Alopecia in cats, as in humans, is the loss of hair leading to balding.
The most common type is endocrine alopecia, which occurs mostly in older females that have been spayed or males that have been neutered. Vets have long thought that this condition was caused by an imbalance of hormones, but in many cases hormone levels are found to be normal.
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You may notice that the hair loss occur in symmetrical patterns towards the rear end of the cat and only in severe cases is the rest of the body affected. The hair may grow back and be lost again, but there is no problem with itching.
This type of alopecia is considered to be a cosmetic problem and hormone treatment is not recommended because of the risk of serious side effects which may include toxicity of liver and bone marrow.
However, many cats with alopecia could have an underlying skin disorder, such as fleas, flea bite hypersensitivity, inhalant allergies, food allergies, parasites, infections, or dysfunction of the internal organs or endocrine system.
If the problem can’t be eradicated easily it is possible that the vet may recommend a trial period with steroids or even a food trial.
Psychogenic alopecia which is normally caused by over grooming is often a response to stress. There are numerous causes of stress, but perhaps the most common are…
- the introduction of a new pet,
- new baby,
- moving house,
- something as simple as moving furniture or making other changes in the home.
Some breeds such as Siamese, Burmese, Himalayans, and Abyssinians are often predisposed to psychogenic alopecia.
Over-grooming or excessive licking may result in the pulling out of tufts of hair. Vets may diagnose psychogenic alopecia as a compulsive disorder and is often diagnosed when no other underlying medical problem is evident.
This type of grooming may begin as a response to unpleasant experiences, anxiety, or frustration and possibly, over time, become compulsive. So how should a cat owner deal with this kind of compulsive behavior?
Increasing the number of play sessions we have with our cat and making her environment more stimulating will help to keep your cat calm, settled, and occupied. Play toys that contain treats like catnip will naturally extend play sessions; also a variety of cardboard boxes and paper bags will add interest to her surroundings.
By adding more regular play sessions, your cat will become relaxed and less likely to chew or over-groom. Try to discover the cause of the anxiety and then implement procedures to resolve the problem.
If all else fails, consult your vet who may be able to prescribe antihistamines or anxiolytic drugs. For compulsive disorders, serotonin reuptake inhibitors such as clomipramine or fluoxetine may assist the problem.