How JustAnswer Works:
  • Ask an Expert
    Experts are full of valuable knowledge and are ready to help with any question. Credentials confirmed by a Fortune 500 verification firm.
  • Get a Professional Answer
    Via email, text message, or notification as you wait on our site. Ask follow up questions if you need to.
  • 100% Satisfaction Guarantee
    Rate the answer you receive.
Ask Dr. B. Your Own Question
Dr. B.
Dr. B., Board Certified Veterinarian
Category: Vet
Satisfied Customers: 22616
Experience:  General practice veterinary surgeon with extensive experience in a wide range of species.
Type Your Vet Question Here...
Dr. B. is online now

We adopted a 6year old female cat from a local rehoming centre

This answer was rated:

We adopted a 6year old female cat from a local rehoming centre almost 6 months ago. She over-grooms her rear leg area and has large bald patches. Otherwise she has settled in well, seems happy in her new environment, eats well and is friendly and affectionate. Our vet checked her over for fleas, etc. and found no problems. He said to give her time to settle. It's been 6 months now and there's no sign of improvement. What do you suggest?

Hello & welcome, I am Dr. B, a licensed veterinarian and I would like to help you with your wee one today.

Can you tell me if Purvey was overgrooming (or bald from doing so) when you first took her on?

Do you see her grooming excessively?

Was the diet you put her on the same as what she had always had?

Customer: replied 3 years ago.
When we first took her on she didn't have the extensive bald patches that she has now. There were, however, large areas of patchy fur and we thought that perhaps she had had an operation at some time. It appears not and that she has probably had this problem before. We do see her grooming excessively and gently interrupt and try to distract her. If she is determined to do so, she creeps off to a quiet corner and carries on!
We don't have any info about her previous diet. We have tried her with lots of different foods and, of course, she likes all the expensive ones. We are currently feeding mostly dried food; a mix of iams, science plan and royal canin. Also one portion of wet food per day. She is eating well and we have no concerns in that respect. She also drinks water.

Thank you Denise,

Now as I am sure you can appreciate hair loss in cats can be due to a range of issues. If she isn't showing any change her skin then hopefully we can put bacterial, fungal, and parasitic (including fleas) lower on our list of concerns with her.

Now your further information has complicated Purvey’s situation a wee bit. It’s not a bad thing, but it does mean that you and I have more to consider. Specifically, the fact that you are seeing her excessively groom (like she must because something is bothering her) means that we cannot rule out potential allergies playing a role here. Allergies can literally be from anything she is in contact with. This includes allergens like food proteins, pollens (less likely if her signs are year round), laundry powders, and dust mites. Again we can see them react to literally anything, so we do need to be aware of this.

As well, besides allergies, we also have to consider stress over grooming for her. I do appreciate that you have a nice quiet household, which is likely perfect for her. That said this does still need to be a consideration since it is quite possible that after her previous (pre-living with you) life, she developed stress based over grooming as a coping mechanism. And if she did so then, it can become habitual, continue despite the lack of stressors, and may get to a point where she is psychogenically over grooming.

Now since we do have a range of issues to consider, I do want to divide them into sections to make it easier for you to read:

Diet:Just like people, cats can be sensitive to certain proteins in their diet. Often food (and environmental allergies) will appear as diffuse areas of itchiness since the protein in their food is distributed all over the body and affects the body as a whole. Since the irritation is diffuse, cats notoriously groom the easy to reach places (ie belly, back of their legs, tails, flank, etc).

Now I appreciate that she is on good quality food, but if one contains something she is sensitive (ie chicken or corn or soy, etc) to then she can still show these signs no matter the quality of the diet. Furthermore, I must note that with your mixture of so many different diets, it will be difficult to appreciate which one may be an issue here.

In these situations, we do find it beneficial to take some steps to see if we can pinpoint a dietary allergy that may be settling them off. Ruling out food allergies can take time and patience but can be done at home (your vet can be a good adviser on proceeding with this) via an elimination diet with one protein source. Ideally this should be one she hasn’t had before (so likely won’t be allergic to; ie duck, fish or lamb based foods) or a hypoallergenic diet like Hill’s Z/D (which might be specifically worth considering for Purvey). That said, since she has such a variety, you could consider starting your elimination diet but just feeding one of the above diets you are offering.

Now an elimination diet should be done for a 4-6 week period (unless adverse effects or she refuses the diet) to give time for the previous diet’s allergens to pass out of her system. As well, you want to make sure she is getting no treats or other bits, because these little tid bits (if they harbour the trigger allergen) can undo all your hard work of these trials.

Food trials are something you can do at home but do require patience and perseverance, because it does take time to figure out what the dietary trigger is (and there can be more then one). It can often be helpful to keep a diary to keep track of what you have tried. Your vet will be able to advise you of novel protein sources that would be appropriate for your kitty. And while food trials take patience, once you find what works, that is the biggest challenge, and management can be much easier.

Anti-histamines: Further to the diet, since you are seeing her grooming (as opposed to her being secretive and just doing so when no one is around as many stress groomers do), I would note that we can also try to rule out allergies via medical management. To do so, you could consider trying anti-histamines with her. These can help settle allergic skin reactions and decrease general itchiness and may just be enough to help give her some relief. There are a range on the market that can be used in cats but often we will use Benadryl (LINK). A low dose (ie. 0.25mg per pound of her body weight twice daily) can just be enough to break that itchiness cycle, and give her skin the chance in needs to settle. We like to keep the dose low in kitties, as they can have drowsiness with this medication (just like people). And of course, this medication shouldn't be used if your lass has any pre-existing conditions or are on any other medication without speaking to your vet

Stress: Now with potential allergy bases addressed, we do have to consider the stress induced side of overgrooming. As I noted, even if life is bliss now, it is possible that Purvey is overgrooming due to habit with psychogenic overgrooming (which is not unlike people that chew their nails despite trying not to). These kitties can be difficult to settle, so it is worth ruling out the above first before tacklind this side of the overgrooming challenge.

Just to give you some more information on overgrooming due to stress and long term management, I do want to direct you to this (article). It is quite a nice wee read and does have some good tips for home based treatment. Otherwise, you may also find that using de-stressing treatments can help her reduce or potentially settle this behavior. Treatment options include Feliway, also known as Comfort Zone in the US pet stores, which is a synthetic cat pheromone that helps to relieve stress. This can be used as a spray or a plug-in diffuser. There is also a diet on the market called Calm by Royal Canin. This contains a number of supplements that have been found to provide stress relief to cats. As well, there are nutritional supplements like Kalmaid (LINK) or Zylkene , that we often use to soothe anxious cats Some people have even found treats like Composure (LINK) or Bach Flower Remedy (LINK) to be helpful for settling kitty tension. And as these are not 'drugs', you can use any of these together to help settle her anxiety and reduce her need to overgroom.

Overall, her signs do raise a few suspicions here. Therefore, I would consider ruling out allergies (via diet trial +/- antihistamines) to start. If addressing that angle doesn't deter her behavior, then we'd need to consider stress based overgrooming. And in that case, we'd want to try the above steps to see if we can help her cope and reduce her behavior. If you do so and she doesn't settle, then we may need to speak to her vet about medications that can be used to ease her drive to overgroom. This all said, hopefully that won't be necessary for her and the above steps I have outlined will just help you settle her need to ovegroom.

I hope this information is helpful.

If you need any additional information, do not hesitate to ask!

All the best,

Dr. B.


If you have any other questions, please ask me – I’ll be happy to respond. Please remember to rate my service once you have all the information you need. Thank you and hope to see you again soon! : )

Dr. B. and 2 other Vet Specialists are ready to help you