Felis ISSN 2398-2950

Psychogenic alopecia

Synonym(s): Overgrooming

Contributor(s): David Scarff, H Ellen Whiteley

Introduction

  • Cats spend 30-50% of their time grooming.
  • Grooming is a common displacement activity leading to the relief of stress.
  • Cause: low grade stress induced grooming is harmless but cats can over groom due to continued stress and cause hair loss, skin damage and even mutilation of body tissue.
  • Signs: symmetrical alopecia with stubbly haircoat, may or may not be other skin lesions.
  • Diagnosis: a diagnosis of psychogenic alopecia can only be made when all medical differentials have been ruled out.
  • Treatment: this condition is multi-factorial and treatment relies on accurate diagnosis.

Pathogenesis

Etiology

  • Hair loss and/or skin damage resulting from displacement grooming in reaction to stressors which may be emotional or environmental.
  • Numerous potential stressors may be involved ranging from alterations in the household composition, alterations in the neighborhood, overattachment to owners, social stress, lack of opportunity to express normal feline behaviors.

Predisposing factors

General

  • Nervous personality.
  • Lack of appropriate socialization leading to overattachment.
  • Major social and environmental disruption.
  • Lack of opportunity to exhibit normal feline behaviors.
  • Previous medical condition leading to pruritus and/or skin damage.

Pathophysiology

  • Hair loss and/or skin damage resulting from excessive grooming.
  • Grooming begins as a displacement activity and is taken to extremes - it may even become compulsive in some cases.
  • Some cats are suffering from an underlying pruritic skin disease but may continue to overgroom when the underlying pruritis has been resolved.

Diagnosis

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Treatment

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Prevention

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Outcomes

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Further Reading

Publications

Refereed papers

  • Recent references from PubMed and VetMedResource.
  • Barrs V R, Beatty J A, Tisdall P L et al (1999) Intestinal obstruction by trichobezoars in five cats. J Fel Med Surg 1 (4), 199-207 PubMed.
  • Sawyer L S, Moon-Fanelli A A, Dodman N H (1999) Psychogenic alopecia in cats - 11 cases (1993-1996). JAVMA 214 (1), 71-74 PubMed.
  • Swanepoel N, Lee E, Stein D J (1998) Psychogenic alopecia in a cat - response to clomipramine. J S Afr Vet Assoc 69 (1), 22 PubMed.

Organisation(s)

  • For veterinarians wishing to refer cases on to a behavioral specialist:
    • Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors (APBC), PO Box 46, Worcester, WR8 9YS, UK. Tel/Fax: 01386 751151,  www.apbc.org.uk , email:  info@apbc.org.uk 
  • For further information on veterinary clinical ethology
  • Companion Animal Behaviour Therapy Study Group (CABTSG):  www.cabtsg.org 


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