The Stress of Crowding can cause Overgrooming
Just before Thanksgiving I got a call from Mia, the concerned owner of an 11 year old Tonkinese cat named Woody (not their real names). A couple of months previously Woody began pulling out the hair on his rear legs, the sides of his abdomen and, more recently, his front legs too.
For years Woody and Mia had shared their home relatively peacefully with two other cats but the self mutilation started when a stray kitten was temporarily adopted. Neither of the other cats was licking obsessively but one of them frequently launched himself at the French door whenever a neighbor cat dropped by the house to stir the political pot.
Many indoor cats seem to enjoy hanging with their homies but the reality of feline social behavior is solitude with only occasional breaks to chat around the water cooler. A retiring sort by nature Woody was barely keeping his head together sharing living space with two other cats (one of whom was providing home security as a self appointed feline cruise missile). When Mia added the homeless waif to the mix Woody acted out (wigged out) by compulsively licking and pulling out his hair.
Cats who over-groom to the point of baldness are commonly diagnosed with feline psychogenic alopecia. It fits cats like Woody but not those with physical problems like food, inhaled, or contact allergies. Fungal infections, skin parasites, or combinations of any of the above are the real cause in some cases. Treating a physically ill and itchy cat with behavior medications won’t help. Skin scrapings, allergy testing, and treatments for mange along with hypoallergenic diet trials are appropriate first steps for many cats with bald patches.
It turned out that while the root cause of Woody’s self mutilation was behavioral his old joints were making it harder for him to escape the rambunctiousness of his young and restless roommates. Meloxicam and a chewable glucosamine/chondroitin supplement improved his comfort level and his mobility. Adding fluoxetine, as an antianxiety, relaxed him enough to leave his fur alone. A bit of daily solitude plus interactive play with his owner also helped readjust Woody’s attitude. Now he looks and feels as good as he ever has. His appearance is no longer a source of embarrassment, but the militant antics of his hot head roommate will always offend his peaceful nature.