The reason why I am writing a short article on this topic is because it might be useful to a cat owner to set out some possible causes on the basis that, on my reading of the situation, some veterinarians might resort to steroid treatments a little too hastily. They might do this because it is quite difficult to isolate the cause of an allergy which causes a cat’s skin to itch which in turn causes the cat to lick the itchy area. Allergies are notoriously difficult to fix. This encourages a veterinarian, who is under time constraints, to employ quick fixes. Steroid treatment is a treatment of last resort or a treatment which I would call a quick fix.
Despite what I’ve just written it is obvious that a person should take their cat to a good veterinarian for advice. A cat might lick her belly a lot if she has itchy skin because that particular area is easy to get to. Because it is easy to get to, it is also one the areas where a cat will choose to lick excessively if she is stressed. Licking for a cat is a pleasant experience and helps to control stress.
A cat owner should therefore look for two possible outstanding causes namely: something in the environment which might cause an allergy in her cat or stress. If a cat has just started licking her belly excessively then the obvious thing to do is to think back and check whether there has been any changes to the cat’s environment.
Such changes might include (a) new furniture which might contain a chemical which causes an allergy (b) a new carpet which may contain a chemical causing an allergy (c) a new type of cat litter which may contain a chemical which makes it smell better (d) a change in diet which may cause a food allergy (e) a new routine during which the cat goes outside and lies on the grass which may have a chemical in it to improve the grass which in turn causes an allergy (f) cosmetics and bathroom powders and sprays can prompt an allergic reaction and (g) protective chemicals sprayed onto objects such as furniture can prompt an allergy in the domestic cat as well. There are countless possibilities for an indoor cat to develop an allergy to something in the household and it is up to the cat owner to try and figure out what it might be. Changes should be made systematically to try and isolate the cause of the allergy.
Irritant contact and allergic contact dermatitis is more likely to affect those areas where the cat’s coat is thinnest and one of those areas is her belly. Contact dermatitis should be considered therefore as a possibility. Allergic reactions can cause red itchy bumps on the skin. If these are present the owner will be able to confirm that the cause is most likely an allergy whereas (see below) if the skin appears to be completely normal it is more likely to be over-grooming due to psychological factors.
Insect bites can also cause an allergic reaction i.e. flea bite allergy (relatively common). An allergic reaction caused by breathing pollens and house dust (an inhalant allergy) is more likely to cause itching on the head and neck and a rash along the neck and back with symmetrical hair loss over the body caused by excessive licking and grooming. It would appear, therefore, that an inhalant allergy would not be the cause.
A similar situation occurs when there has or might have been a change in the environment which causes stress in a cat which in turn results in over-grooming. The questions that a cat owner has to ask herself is what sort of changes might have taken place to make the environment more hostile for a cat. By hostile I mean stressful. A new cat may have been introduced to the household or new person. The owner may have moved. There may be excessive noise. There may be a cat outside who is terrorising the cat. Once again there are countless possibilities. It might be tricky to isolate the cause.
But stress and an allergic reaction are the most likely reasons why a cat is licking all her fur off her belly. There are many chemicals in the home in products and in objects which can cause an allergic reaction as mentioned. It is quite shocking actually when you think about it because all products are made for people with little or no regard for how the product may impact upon the domestic cat.
It may be possible for a cat owner to completely change the environment if she has a friend who is amenable to the idea of looking after her cat in her home for a while. If that resulted in a positive improvement then the cat owner would be able to confirm that the problem was environmental and proceed from there. It may be possible to introduce into the new environment some of the chemicals in the other home to check for a response in order to isolate the specific cause.
Note: this is not a comprehensive list; just some ideas.