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Norwich Bulletin - 3/6/2005

A Loss Of Hair

All of a sudden one of my favorite little cats Diva, decided to chew all the hair off her legs, her sides and any other part of her body she could reach. She became an excessive groomer, and started looking like a cross between an Abyssinian and a Sphynx.

We brought her in for food and environmental allergy tests (which all came back inconclusive), and then spent over a year changing food, getting steroid shots and trying to get her back to normal. Nothing worked and our vets agreed that it was some sort of stress related alopecia. Diva did not get along with several of our bigger cats and we ended up placing her in a much quieter home with one of her kittens. She now has a full "head of hair" and is doing wonderfully.

Sporadic baldness in cats can be physical or emotional. For many cats, it may be caused by allergies, parasites or even an infection of some type. The answer to why a cat is overgrooming is definitely a challenge for a veterinarian to diagnose. Careful examination and questioning is necessary in order to determine if the hair is spontaneously falling out or if the cat is yanking it out. Before you can figure out the treatment, you have to begin the painful process of figuring out the cause.

Cats are commonly allergic to fleas, food and some airborne type parasites or substances. Flea allergies occur when fleas bite a cat's skin before drawing blood. If a cat has a flea allergy, even one bite can cause a severe reaction, resulting in excessive licking and chewing at their skin. If you find fleas or flea dirt on your cat, the first thing to do would be to treat the cat with something like Revolution or Frontline to rid the cat of its fleas.

If the cat is found to have no fleas, the next step would be to see if there was a food allergy. Severe itching around the head, neck, ears and face are all clues to a food allergy, as is over-grooming. You can spend a fortune in food tests (as we did) but the truth is most of the tests are considered unreliable for diagnosing food allergies.

The best way to eliminate or confirm food allergies is by using the trial by error method. Using a diet type food known to help cats who have food allergies for a period of eight weeks will result in significant improvement or no improvement at all. If the latter happens, you have basically ruled out a dietary allergy.

Now we also have cats that can be allergic to dust and pollen, just like people. This involves going to a veterinary dermatologist and following suggestions in testing either by blood or skin to see if your pet has a reaction to specific plants, dusts or mites. Successful treatment is only possible if the cause can be identified, and then, avoided. That isn't always possible. However, there are allergy shots, just like humans get - and that is probably the most appropriate long term control method for this type of allergy.

Another cause of hair loss is due to fungus, the worst offender being ringworm. This is the most common infectious skin disease in which the parasite invades the hair shafts, resulting in hair loss. Some cats react violently due to constant itching and some cats barely acknowledge they have anything wrong with them. Again, it is much like people. Ringworm is zoonotic, meaning it can be transmitted back and forth - human to cat or cat to human. Treatment involves topical, oral and/or environmental decontamination to be 100% effective.

And if after a year or so of trying to find out what is wrong with your pet and your cat still has hair loss, then you and your vet will begin to look at the anxiety or stress factors in the life of you and your cat. Grooming is a comfort behavior for a cat and it is often used as a method of relaxation. In a time of stress, the cat can turn to excessive grooming to try and ease their anxiety.

Have you moved recently or brought in a new cat that may be terrorizing your first cat? Did you bring a new husband or wife into the home or have a baby? First figure out what is different and work on changing the atmosphere in the home while the cat is receiving some type of injection to lessen the desire to scratch and/or its anxiety level. An important part of this type of treatment is to find the stressor and determine if it can be changed or if the cat can learn to accept the change.

In our case, we did not know that Diva would be unhappy in a multi cat environment until she was an adult. As hard as it was to let her leave our home, it was best for her peace of mind. Sometimes in order to do the right thing for your cat you need to make sacrifices that will bring you sadness. As much as we miss Diva, we were thrilled to get a recent photo of her with her rich, shiny, luxuriant fur all over her body!

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