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Underlying medical conditions in cats with presumptive psychogenic alopecia

Stephen E. Waisglass DVM1,2, Gary M. Landsberg DVM, DACVB3, Julie A. Yager BVSc, PhD4, and Jan A. Hall BVM&S, DACVD5
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  • 1 Dermatology and Behavioural Referral Service of the Doncaster Animal Clinic, 99 Henderson Ave, Thornhill, ON L3T 2K9, Canada.
  • | 2 Department of Clinical Studies, Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph, Guelph, ON N1G 2W1, Canada.
  • | 3 Dermatology and Behavioural Referral Service of the Doncaster Animal Clinic, 99 Henderson Ave, Thornhill, ON L3T 2K9, Canada.
  • | 4 Yager-Best Veterinary Surgical Pathology, Ste A210, 490 York Rd, Guelph, ON N1E 6V1, Canada.
  • | 5 Department of Clinical Studies, Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph, Guelph, ON N1G 2W1, Canada.

Abstract

Objective—To identify underlying medical conditions in cats with a presumptive diagnosis of psychogenic alopecia.

Design—Case series.

Animals—21 adult cats referred with a presumptive diagnosis of psychogenic alopecia.

Procedures—A detailed behavior and dermatologic questionnaire was completed by the primary caregiver, and complete behavioral and dermatologic examinations were performed. A standard diagnostic testing protocol that included cytologic examination of skin scrapings, fungal culture of hairs, evaluation of responses to parasiticides and an exclusion diet, assessment for atopy and endocrinopathies, and histologic examination of skin biopsy specimens was used to establish a definitive diagnosis in all cats. Cats that did not respond to an elimination diet were treated with methylprednisolone acetate to determine whether pruritus was a factor.

Results—Medical causes of pruritus were identified in 16 (76%) cats. Only 2 (10%) cats were found to have only psychogenic alopecia, and an additional 3 (14%) cats had a combination of psychogenic alopecia and a medical cause of pruritus. An adverse food reaction was diagnosed in 12 (57%) cats and was suspected in an additional 2. All cats with histologic evidence of inflammation in skin biopsy specimens were determined to have a medical condition, but of 6 cats without histologic abnormalities, 4 had an adverse food reaction, atopy, or a combination of the 2, and only 2 had psychogenic alopecia.

Conclusions and Clinical Relevance—Results suggest that psychogenic alopecia is overdiagnosed in cats. Thorough diagnostic testing should be done before ascribing a behavioral cause to hair loss in cats.

Contributor Notes

Supported by Eli Lilly & Company. Feline z/d low allergen diet used in the study was supplied by Hill's Pet Nutrition Incorporated. Revolution and Depomedrol used in the study were supplied by Pfizer Animal Health.

Address correspondence to Dr. Waisglass.