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Dr Pete
Dr Pete, Cat Veterinarian
Category: Cat
Satisfied Customers: 3009
Experience:  Bachelor of Veterinary Science (University of Melbourne, Australia)
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my cat keeps pulling hair out of his back and he has a bald

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my cat keeps pulling hair out of his back and he has a bald spot on his stomach for years. What can be the cause of these things. He is an 8 year old indoor cat. He has flea medicine that has been kept up on so he has no fleas. He has ear mites that I am currently taking care of and he has worms that I am waiting for the medication to take care of, but he has been pulling hair out before the last two problems... please give advice.
Submitted: 8 years ago.
Category: Cat
Expert:  Dr Pete replied 8 years ago.


This is called overgrooming.

Overgrooming is a very common behavioural problem in cats. Commonly affected areas are the back, flanks, underside and back legs but it can affect anywhere the cat can reach.

The cause is generally anxiety although it may be influenced by anything that makes the cat itchy, in particular skin allergies. The causes of the anxiety can appear quite subtle to us but can be quite blatant to the cat. The most common cause is the presence of other cats in the neighbourhood or even in your own home. There can be other reasons for the anxiety. These might include a new dog next door, builders creating noise in the neighbourhood, a new human (baby) in the household, an owner going away or the owner experiencing their own anxiety problems (which the cat picks up). Because he has done this for so long it’s unlikely to be any recent event of course.

Often allergy is an important part of the problem and fleas feature high as a cause. I know you said that this is controlled by I should discuss it anyway to be sure.You say he is on “flea medicine”. Check him for fleas anyway…sometimes medications fail. Preferably use one of the very effective and safe topical applications (Advantage, Frontline, Revolution). Note that Revolution will also clear up his ear mites. In addition keep the bedding clean and thoroughly vacuum areas that the cat frequents to clear environmental stages of the flea. It only takes one flea to trigger the reaction in an allergic cat.

The allergy can be to other environmental factors and these can be harder to control....dust mites, pollens, etc. If this is the case you’ll find the problem will come and go. Occasionally it is food but you will need to try a hypoallergenic diet to rule this out. These are available from your vet. Worth a try.
Soalthough the overgrooming can be a secondary issue (to the allergy) it will often occur on its own (due to anxiety) and I think that's the most likely reason in your case. The cat's tongue is very rough and can easily damage the skin. If there is irritation cats can sometimes become quite aggressive in their grooming, tearing the fur out, occasionally producing inflamed patches or sores.
So how do we treat the condition? Usually a small dose of cortisone is effective in suppressing the allergy. If you feel he seems itchy that that is worthwhile. You will need to see your vet for this.
Tackling the reason for the anxiety if that is involved can be difficult, often out of our control. There are two products that can be effective for this problem. The first is Feliway. This product is available on the internet, at pet supplies and from your vet. It is a spray that contains cat pheromones. Cats produce these chemicals from specialised chin glands. You will see them rubbing their chin on household objects, effectively marking these as "safe zones". So you can use the Feliway to mark your home as such. This reduces the anxiety. The product is safe and odourless to humans.
The other product is Clomicalm. This is an anti-anxiety medication tailor made for this problem. You would need to see your vet to obtain it. If you are in the USA it is not registered for cats (just dogs) but this is a licensing issue. It is used all around the world in cats and most US vets will prescribe it for cats. It must be used for several weeks to have its effect so I generally use it in combination with Feliway.
I hope I've been of help.
Good luck, Peter

Customer: replied 8 years ago.
I noticed that when my cat is soemtimes licking his back he pulls chunks of fur out I do not think I mentioned this much and so I find fur in chunks on the floor in my room and in the livign room. I think he might be anxouse because we have 7 people living in the hosue before and when I first had him we lived in a small apartmetn with only 3 peole another cat and a small dog. We also gained another cat a couple of years ago when my mom moved in. Do you think that this is likely the problem that maybe he is not getting time alone or it is jsut too busy. He has been folllowing me around more then normal and looking at me funny. He has also been puring the minute I wake up and this is not normal behavor for him. I forgot to add that last night because I was tired when I was tired.
Expert:  Dr Pete replied 8 years ago.
Yes. The changes you've described are very likely to cause anxiety in cats. Cats are not social creatures in their wild state, leading solitary lifestyles and only coming together to fight and breed. Large feline social groups are a part of our suburban environmnet. Human groups can be treated in a similar way in a cat's mind but in my experience it is usually other cats that cause the main problem. It can just be one cat. I frequently see overgrooming develop when a new cat is introduced to the household (or neighbourhood). Similarly I have seen overgrooming clear up when a feline member of the family dies. Often the two cats will have seemed to get on very well...but obviously there has been a deep seated anxiety issue.
His strong attention to you backs up the diagnosis. He may feel his position in your family group is threatened and he seeks to reinforce the bond.
"Time alone" is an oversimplification. That would be good for him, but cats are very perceptive creatures and the problem is probably more subtle than that. I would start with the Feliway and if you see no response after a few weeks try the Clomicalm.
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