Evaluate for Skin Disease before considering Behavioral Causes

Question:
My cat is pulling out her own fur several times a day- lots of it. She has bald patches now. She is 10 years old and had one other episode like this last summer that lasted 2 weeks and then stopped. She started this again a couple of weeks ago. Nothing has changed in the house. She seems fine otherwise.

Dr. Nichol:
Your poor kitty is suffering. Some over-grooming cats struggle with anxiety but research has shown that 85% of them have itchy skin. Behavioral signs may also be seen. Handling an uncomfortable cat can result in irritable or pain-related aggression.

There are multiple possible causes for self-mutilatory behavior in cats including airborne allergens, food sensitivity, mange, yeast, ringworm, as well as serious anxiety. I suspect seasonal allergies with your kitty. Her symptoms occurred this summer at about the same time as last year. Allergic itching usually becomes more intense with repeated exposures, leading to greater skin damage.

Often called feline hyperesthesia syndrome this problem can also manifest with rippling skin. A cat may suddenly jump up and dash across the room as though bitten by an invisible bug. She may appear occasionally uncomfortable but the reality is 24/7 crazy-making. Your cat needs to see her doctor ASAP.

Your veterinarian can do a microscopic evaluation of an impression smear and skin scraping. The damage caused by the rows of barbs on feline tongues leads to smoldering bacterial infection, making antibiotics necessary in most cases. Since mange mites can be difficult to find, suspicious skin can be treated with a spot-on called Revolution to rule it out. Antihistamines or a hypoallergenic diet trial may be in order. If your cat’s skin gets a clean bill of health she’ll need a behavioral evaluation.

Antianxiety medications like Clomicalm or fluoxetine can help but unraveling the environmental stressors will provide the greatest benefit. Households that are crowded with kitties who lack adequate feline-specific activities foster this kind of self-directed behavior. Be sure your cat can enjoy a life of climbing, perching, hiding, stalking, pouncing, and foraging.  My website, drjeffnichol.com, has a good list of Feline Environmental Enrichments. Your cat needs a healthy body image so she can feel empowered.