Felicia is an indoor kitty with the rather annoying habit of pulling out patches of hair on her body and tail, as well as chewing and licking her feet.
The veterinarian has told Margaret that it is likely an allergy problem and there is nothing that can be done. Margaret has tried different diets and different cat litters, but has seen no improvement. Margaret said Felicia seemed to start removing her hair after she had had an anesthetic procedure for dental work in 2011. Knowing that this is likely not a cause-and-effect situation, she wonders if Felicia may be neurotic.
While I can not discount the possibility of a mental component, we should try to rule out a physical cause first. In cases such as these, it is important to establish whether Felicia is prurtic. In other words, does she itch? I would treat her with anti-inflammatory medication after a thorough physical examination has eliminated any obvious cause of pruritis, such as fleas.
My drug of choice is prednisone, a corticosteroid with excellent anti-inflammatory effects. If Felicia is itchy, the itchiness will likely subside when she is treated. If it does not, we must dig a little deeper.
Blood work would help determine an underlying systemic disease. Sometimes with allergies, we will see an increase in a type of blood cell called an eosinophil. If that's the case, we can then figure out what Felicia might be allergic to. Even though Margaret has tried switching foods to no avail, I would still consider a food allergy as a possibility. In order to test for this, Felicia would need to be placed on a novel protein diet, one with a protein source to which she has never been exposed, for at least six and usually more like eight weeks. If she improves, we have our diagnosis. Unfortunately, the reverse is also true.
If through all our testing, we determine that we do not know why Felicia is pulling out her hair, then and only then can we make an assumption that her problem might be behavioral. There are drug protocols that can bring about resolution for behavioral problems.
I encourage Margaret to dig deeper. I hope she will find out what has turned Felicia into the mad epilator.
Jeff Kahler is a veterinarian in Modesto. Questions can be submitted to Your Pet in care of LifeStyles, The Modesto Bee, P.O. Box 5256, Modesto 95352.