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Ask the Doctor August 2017 Issue

Dear Doctor: Help for an Itchy Cat

Getting to the root cause of an ‘itch’ problem; a cat with sudden wanderlust; a tuna addiction

Cat dermatitis

© Vicki Vale | Dreamstime.com

If a cat continuously licks or experiences hair loss over the rump area, flea allergy dermatitis may be the problem.


Q My nine-year-old cat Tommy has arthritis, but he is otherwise healthy. A few months ago, he developed a case of ringworm near the base of his tail. I treated it with a topical medication recommended by my veterinarian, and it went away.

But since then, he has been biting/chewing his side, and hair loss has occurred. My veterinarian said he was probably doing that because the ringworm was painful. He also has had his anal glands expressed by the vet because he is a bit overweight (18 pounds), and apparently, being overweight comes with a variety of health complications.

What are the odds of this biting being a psychological problem? I ask that because we have treated him with a dose of Program and have switched to a hypoallergenic diet — and he still bites himself. Should I be seeking the advice of a cat behaviorist instead?
Deandra Smyth

A Dear Deandra: Unfortunately, I cannot absolutely diagnose your pet’s problem through the mail. However, it sounds likely that your cat is suffering from a dermatologic condition — one that is most likely an allergic reaction to flea bites.

Flea allergy dermatitis is the most common cause of excessive licking and hair loss over the rump of cats. When a flea bites, it leaves a small amount of saliva in the skin. Cats may manifest varying degrees of allergic reaction to the saliva, with some cats being so sensitive that just one bite can make them itch over their rump for two weeks!

So before you seek out a behaviorist, you should discuss the possibility of flea allergic dermatitis with your veterinarian and perhaps a trial of systemic medication to try to stop the itch. If treatment for flea allergic dermatitis fails to stop the itch, then further diagnostics are indicated.

Because your veterinarian diagnosed a case of ringworm (a fungus that grows on the skin) and an anal sac disorder, I would suggest consultation with a veterinary dermatologist — a veterinarian with special expertise in skin disorders — prior to consultation with a behaviorist.
Michael Stone, DVM
Specialist in Internal Medicine
Cummings School of Veterinary
Medicine at Tufts University

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