Feline psychogenic alopecia (FPA) is a condition in which a cat loses its fur (alopecia) due to a psycosis – usually anxiety and sometimes boredom. FPA is caused by chronic chewing, scratching, or licking of the fur. This behavior can sometimes become so severe that breaks occur in the skin, leading to severe infections. FPA can occur in cats of any age, sex or breed, however, it is thought that breeds such as Siamese, Burmese, Himalayan, and Abyssinian may be more susceptible. Possible triggers for FPA include:
· an addition or loss of a human or animal companion;
· a territorial struggle with another animal;
· recent boarding or hospitalization;
· a stressful home environment, for example human arguments or change of schedule;
· a propensity towards a nervous, shy or introverted personality.
The hair loss associated with FPA usually occurs on the inner thigh, lower stomach, limbs, center of the back, and/or the tail. The area of furloss generally has a well-defined border, however, the licking and scratching may cover a broad area creating a patchy look to the coat. The areas of alopecia will usually have some stubble left on the skin and the fur left behind will look broken or split due to the physical strain it endures from the licking, chewing, and scratching. The skin may look red or broken due to constant irritation and may appear to thicken or turn darker if the cat has had FPA for an extended period of time.
Because cats often groom in private, your ability to actually observe the excessive licking, chewing or scratching caused by FPA is difficult. This, in turn, makes FPA difficult to diagnose. In addition, many other factors can cause fur loss in cats. In fact, FPA is the least common reason for feline hair loss. Alopecia might also be attributed to allergies, fleas, fungal or bacterial skin infections, other irritatations or inflammations of the skin; as well as hormonal problems. One way to distinguish FPA from these other ailments is that the fur of a cat with FPA should have normal resistance to being pulled out.
In order to determine the cause of alopecia, your veterinarian may give a steroid to halt any itching sensation of the skin itself. Allergy and skin scrapping tests may also help the veterinarian rule out other possible causes for the alopecia. If these techniques do not stop the fur loss, your doctor may instruct you to use a device called an “Elizabethan collar” for a period of 4 to 6 weeks. This cone shaped tool prevents your pet from being able to lick, bite or scratch itself. If excessive grooming has been the cause of the alopecia, its fur will grow back in the absence of its exaggerated grooming habits.
If your veterinarian diagnoses FPA, you must understand that it will be a condition that will last the lifetime of your cat. It may reoccur anytime the cat feels stressed, nervous, or bored. As a result, sticking to the treatment plan your veterinarian prescribes will need to be something you consider to be a long-term commitment. The most effective treatment, and possibly the only cure, is to remove whatever is causing the emotional stress that leads to the fur pulling behavior. This may be practically impossible. If FPA is only a cosmetic issue, not causing any health problems, your veterinarian may recommend that you use an Elizabethan Collar occasionally to allow regrowth of fur. However, if FPA results in infection of the skin, medications which may alleviate the behavior should be considered. These medications come from the group of drugs which act on brain chemicals, and are commonly referred to as sedatives.
There are only one or two of these type medications which are approved for use in veterinary patients, and even these are only approved for dogs. As a result, your veterinarian may need to prescribe a human drug for your cat. Some possible drug therapies include names you may recognize:
· Valium ®
These medications can be given a number of ways, including by injection and by mouth. Your pharmacist may be able to prepare the drug in the form of a liquid or suspension, and several of these medications may also be administered in a “transdermal delivery system” – a cream which can be rubbed on the inside of the cat’s ear allowing the medication to enter the body through the skin. If your veterinarian prescribes a transdermal dosage form, you will need to consult with the pharmacist who prepares the medication so that you can understand proper methods of giving the drug and of protecting yourself against being “treated” also! You must also be aware that these drugs can sometimes take up to two weeks to show an effect on the brain chemistry of your pet. Unpleasant side-effects can also occur. For example, your cat may become anxious, agitated or depressed. Agility may also be affected, causing your cat to become frustrated by an inablity to “hunt” as well as usual. This is an especially important effect if your cat lives or spends extended periods of time outdoors, because its ability to react to threats may be decreased.
Most cats suffering from FPA will greatly improve if the owner pays attention to their pet’s needs. Your cat may just need a little extra attention because it is feeling neglected. However, if the extra attention that is needed is your dedication to a course of prescription medication, ask your veterinarian to explain the condition and the medication thoroughly. Then talk with a veterinary pharmacist who can work prepare the medication in a dosage form that is the best one for you, and your pet, and can help you monitor the effects of the drug.