Why Does My Cat… Pull Her Hair Out?

Potentially, a Sign of Pain

Occasionally, cats may overgroom in particular places where they may feel pain. For example, a cat with cystitis, an inflammation of the bladder, may focus her grooming attention on her abdomen. Another cat with an anal gland infection may groom excessively in that area (under the tail). Or an arthritic cat may lick the fur off areas around painful joints.

Compulsive Behavior

Less commonly, cats with a condition called psychogenic alopecia may pluck out their hair and groom to excess because of a behavioral issue. Often, the problem is triggered by stress or anxiety brought on by changes in the cat’s environment, such as a new baby, workmen in the house, other cats exploring the yard or even boredom. For these cats, grooming may be a comforting way to help relieve stress.

But behavior is rarely the main cause of hair pulling. In fact, a study examined 21 cats who had been tentatively diagnosed with psychogenic alopecia. Of those cats, the vast majority — 76 percent — were actually found to have an underlying medical condition causing itchiness, while only two cats, or 9.5 percent, truly had a behavioral problem. “Because compulsive behavior is less common,” Dr. Fadok says, “a medical workup is critical.”

A Positive Outcome

Once underlying medical or behavioral problems are identified and addressed, hopefully, your cat will spend less time grooming and have more time for that other favorite feline pastime: napping.

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