or wheeze or have ear infections or diarrhea as well. Cats lick at their itchy skin and because of their raspy tongues are able to break off their fur. This leaves a little stubble on the skin, and often the skin itself is a little pinker than normal. Some cats are “closet lickers” and only overgroom when no one is around.

What can cats be allergic to? The same types of things that bother us – pollens, dust mites, and foods. In particular, cats react to flea bites. When fleas bite, they inject their saliva to keep the blood from clotting. The cat becomes allergic to the saliva and just one bite can make the cat itch to the point of licking or plucking their fur. Many times we can’t even find the fleas because the cat licks so much it swallows the flea (which can transmit tapeworms, another topic).

What do we do to treat allergies in cats? Ideally we allergy test and use desensitizing injections or oral drops. Sometimes we use antihistamines, fatty acid supplements, or hypoallergenic foods. We will almost always use a broad spectrum flea and mite product as well. In severe cases, we will need to use injectable or oral steroids. We now have another medication called cyclosporine, which can also help control itching and overgrooming with fewer potential side effects. There are some anti-anxiety medications that reduce itching as well. In years past we used to think that stress caused overgrooming, but now we know that most of the time the stress is aggravating the allergic disease and making the overgrooming worse.

Other things that can cause hair loss in cats are Demodex mites, fungal infections, and occasionally hormonal problems or cancers. So if your cat’s coat has lost its normal luster or has patches of hair loss it is time for your cat to see your veterinarian!

Dr Tammy Sadek

Dr Tammy Sadek is board certified in Feline Practice by the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners. Dr Sadek graduated at the top of her veterinary class at the University Of Minnesota College Of Veterinary Medicine. She has practiced feline medicine and surgery for over 25 years. Dr Sadek is the owner and founder of two cat hospitals in the Grand Rapids, MI area, the Kentwood Cat Clinic and the Cat Clinic North.

In addition to her cat hospitals, Dr Sadek hosts a website www.litterboxguru.com dedicated to helping cat owners prevent and correct litter box issues along with other behavioral issues with their pets.

Dr Sadek is the author of several chapters in the book Feline Internal Medicine Secrets. Her professional interests include senior cat care, internal medicine, feline behavior, and dermatology.

Dr Sadek is currently owned by 5 cats. In addition to caring for all her feline friends, Dr Sadek enjoys traveling, jewelry making, reading fantasy and science fiction, and gardening. She lives in Grand Rapids with her husband and two soon to fledge children.

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