My human is concerned about me because I keep pulling my hair out. I don’t see what the big deal is, really—I am fastidious and like to be clean! My human certainly doesn’t know much about keeping me clean—you should have seen what happened the one time she tried to wash me! But that was a long time ago, when I was a kitten, and I’m 10 years old now. I have been careful to groom myself meticulously ever since, but I’ve been doing it more frequently since my best pal—a dog, actually!—moved away. He went with my human’s former boyfriend and now I don’t see either of them anymore. Since I am quite doglike myself—I often take walks with my human—I think we are okay without the dog (and the boyfriend), but I still feel an emptiness in my heart. My human thinks this might be why I keep pulling my hair out. What do you think?
Dear Cat (I can’t bring myself to use the “D” word),
You have had a load of stress in your life, and I think you are in a bit of denial about it. Anyone who lost a friend is going to be upset, and every cat has his or her own way of expressing it. More often than not, we’ll be depressed for a period of time, but we will move on. There are times, however, when the loss is so upsetting that it winds up causing some bizarre behavior. The big problem is when that the behavior becomes ingrained. My human calls it an “obsessive-compulsive disorder.” Apparently this happens to humans too. But who cares about them—I’m here to discuss cat problems, not the puny foibles of humans.
Your hair-pulling compulsion is not uncommon. My new friend Dr. Dodman (the vet who wrote the book The Cat Who Cried for Help) says it’s called “psychogenic alopecia.” Some cats pull out nearly all their fur and swallow so much of it that they are always hacking up hairballs. Some even make themselves bleed. This isn’t any way for a cat to live! You are probably not even fully aware of how miserable you are. Unfortunately, there is not much your human can do on her own to help you. She can try to distract you with love and play when you feel the need to groom too much, but this is usually not enough to bring your behavior to an end. What you really need (and I know you’re going to hate me for this) is professional help. That’s right—a trip (or several) to the veterinarian.
The vet will rule out any physical problems that may be causing your excessive grooming and hair pulling. (It’s always a possibility that you could be suffering from fleabites, or have an as-yet undiagnosed skin problem). If in fact your problem is obsessive-compulsive, the vet will probably recommend an anti-anxiety medication. There are several options, so if one doesn’t work, maybe another drug will. You will probably only have to take these drugs temporarily, so hopefully your human won’t be shoving medicine down your throat forever. Personally, I think that would be far more stressful than what you are already going through! But if it’s only for a while, you’ll just have to buckle down and deal, and realize that brighter days are ahead.