Q: Koko is wonderfully affectionate cat and is in good health, except that in the past year he began to chew the fur off his tail and lower hips. The veterinarian said Koko is "barbering" himself. I changed his diet to a higher-protein food. Koko has access to our garden and lots of fresh water. Can you suggest a solution and/or and ointment to stop the itching? -- V.M., Las Vegas, NV
A: The first thing to rule out, based on where Koko is scratching himself and that fact that he spends time outside, is a flea allergy, says feline veterinarian Dr. Elizabeth Colleran of Chico, CA. "Sometimes only a few flea bites can cause a real problem. If fleas are absolutely eliminated, then your veterinarian can do a skin scraping or biopsies. I once had an instance when rare mites were getting on the cats from an owner's pantry."
Once parasites are eliminated as the cause, allergies may, indeed, be the problem, says Colleran. The same environmental allergies which cause us to sneeze may cause a cat to scratch. If your veterinarian is inclined to believe food allergies are the issue, transitioning to a high protein diet won't matter. Instead, Koko should go on a food trial lasting several months, where he would only eat a prescription diet.
"Cats really hate topical treatments," says Colleran, a past president of the American Association of Feline Practitioners and spokesperson for Cat Friendly Practices. "Besides, what you need is to learn is what's causing the problem in the first place. Ultimately, you may need a referral to a veterinary dermatologist. Perhaps, sooner is better because it sounds like your poor cat is losing his mind itching."
©Steve Dale, Tribune Media Services
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Tags: AAFP, American Association Feline Practitioneers, barbering cat, Cat Friendly Practices, Dr. Elizabeth Colleran, flea allergy dermatitis, Koko, over-grooming, Steve Dale, Steve Dale archives, veterinary dermatologist