ASK THE VET
QOur cat is three now. He has thick black fur, but this month he has licked a bald patch off his back. There are wee crusty lumps on the skin as well. My wife thinks he is stressed by a stray cat in the garden, and that is why he is over-grooming. He doesn’t seem that stressed to me, though. What do you think is going on please? Pete, Belfast
ASorry to hear he is not well, Pete. Your wife is correct that stress is implicated in over-grooming behaviour in cats but, in my experience, the vast, vast majority of cats who over-groom to the point that they cause patchy hair loss do so because they are itchy or sore, not because they are stressed.
I suspect that, in your boy, the clue to diagnosis is in the crusty lesions you have spotted.
Fleas are an ever-present issue with cats. The stray you describe may well be riddled and have brought some ‘friends’ into your garden, and then they may have hopped onto your wee one.
They are hard to spot on an itchy black cat, because they are dark, pass dark faeces, and an itchy cat is constantly removing them by biting and chewing.
If you take a nit/flea comb, gently comb through his fur and then use damp toilet roll or kitchen paper to soak the combings, you should be able to tell. What you are looking for is the tell-tale dark dot of flea faeces, which leaches red (changed blood) onto the damp tissue paper.
Controlling fleas is not as easy as you might imagine. They are only on the cats for a brief feed (they suck blood), after which they drop off to breed in the environment. A successful eradication thus needs to address both the adults on the cat and the pupae/eggs/larvae in the house/garden shed.
Given that he has lesions on his skin and is so itchy I think you need to seek your vet’s help. He probably needs some treatment for the rash, and the vet can advise you on the best and safest strategy to treat his infestation.
Nowadays most cat owners elect to use products as a preventative measure — no one wants fleas in the house.
Again, your vet will be able to advise on that.
Good luck. Craig is a Clinical Director in Cedarmount Veterinary Clinic, Bangor www.cedarmountvets.co.uk. He can only respond to questions through this column, and these answers cannot substitute for treatment decisions based on a full history and clinical examination by your vet