By Julia Williams
I’ve gotten to know many pet bloggers in recent years, and even correspond with a few. In one email, a fellow pet lover shared a problem she was having with her cat, and asked for my advice. She was concerned that her cat was becoming increasingly bald on his belly from over-grooming. She worried that people would judge her for the baldness, thinking she was not a responsible pet owner. It made me laugh – not because her cat’s bald belly or her embarrassment were funny, but because little did she know, I’d been dealing with that very same issue with my cat for years!
|Look at my cute bald belly!|
About six years ago, I noticed that the fur on Mickey’s belly was thinning. It would thin to the point of near baldness and then grow back, with the cycle repeating every few weeks. I didn’t see Mickey licking excessively and he was a very healthy cat, so the sparseness of belly fur didn’t really worry me. Nonetheless, I did discuss it with my vet at his next regular checkup. Turns out, the condition is quite common in cats.
What is Psychogenic Alopecia?
For various reasons, a cat will sometimes begin to excessively groom their hair and skin, which results in hair loss and baldness. Typically the over-grooming starts on the abdomen and may progress to the rear legs and tail. The degree of baldness may wax and wane over time. Additionally, some cats do their licking in private, so the absence of belly fur may be the first inkling an owner has that something is awry.
Diagnosis of the condition is usually made by noting the characteristic pattern of baldness. Skin, blood and/or urine tests are sometimes performed to make sure other illnesses are not the culprit.
What Causes Psychogenic Alopecia?
Psychogenic Alopecia is believed to have a psychological or emotional origin, and has been compared to obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Stress, anxiety and boredom may intensify the behavior. Skin allergies caused by fleas, food, pollen or environmental allergens may also exacerbate the condition.
Like OCD, Psychogenic Alopecia is usually not curable, but there are things owners can do to lessen their cat’s over-grooming (see below). Moreover, the condition is generally not debilitating, i.e., it doesn’t lessen a cat’s quality of life or longevity.