Q: My 15-year-old male orange tabby started pulling his hair out 10 months ago. We started him on steroids eight months ago. It does not seem to help. His tummy is almost bald. There does not seem to be a skin issue. Poor Max is quite miserable if he gets this sudden itch. He’s OK otherwise, sleeps well and even plays with a toy now and then. What can cause this constant hair pulling and what can we do? It makes us sad to see our sweet kitty so miserable.
Dr. Nichol: It’s been a tough past year; a whole lot of us are tearing out our hair. And cats can certainly react to their person’s angst, but the underlying cause of Max’s incessant itching is more likely skin-related than behavioral. Your empathy for this small, helpless creature sets a healthy example for others.
Mange, ringworm, yeast and bacterial infections may be directly related to Max’s uncomfortable skin. Cats can also be highly itchy from allergies to airborne particles, to fleas and to their food. Your kitty can only get well if his doctor finds out what’s wrong. Skin scrapings and microscopic cytologies can be evaluated in the office; hair and scrapings for ringworm culture and PCR testing can be sent to an outside lab. These samples can be taken gently while you wait.
Safe oral and topical medications can help Max feel better. For a suspected food allergy, prescription diet Ultamino by Royal Canin can deliver answers but it would have to be the ONLY food Max is allowed to eat. Never mind that you’ve fed him the same thing for years. Food allergies can develop at any age even without a diet change.
Max needs serious attention. Steroids like prednisolone can provide short-term symptomatic relief from allergic itching but it hasn’t helped this fellow. Long-term use would risk diabetes. Oral Atopica is safe and often more effective. A long-acting antibiotic injection called Convenia would take control of bacterial overgrowth on Max’s skin. A veterinary dermatologist may be just the doctor your cat needs to get past this @!#^&* problem! Do whatever it takes.
Dr. Jeff Nichol, a residency-trained veterinary behaviorist, provides consultations in-person and by telephone and Zoom (505-792-5131). Each week he shares a blog and a Facebook Live video to help bring out the best in pets and their people. Sign up at no charge at drjeffnichol.com. Post questions on facebook.com/drjeffnichol or by mail to 4000 Montgomery NE, Albuquerque, NM, 87109.