My 4-year old female cat is well on her way to licking her belly raw. Most of the fur is gone and now a small sore spot has developed. Why does she do this? She seems perfectly happy, active and she eats well. Her skin isn’t scaly and there is no rash. How can I get her to stop this practice before it gets worse?
San Francisco, CA
I suspect your cat is suffering from a syndrome called psychogenic alopecia. This is another way of saying psychological balding due to over grooming. Baldness usually starts on the abdomen and then works its way up the backs of the thighs and then up the top of the trunk.
Psychogenic alopecia is believed to be related to obsessive compulsive disorder and trichotillomania in people. Stress and boredom can trigger psychogenic alopecia. However, stress and boredom don’t cause the problem: psychogenic alopecia is an inherent medical or behavioral concern for certain individuals.
Like many psychological problems, psychogenic alopecia can be difficult to treat. Some cats appear to engage in excessive grooming as an over reaction to fleas, so I generally recommend regular use of a good flea preventative as a first step in treatment.
Increased enrichment in your cat’s daily routine also can help with the problem. Try to spend some time encouraging her to engage in active play. If she is tired from chasing a laser pointer spot or a feather on a string she may be too worn out to over groom herself. You also can mix up feeding routines by offering food in a device that releases it slowly as she plays. And don’t forget to set aside plenty of time for good old fashioned love and affection!
Medications such as Prozac sometimes are prescribed for the problem. I recommend medication as a last resort only.
Finally, you should have your vet evaluate her to confirm the diagnosis. Some other conditions, such as bladder infections or ringworm can cause over grooming or hair loss with scabs on the abdomen.
Photo: Cassie’s thin hair may be naturally occurring rather than self-inflicted.