Why cats go bald in places! OCD

Cats, as all owners know, are the rulers of the world!  They have a habit of implanting their wishes in to the minds of us owners, getting them to rearrange an entire house just for their personal convenience.  And don’t think that Veterinary Centre’s are immune to their charms.  Clients at Riverside will be well acquainted with our own feline ruler, Milo.  His pride of place is on top of the computer at reception which has had a specially constructed table made to accommodate those times when he deigns to languish there.  The things we do for our pets…

Not all cats though are as confident as Milo.  And for those with a more timid, nervous nature, these cats can develop a very real issue of self trauma in the form of over-grooming.  The reasons for this are difficult to determine.  It’s often felt that cat grooming is done not just keep clean but also as an act of self affirmation, a version of a comfort blanket.  This is especially so when they are stressed.  From here it’s not too great a leap to the point where a nervous cat will over-groom as the self comforting process goes in to overdrive. One other factor is when over grooming is induced by flea irritation.

How does the problem develop ?

Often those cats likely to be at risk from this type of behavioural self trauma will be the more nervy individuals.  These cats are much more likely to get bullied, or find small changes in their home more difficult to adjust to.  Add to this any additional problems such as flea bite irritation and the whole situation can quickly spiral out of control.

How would I know if my cat is over-grooming ?

For many owners it can come as quite a shock.  Out of nowhere their cat has developed bald patches, often symmetrical and affecting their cat’s back towards the base of the tail.  It can also affect the backs of the hind legs and belly region, and in some cases the insides of the front legs.  The problem is that cats can be very secretive about this over-grooming, making early detection difficult.

How can we cure it ?

That can be difficult.  It sometimes becomes more a case of managing a cat’s stressful situation.  What can start out as an exclusively behavioural problem has now developed in to a medical one due to the damage caused by the over-grooming.  Routine and regular de-flea treatment is undertaken, but that’s pretty much a case of shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted.  Without it though, all the other treatments may be compromised.  Anti-inflammatory medication is often implemented, to try and put the brakes on the skin irritation.  The introduction of micro-chip activated cat flaps, Feliway plug-in diffusers, and more recently, a simple, palatable food supplement that helps to de-stress nervous cats are also considered.  The key, as always, is to act as soon as hair loss becomes evident. By that stage a cat is already traumatised by something or things.  Helping to get to the bottom of it and return a cat to its normal fluffy self is often possible over a period of time.

© copywrite Dai Gittins MRCVS.