Cat licks and pulls hair out

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     Why does my cat lick his fur off? 

Cats are very good at grooming and keeping themselves very clean. Yet, sometimes they seem to overdo it and lick to the point that the hair comes out or is even pulled out. This leaves areas that are bald or close to it and possibly even irritated or infected.

What causes this licking behavior. Usually there is something bothering the cat to cause this. Finding the cause can be quite a bit of investigative work. The most common causes are allergies to such things as fleas, food ingredients, or pollens and molds in the air. Contact allergies or irritations can happen as well. Common irritants are wool, perfumes in detergents or fabric softeners, floor or carpet cleaners, and any other chemical that could get on the skin. One cat developed a neck baldness and sore from rubbing on a table with an unusual varnish. It took a bit of watching the cat and then removing the table from its presence to isolate that one as the culprit.

Another cause is that the cat is experiencing pain in or beneath the area. Full anal glands can be painful or irritating or even be infected and can incite the cat to lick in the tail area or beneath it. Some with abdominal pain or kidney soreness lick their bellies or sides. Certainly any excessive licking or hair pulling over a joint in the body could indicate arthritis in that joint.

Bacterial and yeast or fungal infections certainly can create this as well, though they are more obvious because there will be redness and possibly bumps or bad odors. Usually a deep infection, such as an abscess will come to a head and burst eventually. Also, a fever may occur in these situations.

DON'T EVER let anyone convince you that this can be "psychogenic" or caused purely by stress or mental issues. One study took cats diagnosed with what is called "psychogenic alopecia" and located underlying diseases in 95% of them. I suspect the other 5% had diseases as well, but we just aren't good enough at finding them yet.

The big risk in that diagnosis is that the treatment is dangerous psychotropic drugs. Recently I learned that beyond their mental derangements, these drugs such as Prozac or any other antidepressant or anti-anxiety drug cause nutritional defiencies. They deplete vitamins and minerals and even a life necessary Coenzyme-Co-Q10. Co-Q10 is required for normal muscle function and especially the heart muscle. Depletion of it can cause heart disease and death. Many of these psychotropic drugs have similar effects as cocaine in the brain and also elevate cortisone levels, amongst other effects. For more data see the very informative books at

The other problem with that diagnosis is that the true underlying disease in never then found and treated.

For allergies, ideally the source of the reaction is removed. If it is fleas, we have gotten pretty good at removing them with the newer products that are not really toxic to mammals, though still can be irritants on a rare occassion. Contact allergies are easy to handle such as in the case of the table. It can take some watching and process of elimination to figure it out. Allergies to pollens and molds and the like can be harder to handle. Allergy testing and injections as in people can be done. Sometimes cortisones have to be resorted to, but should be used for as short a period of time and at the lowest possible dosages to avoid side effects (even diabetes).

Food allergies are again often a trial by elimination. Usually putting the cat on a highly restricted diet (if they will eat it) and adding in one thing at a time after the symptoms are gone to see what can and can't be tolerated.

If there is pain as the cause, then the source should again be located and handled. Empty full anal glands. Treat infections. Lubricate sore joints with glucosamine and chondriotin. Again if pain medications are used (and ONLY use those given you by a veterinarian as some can kill cats-such as acetominophen), use them as short a time as possible and at the lowest dosages to control the pain.

Hopefully this helps if you have a cat licking its hair off.

Recommended entertainment: I love this movie: Alvin and the Chipmunks.

Until next time,

Dr. Jan

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