Each week, Dr. Patrick Tate, chief of the veterinary staff and a general practitioner at , answers reader questions about pets. This week's question comes from ,Kirkwood Patch editor.
Question: We have a 5-year-old cat who recently started pulling out his fur. He's done this in the past, but not as severely as he is now. What causes cats to do this and how should the condition be treated?
Answer: It is not uncommon to see cats with self-inflicted hair loss. Generally speaking, "hair pulling" in cats is caused by a medical or behavioral problem. Both issues have numerous subcategories ranging from stressful situations to skin parasites, allergies, infections and more. A thorough medical history and physical examination along with some basic diagnostic tests (skin scrapes, blood tests and possible skin biopsy) can help to accurately diagnose the problem. With this information, we can usually implement a successful plan for resolving, or at least minimizing, the hair loss.
In this particular cat’s case—and with past history in mind—I would first take a close look at the skin for evidence of inflammation. If inflammation is present, I would look for the medical reason (e.g., fleas, skin mites, food or environmental allergy) and treat it appropriately.
If the skin appears normal, I would discuss possible sources of psychological stress for this kitty (e.g., recent move, new pet in house, neighborhood cats). I would also check for metabolic illnesses like hyperthyroidism and diabetes—both are known to cause anxiety in cats. Based on this information, I would then develop a plan to correct the underlying cause of stress. Often, anti-anxiety medications and/or feline behavioral modification are helpful.
Hopefully, these steps would resolve the "hair-pulling" problem.