Feline paraneoplastic alopecia - Veterinary Practice
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Feline paraneoplastic alopecia

David Grant continues his series looking at dermatological conditions.

  • Rare and unique to the cat (Miller et al., 2013). Can be considered a cutaneous marker for an underlying malignancy (Hnilica, 2011).
  • Associated in most cases with a pancreatic malignant tumour, either acinar or pancreatic duct. In these cases metastasis has often occurred at the time of diagnosis. Bile duct carcinoma has also been described, and most recently a single case was reported of a metastasising intestinal carcinoma (Grandt et al., 2015).
  • Occurs often in cats older than 10 years.
  • No sex or breed predilection.

Clinical signs

  • Rapid in onset (weeks to a few months).
  • Alopecia begins ventrally and then spreads to the limbs, sparing the head in most cases.
  • Focal areas of erythema with a characteristic shiny and glistening skin.
  • There may be crusting and waxy debris associated with secondary Malassezia, leading to pruritus.
  • Loss in weight and general signs of illness associated with the underlying malignant tumour.

Differential diagnosis

(Hnilica, 2011)

  • Hyperadrenocorticism.
  • Fleabite hypersensitivity.
  • Dermatophytosis.
  • Food allergy.
  • Cutaneous drug eruption.
  • Telogen de uxion.
  • Alopecia areata.


  • History, physical examination. The distinctive appearance of the signs in an older cat, which are sudden in onset and with easy epilation of the skin, are all highly suggestive.
  • Rule-out of differentials.
  • Skin biopsy. Acanthosis, parakeratosis, follicular atrophy and lack of trichilemmal keratin (Miller et al., 2013).
  • Radiography and ultrasonography may enable a diagnosis, but not always as masses may be too small to visualise.
  • Exploratory laparotomy.


  • Appropriate treatment of secondary pyoderma and Malassezia dermatitis to control pruritus.
  • Supportive care.
  • Complete removal of an underlying malignant tumour would be the theoretical treatment of choice. Curative surgery has not been reported although there was a temporary improvement in one cat before return of clinical signs with tumour recurrence (Tasker et al., 1999).


  • The prognosis is very poor as many underlying tumours have metastasised by the time the diagnosis is made.
  • Most cases die within eight weeks of diagnosis with euthanasia frequently necessary.
  • Illustrations by courtesy of David Lloyd, Royal Veterinary College Dermatology Group.

References and
further reading

  • Grandt, L-M, Shroeder, S., Kochlerk, K. and others (2015) Feline paraneoplastic alopecia associated with metastasizing intestinal carcinoma. Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery 1 (2).
  • Hnilica, K. A. In: Small Animal Dermatology – A Color Atlas and Therapeutic Guide, 3rd edition, pp304-309. Elsevier, 2011.
  • Miller, W. H., Grif n, C. G., Campbell, K. A. In: Muller and Kirk’s Small Animal Dermatology, 7th edition, pp568-569. Elsevier, 2013.
  • Tasker, S., Griffon, D. J., Nuttall, T. J. and others (1999) Resolution of paraneoplastic alopecia following surgical removal of a pancreatic carcinoma in a cat. Journal of Small Animal Practice 40 (1): 16-19.

David Grant

David Grant, MBE, BVetMed, CertSAD, FRCVS, graduated from the RVC in 1968 and received his FRCVS in 1978. David was hospital director at RSPCA Harmsworth for 25 years and now writes and lectures internationally, mainly in dermatology.

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