Cat overgrooming?
September 15, 2008 9:43 PM   Subscribe

My cat has a bald spot. She can't get into the vet until Saturday. Should we find another vet?

Yesterday, my wife was playing with our cat and noticed that she had a quarter-sized bald spot on her elbow. The spot is dark pink. Touching it doesn't seem to cause any pain.

After some Googling, it appears that it's likely overgrooming or some sort of allergic reaction (or maybe a parasite? The symptoms don't quite seem right).

The reason why I'm panicking a little is that the spot appeared so quickly. My wife is kind of obsessive about looking the cat over for anything out-of-the-ordinary, so I know that it can't be more than a few days old.

We called the SPCA, and our story didn't seem to cause much motion on the receptionist's urgency-meter. We made an appointment for Saturday 9/21. Given how quickly the spot appeared, is that too long to wait? Should we find a private vet who can see her sooner?

Some other facts that may or may not matter: Five and a half years old. Indoor cat, but she loves to sit in a window that we keep open all the time (it has bars over it). Up to date on all of her shots. Last vet appointment was about six months ago. She eats dry Purina One Weight Control from a plastic dish and drinks water from a ceramic water bowl. We live in San Francisco, where we just got out of the hottest couple of weeks we've had in years.
posted by roll truck roll to Pets & Animals (23 answers total)
Is it possible she might have accidentally plopped her elbow into, I dunno, some new kind of chemical cleaner you might have just started using? Is the skin beneath dry and flakey, or scabby, or bloodied, or is it just normal pinkish-looking skin? My personal feeling was that you ought to be cool just sitting it out until Saturday, while keeping your eye on the bald patch, but then I've never had to wait more than 24 hours to take my girls to a vet appointment for any reason, so if it's causing you anxiety or, more importantly, if she (the cat, that is, not your wife) seems distressed, or is licking it habitually, or gets cranky when you touch it, then yeah, private vet ASAP. I have no idea how things work in SF but a consultation here in Australia has never cost me more than forty bucks.
posted by turgid dahlia at 9:58 PM on September 15, 2008

This is not advice, but my point of view: I would see another vet, not because this seems like such an immediate emergency, necessarily, but because, hey - why not have two vets?

We took our dog to another vet when ours was on vacation and we were concerned about something, and I decided two vets was a good idea. Our regular vet is young, without a lot of experience, but because she's young, she uses internet, email, etc., plus she has a specialty in skin conditions. The other vet is older, with tons of experience, and a great reputation, but perhaps more old fashioned. If we had to have surgery for our dog, I'd probably feel more confident with him. Any kind of skin condition, I'd definitely feel more confident with her... And in case of any emergency, I like to know that there are at least two offices with knowledge and familiarity with us and our dog.

Since you are going to be worrying until you have this seen to, why not use this opportunity to pick out a back-up vet now?
posted by taz at 10:11 PM on September 15, 2008

IAAV. The two vets is a good idea if they are both at the same practice. There are more multi-doctor practices now where you can get the benefit of youthful enthusiasm and seasoned experience.

Not a good idea otherwise. That splits up the medical record and sows confusion. Part of the benefit you get from having a good relationship with your vet is that he/she gets to know you and your pet, what's normal, and all the records are in the same place. Namely:

1. When something happens, they can look up all previous blood test results and x-rays and compare that to what's happening.
2. When something subtle is going on, they can look through the records to look for patterns.
3. When all medications are dispensed by one vet, they can safeguard against drug interactions. All bets are off when you're getting meds from two different vets.
4. It's just plain annoying for your vet to work with only half of the medical history, and to have to spend time tracking down records and details from the other vet.
5. It's kind of rude and definitely tanks your chances for the "A-client" list.

posted by ebellicosa at 10:38 PM on September 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

It's hard to say without looking at it. I suspect insect bite - bee-sting maybe.

