My 10-year-old cat, who we have had for nine years, started licking off her fur on her back legs and stomach a year ago. Her fur is very thick and medium length; she chokes on all the fur she is swallowing. She is an indoor cat and our only pet. There have been no changes in the household. Could this behavior be caused by boredom and/or loneliness? Any other ideas?
This is a great question. There are several causes of over-grooming in cats. Our first goal when we see a cat pulling out her hair is to make sure there is not an underlying medical condition. Potential causes include a skin infection, food or environmental allergies, flea allergy, etc. One common misconception is that indoor cats cannot get fleas. We have seen many indoor cats who are exposed to fleas, and if your cat is allergic, it only takes one bite to cause severe skin irritation. A visit to your veterinarian is recommended.
If underlying medical causes are ruled out, your veterinarian will also discuss potential behavioral causes, such as boredom or anxiety. Finding some toys your cat likes or a cat tree can help to keep her busy and give her some mental stimulation when you are not home. There are also some over-the-counter products made to help calm your cat. The most common of these is "Feliway," a pheromone product that comes in several different forms (spray, plug-in diffuser). In some severe cases, anti-anxiety medications are indicated.
This week's expert is Dr. Laural Casler, Eastern Animal Hospital, Baltimore. Send your questions to email@example.com.