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Ask Dr. Michael Salkin Your Own Question

Dr. Michael Salkin
Dr. Michael Salkin, Veterinarian
Category: Cat
Satisfied Customers: 27443
Experience:  University of California at Davis graduate veterinarian with 44 years of experience.
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My 10 year old female cat Tiggs has been over grooming

Customer Question

Hi,
My 10 year old female cat Tiggs has been over grooming on her belly, back legs and tail for over a year. She has been to various different vets that couldn't find any reason for her over grooming and put it down to a psychological issue. I haven't had any treatment for her, I have tried feliway sprays, room diffusers but nothing has helped. Is there anything I can do to help her?
Thanks,
Sophie
Submitted: 1 year ago.
Category: Cat
Expert:  Dr. Michael Salkin replied 1 year ago.
Aloha! You're speaking with Dr. Michael Salkin
I'm sorry that your question wasn't answered in a timely manner. Feline psychogenic alopecia is overdiagnosed but does exist. Excessive and out-of-context grooming is thought to be an obsessive-compulsive behavior that's triggered by environmental stresses and anxiety. The condition is uncommon in cats, with purebred cats that have high-strung nervous temperaments being possibly predisposed.
Alopecia may occur anywhere on the body where the cat can lick but it most commonly involves the medial forelegs, inner thighs, perineum, and ventral abdomen. Hair loss is often bilaterally symmetrical but remaining hairs don't epilate easily. The top differential diagnoses are flea allergy dermatitis, food allergy, dermatophytosis (fungal infection), other ectoparasites (mange) and atopy (allergies to environmental allergens such as pollens, molds, dust, and dust mites, etc.).
The underlying cause of the psychological stress (e.g., separation from owner, moved to a new house, animal companion died, new pet in household, formerly outdoor cat denied access to outdoors) must be identified and appropriate environmental modifications made, if possible. A good flea control program should be instituted to prevent fleas from aggravating the symptoms. Use of a mechanical barrier (e.g. Elizabethan collar, T-shirt) for 1-2 months to prevent grooming may help break the habit. Behavior-modifying drugs may help stop the abnormal grooming behavior. In some cases, treatment may be discontinued after 30-60 days of therapy; in others, lifelong therapy is required for control. Drugs that may be effective include the following: amitriptyline, clomipramine, buspirone, phenobarbital, diazepam, and naloxone.
Food intolerance/allergy is addressed with prescription hypoallergenic diets. These special foods contain just one novel (rabbit, duck, e.g.) animal protein or proteins that have been chemically altered (hydrolyzed) to the point that Tiggs's immune system doesn't "see" anything to be allergic to. The over the counter hypoallergenic foods too often contain proteins not listed on the label - soy is a common one - and these proteins would confound our evaluation of the efficacy of the hypoallergenic diet. The prescription foods are available from her vet. There are many novel protein foods and a prototypical hydrolyzed protein food is Hill’s Prescription Diet z/d ultra (my preference). A positive response is usually seen within a few weeks if we’ve eliminated the offending food allergen. Food intolerance can arise at any age and even after our patient has been eating the same food for quite some time.
Atopy is usually corticosteroid (prednisolone, e.g.) responsive as is a flea saliva allergy.
Please respond with further questions or concerns if you wish.
Customer: replied 1 year ago.

Hi thank you,

She definitely doesn't have fleas and we don't think she is stressed as nothing has changed in her routine.

Where she over grooms the hair is stubbly, do you think it is still possible that may be alopecia is causing it?

I will try changing her food also, to see if it's an allergy.

Thank you,

Sophie

Expert:  Dr. Michael Salkin replied 1 year ago.
You're welcome, Sophie. The fact that stubbly hair remains doesn't rule out an obsessive-compulsive behavior. In other words, a cat doesn't need to over-groom to the point of alopecia for that diagnosis to be considered. The affected areas are pathognomonic (particularly indicative) of a psychogenic etiology but confirmation of that disorder is difficult without our seeing a positive response to a psychotherapeutic drug.
I like the idea of seeing if a presumptively hypoallergenic diet will be helpful. Please continue our conversation if you wish.
Dr. Michael Salkin, Veterinarian
Category: Cat
Satisfied Customers: 27443
Experience: University of California at Davis graduate veterinarian with 44 years of experience.
Dr. Michael Salkin and other Cat Specialists are ready to help you
Expert:  Dr. Michael Salkin replied 1 year ago.
Thank you for your kind accept. I appreciate it.
I'm going to check back with you in a few weeks for an update. Feel free to return to our conversation - even after rating - prior to my contacting you if you wish.
Please disregard the info request.

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