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Endocrine Alopecia in Cats

By: Dr. Rosanna Marsalla

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Feline endocrine alopecia is a rare skin condition of cats. The cause is unknown but it is hypothesized to be hormonal in origin. Several hormones have been considered to play a role in feline endocrine alopecia including thyroid hormone, estrogen and testosterone.

Affected cats experience thinning of the hair or hair loss, which has a similar distribution on both sides of the body including the flanks, abdomen and hind legs. Cats may spend considerable time grooming themselves without being observed by their owners. In many instances, hair loss is self-inflicted rather than spontaneous. An important first step in affected cats is to determine whether or not the hair loss is self-inflicted.

One approach is to use a plastic cone collar (an Elizabethan collar) to prevent the cat from grooming and observe whether or not the hair grows back. If the hair grows back, the next step is to determine why the cat is grooming excessively. In most instances, excessive self-grooming is a sign of allergy rather than being psychological in origin.

If the hair does not grow back, self-grooming is not the cause and your veterinarian will proceed with a diagnostic evaluation to determine the cause of the hair loss.

Feline endocrine alopecia primarily is a cosmetic problem. An important initial step is to rule out medical conditions that may mimic this condition and would require medical therapy.

Conditions that may mimic feline endocrine alopecia and require medical therapy include allergies of various types, dermatophytosis (ringworm) and parasitic diseases.

Veterinary Care

  • Microscopic observation. The first step in the evaluation of the cat with feline endocrine alopecia is to pluck several hairs for observation under the microscope to determine whether or not they are broken. The occurrence of short, broken hairs suggests that the cat is grooming excessively. The presence of relatively normal-appearing hairs under the microscope suggests spontaneous hair loss.

  • Skin scrapings. These help to rule out certain parasitic diseases such as mange mite infestation.

  • Fungal culture. A sample of hair also can be sent to a laboratory for fungal culture to determine whether or not the cat has ringworm (dermatophytosis). Ringworm infestation could cause the hair to fall out spontaneously.

  • Blood samples. These may be submitted to the laboratory for measurement of specific hormones to evaluate endocrine function.

    If other diseases are ruled out, a diagnosis of feline endocrine alopecia is made. Fortunately, this condition is primarily a cosmetic condition and does not jeopardize the health of the animal.

    Cats with feline endocrine alopecia are otherwise healthy. Treatments used in an attempt to stimulate regrowth of hair have the potential to cause adverse effects, some of which are potentially serious. Also, because the cause of feline endocrine alopecia is unknown, several treatments may be tried before a response is observed.

    Home Care

  • You may be asked to place a plastic cone collar (Elizabethan collar) on your cat to determine whether or not excessive self-grooming is the cause of your pet's hair loss.

  • You may be asked to follow an elimination diet trial with a new source of protein to rule out the possibility of food allergy.

  • Aggressive flea control will be recommended, especially in geographical areas with a temperate climate.

  • If you decide to pursue medical treatment for your cat with endocrine alopecia, you may be asked to administer medications orally once or twice per day or you may be asked to bring your cat to the clinic for injections. Usually, a few injections are necessary.

  • Some of the medications used to treat feline endocrine alopecia can cause cardiac complications whereas others may cause liver toxicity, mammary gland tumors, diabetes mellitus, or behavioral changes.

  • It is important that you take your cat back to your veterinarian for regular check ups to monitor blood counts and serum chemistry during treatment.

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