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Norwich Bulletin - 3/11/2007

Hair Loss

It seemed like it was just overnight and I had my dog Daisy and two of my cats, Dreamer and Skye, losing hair. All three were chewing and scratching at themselves constantly and any part of their body they could reach ended up pretty much hairless.

We knew that it was not an allergic reaction to food because we had not changed the diets for either our feline or canine companions, nor were there any environmental changes in our home or product use.

Daisy's body was a bright pink with hot spots all over her stomach and inner thighs, while the cats just had chunks of hair missing all over their body. And so began our journey to find out the cause of our pets' ailments. Were they simply overgrooming or was there another answer?

Sporadic baldness in cats and dogs can be physical or emotional. For many, the answer may lie in allergies, parasites or even an infection of some type. If all of these tests come out negative, then there is the challenging question of why this is happening.

Careful examination and questioning is necessary in order to determine if the hair is spontaneously falling out or if the animal is yanking it out on their own. Before you can figure out the treatment, you have to begin the painful process of figuring out the cause.

For Daisy the answer was easy. Dogo Argentinos are all white and have a tendency as they become older to develop an allergy to themselves. It is a type of immune deficiency that can be treated by certain medications. Sometimes it takes months for the dog to get better and there is no guarantee that it won't come back, but after quite a few false starts, Daisy started to improve.

Today she has all of her hair growth back and no ugly red splotches all over her skin. Being that she is over seven years old, chances are the skin condition will come back, but at least we will be prepared for it this time.

The cats were harder to confirm, even though I knew that it was all going to stem down to some type of stress related problem. But the normal course of tests would go something like this: is there any chance there could be fleas or parasites as the cause of the condition? Cats are commonly allergic to fleas. The allergies occur when fleas bite a cat's skin before drawing blood.

Even one bite on a cat who has flea allergies can cause a severe reaction, resulting in excessive licking and chewing at their skin. If fleas or flea dirt is found on the cat, the first thing to do would be to treat the cat with Revolution or Frontline to rid the cat of its fleas and help stop the itching with a steroid shot.

If there are no fleas, the next step would be food allergies. The tests are expensive and usually non conclusive so you can do one of two things. You can change foods and do a trial and error type thing or, like in my case, I knew that I had changed nothing in what I feed my cats for years so I eliminated the possibility of a food allergy without going through all of the tests.

Next step is allergies to dust or pollen, just like people. Should this be the case, there are shots available, just like humans. But in order for that to happen, you must be able to discover the exact cause which is not always easy.

Fungus is the worst offender of hair loss. Ringworm causes shudders in all petowners because it takes so long to get rid of and is very contagious. Since none of our other animals were affected by Dreamer or Skye, we ruled out fungus very quickly.

And so it comes down to stress. In our multicat house, stress can be a common factor. Grooming is a comfort behavior and 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. Dreamer was craving more attention and Skye was being cowed by the more aggressive cats in the household.

With the help of steroid shots to stop the itching and Mega-Tek to help with the regrowth of the hair, both cats started to improve. We are also making a conscious effort to change their home environment to eliminate the stress that causes the overgrooming. We have not succeeded with either cat at this time, but we will continue trying.

Of course sometimes the only answer is to rehome the cat into a less stressful environment. While we would hate that to be the answer, we will do what is best for both cats. Here's hoping we can work it all out.

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