Psychogenic Alopecia: Cat Hair Loss Due to Pulling

Cat hair loss can be a symptom of an underlying medical condition, but often, cats lose hair due to a compulsive hair pulling, a condition known as feline psychogenic alopecia. Feline psychogenic alopecia is similar to the human condition trichotillomania, which causes patients to compulsively pull out hair from the scalp, face and body.

How Feline Psychogenic Alopecia Begins

Feline psychogenic alopecia is an impulse control disorder than has its roots in anxiety. All cats will groom themselves when stressed, worried or indecisive, in order to distract themselves from the cause of the psychological conflict. This sort of behavior is known to animal behaviorists as displacement behavior, because the cat, finding himself stuck between two opposing feelings, displaces those feelings into an irrelevant behavior.

When a cat begins to suffer severe and chronic anxiety, he begins to groom himself for longer and longer periods of time, in order to distract himself from the anxiety he's experiencing. Eventually, the displacement behavior becomes a habit, and the cat begins performing it even after the conflict has been resolved. At this point, the cat experiences hair loss and may even sustain damage to the skin and claws.

Medical Conditions that May Look Like Feline Psychogenic Alopecia

There are several medical conditions that may cause symptoms similar to those of feline psychogenic alopecia. Skin parasites may irritate your cat, encouraging him to groom excessively. Fungal infections may have the same effect. Hormonal dysfunctions or allergies may also be to blame.

Here are some signs that your cat's hair loss is, in fact, the result of psychogenic alopecia rather than an underlying medical condition:

  • Your cat seems excessively anxious and lives in a stressful environment. Cats can experience stress due to other cats or animals in the home, the presence of people he doesn't like, cats outside, wild animals or separation anxiety.
  • Hair loss occurs on the limbs and abdomen.
  • The cat harbors no parasites or skin lesions and is found to be in good health.
  • The cat grooms himself excessively.
  • The cat has a history of poor socialization, abuse or neglect.

Treating Feline Psychogenic Alopecia

Treatment for cat hair loss due to compulsive pulling is multi-pronged. Stressors in the cat's environment should be reduced as much as possible or even eliminated. Feuding cats should be separated; cats suffering from psychogenic alopecia can be reconditioned to those they don't like, whether human or animal, using food or other treats. Outdoor animals should be kept away from windows and out of the stressed cat's view.

Training can be used to reward cats suffering from separation anxiety for showing signs of independence. Enriching the cat's environment and life with any of the following can help reduce stress and anxiety:

  • New toys
  • Pleasant outdoor views
  • Interesting pets such as mice, rats, birds or fish
  • Window bird feeders
  • White noise
  • Exercise
  • Quality time with the owner
  • Food puzzles
  • Climbing frames

In addition, your cat should receive treatment for any medical conditions he might be suffering. Antianxiety drugs can be used to relieve stress and even out your cat's moods. These take between three weeks and four months to reach their maximum efficacy, and may be necessary for a year or longer.