Hair loss (alopecia) is a common problem for cats. It can 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. There are, fortunately, a few palliative methods pet owners can try to reduce the discomfort for a cat suffering from hair loss.
Signs of Alopecia in Cats
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.
A variety of factors can contribute to feline alopecia making the diagnosis and treatment of this disorder all the more difficult. But the earlier you discover the hair loss, the better the chances your cat can be treated.
Causes and Diagnosis of Feline Hair Loss
There are a variety of factors that could cause a cat to start losing its hair. Hormonal imbalances, such as hyperthyroidism or increased levels of steroids in the body, may lead to hair loss, as will skin allergies or parasites that bring about mange and fungal issues like ringworm. Additionally, cats 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.
A complete blood count (CBC) is often done to determine if there are hormonal or thyroid imbalances causing the alopecia; various imaging tools, such as X-rays, are also used to rule out cancer or abnormalities in the adrenal glands. If the treating veterinarian believes the cat's hair loss is due to a skin issue, a skin biopsy or culture may be done.
Treatment and Prevention of Alopecia in Cats
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, modification treatment can be taught to lessen the problem, but as mentioned previously, treatment options are fairly limited.
Other than administering the appropriate medication, you should observe the cat's condition to make sure it does not become worse. If no treatment option is available, having a cat with alopecia becomes more a task of mitigating the suffering of the animal rather than growing the hair back to a full coat.
Caring for a Cat with Alopecia
If you observe your cat biting and pulling at its hair, do a thorough examination of the skin and hair at least once a week. Use a fine-toothed comb and section the hair so you can examine individual sections, and if you've noticed the cat scratching one area more than another, pay particular attention to that area.
Ask your veterinarian to recommend a safe topical treatment to provide relief from pain and itching, because if you can break this cycle of scratching and biting, your cat has a better chance of healing.