Psychogenic Cat Alopecia Explained

Psychogenic cat alopecia is a term used to described hair loss due to excessive grooming. Cats are noted for their hygiene and cleanliness. Regular self-maintenance is essential for healthy fur, nails and skin. It also helps your cat regulate her body temperature and waterproof her fur.

Psychogenic Alopecia from Excessive Grooming

While grooming is a natural physiological behavior, it can also result from certain mental or emotional triggers. If your cat is experiencing severe stress, boredom or anxiety she may over-groom in an effort to seek relief from the source of her discomfort. The act of cleaning is believed to serve as a distraction and also stimulates the release of calming hormones. Until the cause of her distress is identified and corrected, your cat may continue excessive grooming to the point of baldness, or alopecia.

Symptoms of Cat Alopecia

Cat hair loss due to psychogenic alopecia often occurs in symmetrical patterns along the cat's abdomen, groin, tail, inner thighs and back legs. Although not frequent, bald areas may also be accompanied by sore and irritated skin. You may notice your cat cleaning excessively, however, some pets with the disorder over-groom in private. Excessive grooming can also cause your cat to produce more hairballs, or to spit out her fur in clumps.

Psychogenic Causes of Cat Alopecia

There are a number of factors that can motivate a cat to over-groom. Stress is considered one of the main causes of psychogenic alopecia. Your cat is especially vulnerable to stress caused by changes in her lifestyle or environment, including: moving, injury or illness, the loss or introduction of a family member or pet, or a change in her caretaker's schedule. Boredom can also cause cats to engage in excessive cleaning. Indoor cats and those who undergo long periods without the companionship of humans or other animals are particularly susceptible to boredom. Skin conditions caused by factors like food and flea allergies can also cause compulsive grooming in some cats.

Treating and Diagnosing the Stress Triggers

Treating psychogenic cat alopecia involves diagnosing the disorder, identifying its cause, and taking steps to correct contributing problems. Usually, your veterinarian can make a diagnosis following a physical examination of your cat. In some cases, blood, urine, skin, allergy and other tests may also be required. If stress or boredom are found to be the cause of your cat's hair loss, your vet may recommend spending more time playing, grooming and interacting with your pet. Providing your cat with stimulating toys, particularly puzzle and motion-based products, can also help alleviate boredom and provide distraction from stressful triggers like separation anxiety.

If other pets are contributing to your cat's anxiety, you may be encouraged to separate her or provide her with a safe space like a cat tree or window perch. Some vets may also prescribe a protective Elizabethan collar to limit your cat's ability to groom, or suggest applying a topical product with an unappealing taste on your cat's fur and skin. Another method for treating psychogenic alopecia is through prescribed anti-depressants like Prozac. Reports indicate some cats respond more favorably to this kind of drug treatment than others.