What is Psychogenic Alopecia?
Initially, psychogenic alopecia begins as a displacement behavior that the cat engages in to relieve stress. Cats don’t generally like change so any number of things can trigger a need to self-soothe through a displacement behavior such as ongoing grooming. With some cats, the excessive licking can eventually turn into actually pulling out clumps of hair or even chewing on the skin.
Any number of things could trigger the need for a displacement behavior but here’s a list of just a few possibilities:
The addition of another cat
Move to a new home
Renovation in the home
Addition of a new family member
Death or divorce
Living in a chaotic environment
Lack of environmental enrichment
Confinement (such as hospitalization or boarding)
When it comes to the stressors that could potentially lead to a need for a behavior such as psychogenic alopecia, keep in mind that it’s different for each cat. One cat may handle a major change in the environment while another cat may feel the need for a displacement behavior if you rearrange the furniture. Things that you don’t view as stressful could actually cause your cat a large amount of stress.
Understanding Displacement Behavior
A certain amount of displacement behavior is normal in a cat’s world. It helps reduce the anxiety that a cat is feeling in a particular situation. The problem occurs when there is no relief from that anxiety so the cat must continue the displacement behavior in order to self-soothe. Ongoing situations that produce anxiety without relief may lead the cat to require the displacement behavior to a point where it becomes obsessive.
Other Causes of Excessive Grooming
Before labeling the condition as psychogenic alopecia, it’s important to rule out other potential causes for excessive grooming such as: