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Pets: Fretting about a cat losing hair

Q: I adopted an American Shorthair cat in Taiwan, my first cat ever. Recently, I purchased your cat behavior e-book “Good Cat!” (available via Amazon.com from Tribune Publishing, $2.99), and it opened up my eyes, but also gave me reason to worry.

My cat has a balding belly from licking his fur. In Taiwan, the humid climate can cause skin problems for pets, but now that I’m in the United States, he’s still losing hair on his inner thigh and belly. Every two to three weeks, he gets a shower with special shampoo and cream. I also wonder if he feels pain in the bald spots, because petting him there is “off-limits.”

Because he gets so traumatized by veterinary visits, I hesitate to take him. Any advice?

– A.K., Cyberspace

A: Seeing a veterinarian is suggested, says veterinary behaviorist Dr. Sharon Crowell-Davis, a professor of behavior and anatomy at the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine, Athens.

“If it’s too much a struggle for you and the cat to get to a veterinarian, perhaps a veterinarian can come to you who makes house calls,” she says.

When pet owners suggest something, they’re often correct. And if you believe that pain is an issue, you might be on target. Then again, it’s not unusual for cats to tell us that petting their bellies is not their favorite thing.

Crowell-Davis assumes that allergies – including flea allergies – have been ruled out.

She says that even if the cat’s skin problem was addressed properly in Taiwan, he remains entrenched in the licking behavior.

“Definitely, that licking can be a psychogenic (behavior) issues,” Crowell-Davis says. “But before going there, though, I’d ask for a referral to a veterinary dermatologist to rule out any ongoing or lingering skin disease. If that is ruled out, indeed do see a veterinary behaviorist.”

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Q: Can the feline herpes virus be treated successfully? You said in a column that “once treated, the symptoms disappear over time.” However, you didn’t explain the actual treatment. My 16-year-old cat has feline herpes, which has caused significant damage to his right eye. What can we do?

– K.R., Bethlehem, Pa.

A: “For ocular herpes, there are antiviral eyedrops,” says Dr. Susan Little, president of the American Association of Feline Practitioners. “Also, there’s an antiviral oral medication called famciclovir, which has demonstrated safety for cats. See your veterinarian to determine the best approach.”

Steve Dale welcomes questions/comments from readers. Although he can’t answer all of them individually, he’ll answer those of general interest in his column. Send email to petworld@stevedale.tv. Include your name, city and state. Steve’s website is stevedalepetworld.com; he also hosts the nationally syndicated “Steve Dale’s Pet World” and “The Pet Minute.”