What is psychogenic alopecia? Psychogenic alopecia is an obsessive-compulsive disorder in which a cat grooms itself to the point of excess. They lick, bite, chew or even pluck at their coats and create bald patches, particularly on the belly, back, inner thighs and groin area. The term means “hair loss having a psychological or emotional origin.”
How does my cat get psychogenic alopecia? This is a psychological condition primarily triggered by chronic stress. Cats normally groom themselves as a way to not only keep their coats clean, but also to keep themselves calm. Changes in the household (the addition of a new pet, new person, moving) or routine can trigger psychogenic alopecia episodes in cats that tend to be nervous, anxious or high strung already. Some breeds are also predisposed to this condition, suggesting a genetic connection. Studies also indicated that cats between the ages of 1 and 3 represent the majority of the cases, but psychogenic alopecia can occur at any time in any cat.
How do I know if my cat has psychogenic alopecia? Some cats are known as “closet lickers.” They over groom their coats to the point of creating bald patches and red, inflamed skin – usually out of sight of you. Most cats spend 5 to 20 percent of their day grooming themselves. Cats with this condition groom far beyond that percentage and do so with heightened intensity. You may also notice that your cat is expelling more hairballs or hiding more. Your veterinarian will need to confirm this diagnosis by ruling out other causes. The true cause may be that your cat is allergic or hypersensitive to flea bites, certain foods, dust, pollen or mold or may have medical conditions such as cystitis or hyperthyroidism. It is important to provide your veterinarian with a detailed history of your cat, his personality, and any changes that have occurred in your home.
What can I do about psychogenic alopecia? Cats are truly creatures of habit – and comfort seekers. They do best in home environments that offer them safe places to nap and eat and provide activities that stimulate them mentally and physically. Try playing with your cat or offering a treat when you first see early signs that he is about to over groom as a distraction. Introduce clicker training, food puzzles and window bird feeders to occupy your cat’s mind and time. Your veterinarian may prescribe anti-anxiety or anti-depressant medications, along with a behavior modification plan to curb this condition in your cat.
Is there anything I can do to prevent my cat from getting psychogenic alopecia? Do your best to limit the amount of stress in your cat. Do not force your cat to share a home with an overly aggressive dog or cat who taunts or bullies them. Take the time to properly introduce a new pet or person in your household to your cat.
Are there certain breeds that get psychogenic alopecia more often? Yes. The breeds most prone to this condition are Siamese, Oriental, Abyssinian, Burmese and Domestic Shorthair. Cats of any breed or mixed breed who are high-strung and anxious are also more susceptible to excessive hair pulling and grooming.