It's not an emergency, but here's how to get your ducks in order for the vet visit:

- They're going to want to know what kind of flea preventive she's on. Bring the box to the visit.
- Go ahead and measure it and take a picture now. That way you'll know if it gets worse.
- Consider getting an e-collar ("cone") to prevent further self-traumatization. They make nice soft ones that freak the cat out less than the hard plastic ones.
posted by ebellicosa at 10:49 PM on September 15, 2008

P.S. There's a teeny chance it might be something transmissible to you, like ringworm (a fungus), so practice good hygiene. If the very thought freaks you out, then yes, find a vet that can fit you in sooner.
posted by ebellicosa at 10:53 PM on September 15, 2008

#5 seems odd to me, but the other stuff makes sense if you don't keep copies of all that info yourself. I also don't know how things work where you are, as I'm in a different country and it's probably different here. I have a "history" booklet from each doc, but I keep track of things more meticulously myself; I have copies of blood test results. I bring all that info with me, and I trust my record-keeping more anyway. If I were seeing one doctor about something that required x-rays, I definitely wouldn't be splitting that care between two vets.

At any rate, our situation is different because most practices are single-doctor affairs here.

About the A-client list... I wouldn't go to a practice that has A-clients and B-clients.
posted by taz at 10:56 PM on September 15, 2008

I can't imagine it's an emergency. Most animals animals get bare patches and/or calluses on their elbows from lying on them plus it's shedding season so random bald bits aren't exactly unusual.

I probably wouldn't even take the cat to the vet unless it started to hurt or ooze or whatever.
posted by fshgrl at 11:07 PM on September 15, 2008

To Taz: People are human. It's a human impulse to evaluate and compare.

In just the same way you are evaluating your vet, your vet is evaluating you.

We are all of us emotional beings.

Every relationship is a two-way street.

Having mutual trust and great rapport enriches any relationship, business or personal.

Here's a glimpse from behind the curtain - all practices have a shortlist of favorite patients and pain-in-the-ass clients. What do you think the staff talks about between appointments?

Snark alert: if you don't know about A-clients, you've probably never been one.
posted by ebellicosa at 12:11 AM on September 16, 2008

Well, we'll be talking past each other because our realities are very different. You're actually talking about a far less personal sort of arrangement, really. We take walks and stop by our vets' offices and chat, I email articles and heads-up stuff ("found rat poison put out on X steet - if you have any unexplained illnesses from any of your clients anywhere around there, you may want to keep this in mind... I'll bring by a sample the next time we walk by" was one, for example) to one of my vets; on longer walks, we often stop by the second vet and have a coffee with his assistant.

You can keep your Alphabet technique, I like this way better.
posted by taz at 12:30 AM on September 16, 2008

Still you are a vet, and in the same country as the poster, who is probably using some practice similar to yours - so your advice is more helpful here, I think. Though having to wait four or five days in order not to offend the vet when you are worried about something seems kind of tough.
posted by taz at 12:42 AM on September 16, 2008

I agree. If you're in a rural area, it probably is a good idea to get to know all the vets.

Back to urban North American veterinarians - it's ok to go to a different vet as a "pinch-hitter" and to be upfront about it. Just don't bounce around back and forth.
posted by ebellicosa at 2:39 AM on September 16, 2008

Both of my cats - at separate times - developed bald spots. It wasn't anything terrible - from memory, the vet suggested over-grooming and gave us a cream that cleared it right up. So, it's unlikely that it's an emergency. If it would give you peace, by all means go to another vet. But your cat will last until Saturday.
posted by outlier at 4:04 AM on September 16, 2008

It doesn't sound serious. I personally would wait, and keep a close eye on her for changes in behavior. If her behavior changes significantly, try to get in sooner. You can always try calling the vet back if it appears to be getting serious. Some will squeeze you in between other patients, or have you drop the pet off in the morning and the vet will examine some time during the day when there is free time if there is something urgent.

And, as mentioned above, wash your hands well. If its ringworm, you can catch it and I've heard its a bitch to treat.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 4:04 AM on September 16, 2008

could be mange, in which case you need a vet now.
posted by Jason and Laszlo at 4:38 AM on September 16, 2008

one of my cats did a whole lot of overgrooming. turns out she was just stressed. she went on kitty antidepressants for a little while and we practiced being mellow and then she was fine.

