Some cats lose fur or develop bald spots on their hind legs due to an allergic reaction caused by fleas or food, or a bacterial infection like folliculitis. It's also possible that your cat is overgrooming because of stress. The bottom line is, if your pet is experiencing hair loss, it's best to take it to the vet to find out the underlying cause and whether it can be successfully treated, managed, or prevented.
Why Do Cats Lose Hair on Their Hind Legs?
Hair loss in cats occurs in response to many factors, including poor nutrition, autoimmune disease, fungal infections, allergies, and parasites. Owners tend to notice it on the hind legs because they're a favorite spot for cats to groom. If something is bothering your cat, its hind legs may be a natural place for it to focus its attention.
The most important thing to look for in a cat that's losing its hair is a skin condition. Skin that looks inflamed, crusty, or scabby may indicate that the hair loss is a health issue rather than a behavioral one.
Stress and Anxiety
Most commonly, cats that lose hair on their hind legs are experiencing stress and anxiety. When a cat obsessively licks and scratches a certain area, it's called psychogenic alopecia. Continually "overgrooming" an area is globally recognized to be an obsessive-compulsive behavior.
Many cats with this condition pick at their tummies, sides, and legs. The pattern is especially common among female purebreds that have nervous personalities. If your cat is stressed or anxious, it may need an antidepressant or a change in the environment, like keeping other pets away or putting up a high perch so it has a peaceful place to rest.
Cats experiencing pain in a specific area may lick themselves compulsively, which is a common behavior in cats that have arthritis. It's easy to mistake this for stress-induced compulsive behavior, which is why it's important to rule out health issues first.
Alopecia or Baldness
Baldness, also known as alopecia, isn't normal in dogs and cats as a rule, though certain breeds, like the sphynx, are naturally hairless. Because hair loss is relatively uncommon in pets, you should point out any bald spots you notice to your veterinarian.
Extreme itchiness, paired with licking, chewing, and biting, will cause hair loss (known as traumatic alopecia). Blunted stubble may also appear in the affected area.
When the skin looks normal and isn't red, inflamed, or otherwise bothered, there could be a hormonal imbalance at play. For example, although it's more common in dogs, hypothyroidism can affect cats as well. Your cat could also have ringworm, which may be difficult to detect when it's a mild infection.
There are other feline baldness conditions, like eosinophilic granuloma complex, an allergic skin condition that's often accompanied by scabby areas. Most often, you'll see a mass or nodular lesion on the back of your cat's thighs, on the face, or even in its mouth. This type of infection is restricted to cats, and the breed doesn't matter. Generally, the granuloma is seen in cats younger than 2 years of age. In older cats, females are more likely to develop symptoms than males.
Feline folliculitis is a bacterial infection due to damaged hair follicles that can cause itching and inflammation. You can expect to see raised, red, pus-filled or crusty bumps on the skin, both on the face and body. Hair loss often occurs when cats scratch at the bumps.
Usually, folliculitis develops as a secondary symptom during illness when a cat's immune system is compromised. Additionally, certain drugs, such as steroids, may cause an allergic skin reaction that leads to folliculitis.
Parasites, such as fleas, Demodex mites, and Notoedres cati mites, are notorious for causing itchiness and irritation in both cats and dogs. A cat infected with any of these may relentlessly bite at its fur and lick, chew, or tug on the area that's bothering it. These attempts to find relief can cause additional issues like sores, hair loss, and bald patches.
Food and environmental allergies may also be part of the reason why your cat is balding. It could be allergic to fish or wheat in its food, mold in the environment, or other factors that cause itching, scratching, and overgrooming.
Regardless of your cat's symptoms, it's important to take your pet to the veterinarian immediately if it's experiencing any signs of illness. Hair loss is particularly troubling and, although it may be a behavioral issue, it's best to rule out health concerns.
Treatment of health issues depends on the actual cause:
- Medications may be prescribed to treat a medical condition. If your cat has hyperthyroidism, for example, an anti-thyroid medication, such as methimazole, will likely be needed.
- Topical treatments are the first choice for treating ringworm, although oral anti-fungal medications are also used.
- Eliminating fleas in your house, as well as on your cat and other pets, is essential to stopping an infestation. Use a flea comb and bathe the cat; then apply a topical flea-control product. You'll also need to do a thorough cleaning of your home to avoid another infestation.
- Different types of mites require different treatments. For instance, Demodex cati mites are treated by finding the underlying reason that your cat's immune system is compromised, while Demodex gatoi mites are often treated with lime sulfur dips.
- If food allergies are the problem, a change in diet may be in order. Be sure to read the ingredients on any new food carefully.
- For other allergies, you will need to find the source of the mold or other allergen and eliminate it.
- For behavioral issues, reducing the stressors in your cat's environment can make a significant impact. You might also want to try using a pheromone spray, such as Feliway, to help calm your cat down.
How to Prevent Hair Loss
Not all of the causes of hair loss in cats are preventable. However, you can take steps to keep your cat as healthy and happy as possible.
- Ensure that your cat's personal stressors—whether it's a change in its environment or another animal—are kept to a minimum so it doesn't resort to overgrooming out of frustration.
- Provide a nutritious diet, plenty of exercise, and regular vet checkups to bypass serious health issues.
- Reducing your cat's exposure to parasites is also within your control to a certain extent.
- Regular flea preventives should be part of your routine as well, even for indoor-only cats.
- Ringworm is spread by fungal spores in soil, so keeping your house clean and regularly washing your cat's toys and bedding can reduce the risks.
- Keeping your cat inside can reduce its exposure to many mites as well.