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Thin fur and Overgrooming

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Q.    My 8-year-old black, shorthaired cat is in excellent health except for one problem.  The fur on her back legs and tummy is very noticeably thin, almost as though it has been shaved.  Like all cats she is constantly grooming which doesn’t give the fur a chance to grow back.  Can you help?

A.    Over grooming and hair loss in cats is a frequently encountered problem. 

The first thing that you must ensure is rigorous flea control using a product or products, recommended by your vet, that not only provide protection on the cat, but also in the environment.  Flea allergic dermatitis is the most common cause of this problem.  Due to the fastidious grooming habit of cats you are unlikely to find live fleas.  If after 3 months of control there is still a problem then further diagnoses must be considered. 

Skin scrapes can be done to ascertain if mites or lice are the problem.  If this proves negative then this leaves us with allergies as the most likely underlying problem.  These can be to food or to pollens and house dust mites (atopic dermatitis). 

A food trial - involving a protein source that the cat has previously not been exposed to should be fed for 6-8 weeks.  If it is a food allergy then the coat will improve, challenge with the old diet could lead to a regression and confirms definitively that the food is the cause. 

If there is still no improvement then atopy is then next for consideration.  A dermatology specialist will be able to do an intradermal skin test, which can reveal what is triggering the irritation.

If all these tests are negative, then we are left with a diagnosis of a psychological problem (stress, anxiety etc), which may respond to a Feliway diffuser - this is like a plug-in air freshener, but releases pheromones which settle the cat and is useful in a number of cases.

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