Dr. John De Jong Sunday, January 6, 2013

Dear Dr. John,

I live with two cats that are 4 year-old sisters. They have been relatively healthy their entire lives except for bad teeth. My vet has done dental surgery on both and removed several rotting teeth in the past few years. Brushing their teeth is not an option, especially with one. I am writing because this same nervous cat is now beginning to lose hair on her legs and on her belly. I have tried to look up possible causes but cant seem to pinpoint what might be causing the hair loss. Should I take the cat to a dermatologist or might there be a simple solution? The cats never leave my apartment and I know they do not have fleas or other bugs on them. Hope you can help.  M.A.


Dear M.A.,

You need to rule out several possibilities before you take your cat in to see a veterinary dermatologist, and your veterinarian should be able to steer you in the right direction.

You note that they are apartment-dwelling cats and have no fleas or other ectoparasites, so the first possible cause can likely be eliminated.

Other primary causes would be hormonal disorders, fungal infections, allergies and stress. In the absence of other signs and if the cats are spayed, then hormonal changes are not likely. Fungal infection or ringworm also is not likely if they are strictly indoors and only one cat is affected. Allergies are possible and need to be ruled out.

You mentioned that one sister is a nervous cat. Nervous cats can lick or pull a lot of their hair out, sometimes to the point where they are almost bald all over! Does your cat seem to groom excessively or pull at her hair? Observe what she is doing and that may clue you and your veterinarian in as to the cause. If the skin is not raw, then at least she has not taken things too far.

If she is a nervous cat, determine if anything in her immediate environment has changed, such as noise in the building or construction, new guests, etc. If you find that this may be the cause, then once things return to her normal way of life, the condition may resolve. If not, anxiolytic medications may be needed. Glad to know they are otherwise healthy.

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