2001-Tue Mar 28 23:21:34 EDT 2017
Vetstreet. All rights reserved. Powered by Brightspot.
Vetstreet does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. See Additional Information ›
For most cats, grooming is near the top of their daily to-do list. In fact, cats generally spend about 30 to 50 percentof their waking hours preening themselves. But some cats may take grooming too far, yanking entire tufts of hair out or literally licking themselves bald in spots.
Because some cats are “closet groomers,” you may not even witness your cat in the act. Instead, you may find clumps of hair on the carpet and upholstery, alopecia (patches of hairless skin) or an uptick in hair balls when your cat attempts to swallow the evidence.
Though it might be tempting to write the behavior off as a strange neurosis, that’s rarely the case. “Most cats who pull their hair out have a medical reason,” Dr. Valerie Fadok, a board-certified dermatologist at North Houston Veterinary Specialists in Spring, Texas, says. “Behavioral problems are much less common.”
So what would cause a cat to pluck out her own coat? “Overgrooming in cats is usually a sign of itch,” Dr. Fadok says. An itchy cat may respond by scratching, but in other cats, itchiness can manifest as hair pulling and licking.
Pinpointing the cause of the itch, however, can be a challenge. Most veterinarians start by performing a physical examination, which includes looking for external parasites, such as fleas, mites or lice. Sometimes specific tests, such as a skin scraping, may be recommended to check for some of these parasites. In cats with a flea allergy, exposure to saliva from even a single fleabite can result in excruciating itchiness.
Because many cats are fastidious groomers, it’s relatively common for them to ingest all the fleas on them and the flea dirt. So even if you can’t find any evidence of an infestation (and, yes, even indoor cats can get fleas), your veterinarian may recommend a trial with a parasite control product. If the signs disappear, parasites are presumed to be the most likely culprit.
Underlying bacterial or fungal infections in the skin can also cause itching. Your veterinarian may perform skin cytology (looking at cells under a microscope) and cultures, and treat as needed.
Finally, allergies to environmental elements, such as dust mites, pollen and mold, or in other cases, food allergies, can lead to itchiness. Your veterinarian may recommend allergy testing to pinpoint the cause of environmental allergies or a food trial with a limited-protein diet or a hydrolyzed protein diet, in which the protein is broken down into pieces too small to be recognized by the immune system (so it’s less likely to trigger an immune reaction).
Like this article? Have a point of view to share? Let us know!
Take our breed quiz to find your next pet.
Get all the best pet news and information sent right to your inbox!
Thank you for subscribing!
Bartonella is a type bacteria that can be transmitted to cats, dogs and humans from exposure to infected fleas and…
Want to give your pup yummy, low-calorie treats? We’ve got the skinny on which foods are OK to feed him.
Not sure about food puzzles? Our veterinarian reveals why the payoff for your pet is well worth any extra work.
With these simple dental care tips, you can help keep your canine’s adorable smile shiny and healthy for life.
The friendly and inquisitive LaPerm has an easy-care coat that comes in a variety of colors and patterns.
Check out our collection of more than 250 videos about pet training, animal behavior, dog and cat breeds and more.
Wonder which dog or cat best fits your lifestyle? Our new tool will narrow down more than 300 breeds for you.
If the video doesn't start playing momentarily,
please install the latest version of Flash.
Thank you for subscribing.