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Ask Dr. Michael Salkin Your Own Question
Dr. Michael Salkin
Dr. Michael Salkin, Veterinarian
Category: Cat Veterinary
Satisfied Customers: 30418
Experience:  University of California at Davis graduate veterinarian with 45 years of experience.
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My boyfriends cat has anxiety issues and keeps licking

Customer Question

My boyfriends cat has anxiety issues and keeps licking herself to the point where she has many open wounds and still continues to lick. They've tried everything, a cone makes her very depressed and she won't eat or move. They've tried sweaters and a thunder shirt and comfort zone a product for multiple cat homes. One of his other cats does not get along with the anxious cat so the other cat is kept in a separate room, but she still over grooms and vomits up hairballs three or four times a week. He would like to avoid kitty sedatives or anti-depressants. It seems like all other options have been exhausted, any advice?
Submitted: 2 months ago.
Category: Cat Veterinary
Expert:  Dr. Michael Salkin replied 2 months ago.

You're speaking with Dr. Michael Salkin. Welcome to JustAnswer. I'm currently typing up my reply. Please be patient. This may take a few minutes.

Expert:  Dr. Michael Salkin replied 2 months ago.

I'm sorry that your question wasn't answered in a timely manner. Feline psychogenic alopecia is overdiagnosed but does exist. Excessive and out-of-context grooming is thought to be an obsessive-compulsive behavior that's triggered by environmental stresses and anxiety. The condition is uncommon in cats, with purebred cats that have high-strung nervous temperaments being possibly predisposed. Flea hypersensitivity, food allergy, atopy, and other ectoparasites are more common causes of feline alopecia. It's essential that a vet investigate for these allergic dermatises before deciding that feline psychogenic alopecia is the only reason for this cat's behavior.

The alopecia of feline psychogenic alopecia may occur anywhere on the body where the cat can lick but it most commonly involves the medial forelegs, inner thighs, perineum, and ventral abdomen. Hair loss is often bilaterally symmetrical but remaining hairs don't epilate easily.

The underlying cause of the psychological stress (e.g., separation from owner, moved to a new house, animal companion died, new pet in household, formerly outdoor cat denied access to outdoors) must be identified and appropriate environmental modifications made, if possible. A good flea control program should be instituted to prevent fleas from aggravating the symptoms. Use of a mechanical barrier (e.g. Elizabethan collar, T-shirt) for 1-2 months to prevent grooming may help break the habit. Behavior-modifying drugs may help stop the abnormal grooming behavior. In some cases, treatment may be discontinued after 30-60 days of therapy; in others, lifelong therapy is required for control. Drugs that may be effective include the following: amitriptyline, clomipramine, buspirone, phenobarbital, diazepam, and naloxone.

Please respond with further questions or concerns if you wish.

Customer: replied 2 months ago.
Apparently the vet didn't find anything else wrong with her so it was diagnosed as an anxiety disorder. She's a Maine coon cat around 10 years of age, and the behavior started after being moved numerous times to different homes and more severely after her owner brought home two other cats he was forced to take in/
Expert:  Dr. Michael Salkin replied 2 months ago.

Thank you for the additional information. To rule out a medical condition, the vet might prescribe a presumptively hypoallergenic diet or, instead, perform a trial of a glucocorticoid (steroid) such as prednisolone which would address atopy (allergies to environmental allergens such as pollens, molds, dust, and dust mites, etc.). Until both food intolerance and atopy are ruled out in that manner, a medical etiology hasn't been ruled out. If we can rule these out, there's little option to seeing how one of the psychotherapeutic drugs I mentioned above affects her. Please continue our conversation if you wish.

Customer: replied 2 months ago.
She was prescribed prednisolone, but it didn't seem to help her. It seems like a behavioral thing she was previously an indoor and outdoor cat when she was younger and has been moved around multiple times in her life. Everything was fine though until she was moved to an apartment with my boyfriend's mom who was rarely home. I think she was lonely and then when my boyfriend moved back home with his two cats, the one male cat does not get along with Ferdalope. My boyfriend is trying to find a place where he can live on his own and all the cats can live in peace but he doesn't have many options right now due to finances. So do you think psychotherapeutic drugs would be a good option?
Expert:  Dr. Michael Salkin replied 2 months ago.

Psychotherapeutic drugs may be necessary, yes, although please note that a food intolerance isn't expected to be very steroid responsive and so food intolerance is still a consideration. Food intolerance/allergy is addressed with prescription hypoallergenic diets. These special foods contain just one novel (rabbit, duck, e.g.) animal protein or proteins that have been chemically altered (hydrolyzed) to the point that Ferdalope's (!) immune system doesn't "see" anything to be allergic to. The over the counter hypoallergenic foods too often contain proteins not listed on the label - soy is a common one - and these proteins would confound our evaluation of the efficacy of the hypoallergenic diet. The prescription foods are available from her vet. There are many novel protein foods and a prototypical hydrolyzed protein food is Hill’s Prescription Diet z/d ultra (a hydrolyzed protein diet is my preference because it avoids the possibility of my patient being intolerant to even a novel protein). A positive response is usually seen within a few weeks if we’ve eliminated the offending food allergen. Food intolerance can arise at any age and even after my patient has been eating the same food for quite some time.