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My cat has begun to pull his fur out while grooming. At first, I thought it might be an allergic reaction, as was indicated by a Google search, but I have since dismissed that theory. My cat is not overgrooming, he's just grooming normally (I also removed several things that might be causing an allergic reaction: room fresheners and diet change - no change). My cat is indoor only.

What I have noticed is that my cat no longer 'chews' when grooming. This behavior has been replaced by pulling the fur out wholesale. I have three cats, and while grooming they all pause and seem to 'nibble' or 'chew' on a certain area for a moment, before moving on. I've always assumed this is normal behavior. My cat now no longer does this, and is instead pulling his fur out.

Question: Why is my cat doing this? Is there something I can do to prevent it?

Important Factors:

  • I noticed this change shortly after my cat had dental surgery. He had a lot of teeth removed, including almost all of his molars, and one lower incisor. Aside from the incisor, his front teeth remain intact. I'm beginning to wonder if this lack of teeth is causing my cat to pull his fur out, though I'm not sure why it would.
  • I no longer let my cat eat dry food, due to the surgery mentioned above. He wants to eat it, but cannot chew it. This results in him swallowing it whole, where it sits in a lump in his stomach and slowly expands with the moisture (the food is very hard and dry). I let my cat have small amounts of dry food on occasion, but otherwise feed him only canned wet food (which he eats fine cut up).

Let me know if you need more information, and thanks for your time!

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I had a cat with no teeth who groomed normally, and a cat with all of her teeth who pulls out her fur. In my experience, teeth don't have anything to do with pulling out his fur.

This behavior is called "mowing" or "barbering" informally, but any type of hair loss is referred to as "alopecia". It can be caused by

  • Parasites (fleas, mites, ringworm)
  • Allergies (food, seasonal, environmental)
  • Dry Skin (nutrition deficiency or environmental)
  • Pain
  • Psychological (boredom, anxiety)

(Source: WebMD)

Generally, when I've worked with veterinarians on my cats' skin issues, we'll rule out all of the possible physical causes (do a flea treatment, food trial/allergy testing, etc) before deciding that it's psychological.

In this case, it may be that the dental surgery caused stress, and since he's stressed he's barbering.

Take your cat to the vet and discuss the barbering with them. You can also take your cat to someone who specializes in skin diseases, by asking for a referral to a veterinary dermatologist. They are slightly more expensive than a normal vet (the one I saw charged double my vet's normal rate for the initial exam, but follow up exams were about the same amount as my normal vet's exams).

If you do decide that it is psychological, the VIN article suggests:

This is generally called “psychogenic” mowing. We don’t imply that we know if cats are licking out of obsession or out of anxiety or even boredom. We simply say that there is nothing wrong with the skin. Psychoanalysis is generally unnecessary; the approach is aimed at environmental enrichment. This means the cat gets more toys, more games (feeding in a different location daily to create a hide-and-seek sort of cat entertainment), and more attention. Clomipramine has both anti-anxiety as well as anti-compulsive effects and has been helpful though it does not come in a convenient feline size and may have to be compounded. Amitriptyline has both anti-anxiety properties as well as anti-histamine properties and is sometimes used to cover both the medical and psychogenic causes of mowing simultaneously.

We have put one of our girls on Amitriptyline (she definitely has anxiety, and it was affecting her bladder as well as causing mowing). I definitely recommend getting it compounded into a transdermal gel if you decide to go that route, as an anxious cat doesn't need additional stress of being pilled.

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  • Thanks for your answer. It may simply be that he's not showing it, but my cat is acting perfectly normal. Just today I was petting him and he was purring. Then he paused to lick his paw (nothing new) and after a second of licking pulled a hunk of hair out. Then he went back to purring. Is it possible he's just disguising anxiety/boredom really well? – Thomas Reinstate Monica Myron Mar 4 '16 at 6:44
  • I guess what I'm not seeing is excessive licking. He doesn't seem anxious or bored at all, and he doesn't lick any more than normal. – Thomas Reinstate Monica Myron Mar 4 '16 at 23:28

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