Ask a Vet: My Cat's Licking All Her Hair Off!


Welcome to our weekly 'Ask a Vet from the SF SPCA' feature on Dr. Jeannine Berger, DVM, DACVB is a board certified veterinary behaviorist who counsels guardians whose pets’ issues are beyond the scope of training. Think of her as a pet shrink…at your service. Ask your own questions in the comments!

Q: My cat has licked all the hair off the places she can reach - tail, back legs, belly, etc. Over the months that it escalated we moved, she started getting to go outside, we got a second cat who tortures her, and she was put on a strict diet. Why is she going crazy with the licking?

A: It’s called psychogenic alopecia – it is a behavior of excessive grooming, which usually occurs in specific areas such as you are describing: Abdomen, flanks, hind and front legs. It can be an anxiety related or a compulsive disorder. However the diagnosis of psychogenic alopecia is one that is made after all medical reasons for this disorder have been ruled out. Your cat could have a simple problem such as fleas or flea allergy dermatitis. You might not see a flea on your cat and she might still suffer from this form of allergy – this is likely if your cat is not on a flea preventative while she's going outside. Other allergies such as environmental or food allergies also need to be ruled out first. I recommend having your cat seen by a veterinarian to rule out anything medical first. If frustration due stressful social interactions with your other cat are contributing to the problem, you could temporally separate the cats and give your first cat a calm routine to see if this makes any difference.

Whatever you determine to be the cause of the problem, your cat will be grateful that you are looking for a solution!

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