Belfast Telegraph - Weekend - - GARDENING AND PETS - BY CRAIG REILLY

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.cedar­ 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

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