Hair loss, or alopecia, is a common problem for cats. It may include full or partial loss that appears in varied or symmetrical patterns in the feline's coat. Although treatment options do exist, they are limited and costly. In addition to taking your cat in for a veterinary exam, there are a few palliative steps you can take to reduce the discomfort your cat is experiencing from hair loss.
Why Cats Lose Their Hair
A variety of factors can contribute to feline alopecia making the diagnosis and treatment of this disorder all the more difficult. The earlier you discover the hair loss, the better the chances your cat can be successfully treated.
Medical and Skin Conditions
Hormonal imbalances, such as hyperthyroidism or increased levels of steroids in the body, may lead to hair loss. Another cause can be skin allergies or an allergic reaction. Aside from the obvious hair loss, another sign of feline alopecia is the appearance of redness, bumps, scabs, or skin loss surrounding the area of hair loss. These could be signs that your cat is suffering from some form of common skin disease or even dermatophilosis. Parasites like fleas, ticks, and mites can cause itchiness, inflammation, and lesions that can all lead to hair loss. These parasites can also lead to overgrooming by the cat. Felines can actually become allergic to fleas to the extent that they scratch hard enough to irritate the skin or bite and pull the hair out.
Emotional and Behavioral Issues
Nervous disorders that manifest in behavioral issues like overgrooming can cause hair loss in cats. These can be tricky to diagnose. Once other medical issues are ruled out, this could be determined as the cause. Keep your cat mentally stimulated and try to redirect any overgrooming behaviors as soon as you see them.
Pain may be another cause of hair loss in cats. They may be feeling muscle or joint pain under the skin. To ease the pain, the cat may continue to lick the area. They can lick it so much, that they can lick away the fur. Take note if your cat is taking any medication. Hair loss can be a side effect of some medications.
When you take your cat to the vet for diagnosis and treatment, they will likely order a complete blood count, or CBC, to determine if there are hormonal or thyroid imbalances causing the alopecia. Various imaging tools, such as X-rays, may be used to rule out cancer or abnormalities in the adrenal glands. If your vet believes the cat's hair loss is due to a skin issue, a skin biopsy or culture may be done as well. The vet will also do a visual exam to look for fleas and other infestations.
If the alopecia is due to a skin disorder like skin erosions, thyroid imbalance, or other hormonal imbalances, there are medications and topical treatments available. If the hair loss is due to a behavioral issue, behavior modification can be used to lessen the problem, but treatment options are fairly limited. A feline behaviorist could be helpful in "reteaching" your cat the appropriate grooming behaviors. Anxiety medications could prove helpful as well.
Regular flea and tick control medication is also essential to keep the cat healthy and rule those pests out as a possible reason for hair loss. If your cat is losing hair due to fleas or ticks, you'll also need to clean your house, including the cat's bedding, toys, and other kitty gear. Speak to your vet about the safest approaches to flea control.
In addition to administering the appropriate medication, you should observe the cat's condition to make sure the hair loss doesn't get worse. If no treatment option is available, properly caring for your cat with alopecia becomes more a task of mitigating the suffering of your pet rather than regrowing a full coat.
How to Prevent Hair Loss in Cats
If you observe your cat biting and pulling at its hair, do a thorough examination of its skin and hair at least once a week. Use a fine-toothed comb and part the hair so you can examine individual sections. If you've noticed the cat scratching one area more than another, pay particular attention to that area. Also make sure that any bedding, toys, or scratch posts are not contributing to the issue by being too rough on the cat's fur.
Ask your veterinarian to recommend a safe topical treatment to provide relief from pain and itching. If you can break the cycle of scratching and biting the inflamed skin, your cat has a better chance of healing.