Hair Loss in Cats

Hair Loss in Cats
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Hair loss, or alopecia, is a common problem for cats. It may include full or partial loss that appears in asymmetrical or symmetrical patterns in your feline's fur coat. Although treatment options do exist, they're limited and costly. In addition to taking your cat in for a veterinary exam, you can take a few palliative steps to reduce the discomfort your cat may be experiencing.

Why Do Cats Lose 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 chance that your cat can be successfully treated.

illustration of why cats lose their hair
Illustration: Jiaqi Zhou. © The Spruce, 2019 

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 loss of hair, 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, although this condition is rare in cats.

Parasites, like fleas, ticks, and mites, can cause itchiness, inflammation, and lesions that can also lead to hair loss. These parasites may lead to overgrooming by the cat as well. 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, but these are tricky to diagnose. Once other medical issues are ruled out, this could be determined as the cause of your cat's fur loss. Keep your cat mentally stimulated and try to redirect any overgrooming behaviors as soon as you see them.

Physical Pain

Pain may be another cause of hair loss in your cat, who may be feeling muscle or joint pain under the skin. To ease the pain, the cat may continue to lick the area and may lick it so much that they can lick away the fur. Hair loss may also be a side effect of taking some medications.

Treatment

When you take your cat to the vet for diagnosis and treatment, she will likely order a complete blood count, or CBC, to determine whether hormonal or thyroid imbalance is causing the alopecia. She may use various imaging tools, such as X-rays, 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, she may do a skin biopsy or culture as well. She 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, medications and topical treatments are available to treat these. If the hair loss is due to a behavioral issue, you can use behavior modification to lessen the problem, but other types of treatment options are fairly limited. A feline behaviorist could be helpful in "reteaching" your cat the appropriate grooming behaviors. Anxiety medications, synthetic feline facial pheromone spray, or other calming aids could prove helpful as well.

Regular tick and flea 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 and prevention.

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

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.

If you suspect your pet is sick, call your vet immediately. For health-related questions, always consult your veterinarian, as they have examined your pet, know the pet's health history, and can make the best recommendations for your pet.