(it was a very stressful time for me, so i assume the cat picked up on that. plus, i think once she'd licked all the fur off of her lower body, it was kind of itchy growing back)
posted by rmd1023 at 5:20 AM on September 16, 2008

Ach. One of our cats delevoped bald spots (on his head!) - they came on very suddenly. Took him to the vet and she was all "Yoiks! Ringworm!"

Ringworm is a pain to treat in cats but not that tough in humans. Nobody else in the house - feline or human - has developed it.

But IANAV and your cat might not have ringworm. But a vet's a good idea, sooner rather than later - if it is ringworm, finding out and starting treatment sooner rather than later is good.

If you do a walk-in emergency visit at the SPCA, and go 1st thing (8am), the wait shouldn't be too bad. Or you could try calling the very nice folks at SF Vet Specialists. They are NOT cheap. Like, at all. But they're extremely good at what they do and they're very nice.
posted by rtha at 6:17 AM on September 16, 2008

On Friday I took my cat to the vet for a peeing problem, and when I got him home (after a stressful visit that included a bunch of shots, poor guy), I let him out of the carrier and 5 minutes later noticed a huge pile of white fur, some attached to roots (eew!) on the floor.

Upon exam, my cat had an instant nickle-sized bald spot over his shoulder and I flipped out, called the vet, and they were wholly unimpressed or worried. They said he probably caught his skin on the carrier (which I don't think at all), or something, don't worry, keep an eye on him.

I now think it was just stress and heat and that he freaked out and kind of ripped at his skin when he got home, but it seems to be scabbing over and he's doing just fine, so, basically - I wouldn't worry unless it keeps getting worse. Take her in when you can get her in.
posted by tristeza at 7:55 AM on September 16, 2008

Coming late to the party here, but just in case you haven't got this taken care of -- it might be something else, but it's the right description for ringworm, and yes, you can get it. Often it's no big deal, but some varieties, some cats and some people this can be a major ordeal.

If you can't get to a vet like, now, go get a good over the counter athlete's foot ointment (Lamosil works well -- ringworm is a closely related fungus to athlete's foot) and apply that liberally to the affected area, and an area about an inch around it (assuming that it's ringworm, the bare spot is where the ringworm WAS; where it is now is in the hairs surrounding it, killing the hairs and making spores.

More hair will fall out after you treat, this is normal. Reapply twice a day or so until you get to the vet. Tell the vet what you've done (feel free to start with "some nutball on the internet suggested that I..."), and for God's sake, wash your hands (and your clothes, and your bedding if kitty's been on your bed).

As usual, I'm not a vet, not your vet, etc., but don't mess with ringworm -- I've seen people end up on steroid trying to get rid of it. (most don't, but still)
posted by nonliteral at 9:27 AM on September 16, 2008

One more anecdote...Our cat developed a raw, bald spot southwest of the underside of her tail. She kept licking it, and I feared that she had some sort of anal sac infection. She didn't seem bothered by it; I wouldn't have noticed it except for her habit of hopping up on my desk while I'm working and kitty-mooning me. Anyway, we took her to the vet on Monday (I discovered the area late on a Saturday), and after much examining the doctor concluded that her anal sacs were just fine, and hypothesized that perhaps after a trip to the litter box, a little stubborn piece of poo had clung to the fur in that area, and that she'd been cleaning...and cleaning...and cleaning it.
posted by Oriole Adams at 11:06 AM on September 16, 2008

And, if it is ringworm, vacuum the heck out of your house. It's passed on via fur, so de-fur as much as possible. Good luck and let us know what happens!
posted by rtha at 11:13 AM on September 16, 2008

Hi everyone, I know it's been a long time, but I wanted to come back in and say thanks for all your help.

It turns out it was a burn, which we suspect she got by hiding behind the dryer while it was drying. She had to wear a guard so that she wouldn't lick it, which she hated, but at least it was the soft kind; not one of those old-fashioned hard ones.

Thanks again, everybody.
posted by roll truck roll at 5:12 PM on January 21, 2009

Thanks for the update - glad your cat's okay.
posted by rtha at 7:37 PM on January 21, 2009

hooray for a healthy kitty.

i'm trying to not laugh at the pics of the cat in the collar, and failing miserably.
posted by rmd1023 at 7:43 AM on January 22, 2009

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