Cat Losing Hair - Why my kitty has bald spots?

Does your cat seem to be losing hair? Maybe you’ve noticed a bald patch or even multiple bald areas on your cat. While shedding fur is a natural part of a cat’s life, abnormal hair loss is not. Here’s all you need to know about alopecia in cats.  

cat losing hair
Photo by Ramiz Dedaković on Unsplash

Why is my cat losing hair - what can I do about it?

Hair loss, also known as alopecia can affect cats of all breeds and age. It is often a symptom of another condition and rarely happens on its own. 

Oftentimes, your cat is losing hair because of over-grooming. While cats do spend a large amount of time grooming themselves, they also over-groom to relieve itchiness, discomfort or pain caused by other underlying issues.  

Even though your cat may look very unsightly with its thinning, brittle hair and bald patches, cat hair loss is easily treatable once you identify the underlying cause. Do pay your vet a visit if you notice that your cat is losing hair. It is important not to start treating it with psychoactive drugs until other causes of itching have been ruled out. 

What do bald patches on cats look like? 

Bald patches on your cat can vary in appearance, depending on the cause. Your cat may have many bald areas or just a few. You may also notice skin irritations or scabbing on the places where there used to be fur. 

For example, parasites can damage both the skin and hair follicles and thus, you may notice scabbing on the skin. Alternately, if the skin looks healthy and only has fur loss in areas that are easy to get to, your cat may be overgrooming due to stress. 

Symptoms accompanying cat hair loss

In addition to the usual hair loss in places such as the belly, underside of the tail, sides, legs and genital area. Note that you may actually notice changes to the coat, excessive shedding or rough fur before seeing bald patches. Your cat may also show other symptoms depending on the underlying cause of hair loss. These symptoms include:

  • Dry skin that is itchy and scaly
  • Skin that has red patches or darker in color (hyperpigmentation)
  • Dandruff and excessive shedding
  • Bumps or blisters
  • Scabs
  • Skin loss
  • Scaling
  • Cysts or nodules
  • Sores and ulcers
  • Excessive grooming
  • Whisker loss
  • Foul odor from affected areas
  • Lethargy 
  • Joint pain

Causes of Cat Hair Loss

There are a few different reasons as to why your cat may be experiencing hair loss. Some cats are born with a skin condition (which is usually harmless), other cats lose their fur because they are sick or as a side effect to other conditions. The hair loss can also present in different parts of the body.

Knowing the cause of the hair loss will help you determine the best course of treatment for your cat. Here are some reasons as to why your cat may be losing its hair. 

Parasites

Parasites such as fleas, mites, ticks and lice may be the reason your cat is over-grooming itself. Your cat may try to relieve the itchiness by scratching and licking, resulting in bald spots and even sores. Additionally, your cat may also be allergic to flea saliva, which causes even more discomfort. 

Over grooming due to stress and anxiety

Cats who are stressed may over groom themselves to the point of baldness, picking especially on easy to reach spots such as their belly, legs and sides. Vets refer to this behaviour as ‘psychogenic alopecia’. 

Stress in cats can be harder to diagnose as compared to a flea infestation or other physical problems. Consult your vet immediately if you suspect that your cat is suffering from stress as it can cause massive hair loss. This condition can develop in any cat, but is more common in female purebreds. 

Psychogenic alopecia can also occur when cats are bored. If boredom is the cause, then simply make the extra effort to engage your cat and play with him every day. Find out more about overgrooming and how to alleviate cat’s stress. 

Allergies causing hair loss in cats

Allergies are the number one cause of hair loss in cats. Cats can be allergic to food, dust, pollen, medication, and even insect bites. To ease the itchiness and discomfort, cats may lick and scratch themselves until there are bald spots. 

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Skin infections

Hair loss in cats can also be attributed to skin infections. For example, ringworm is quite a common fungal infection that caused a scaly ring of missing hair. These round bald patches can usually be found on the head, behind the ears and back. Go to the vet quickly to get the most suitable treatment for bald patches caused by ringworm. 

Pain

Your cat may lick itself to ease pain and discomfort. For example, if your cat has arthritis, it may try to relieve achy joints by excessive grooming of those areas. This is also true for injuries - your kitty may continuously lick the injured area to reduce the pain. 

Medical conditions

Endocrine conditions that cause hormonal imbalances such as Hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid) can also cause your cat to lose its fur. You may notice your cat’s fur becoming thin and brittle as well as excess shedding when you brush its fur. 

Autoimmune diseases such as Cushing’s disease causes hair follicles to die. If you are concerned that your cat’s hair loss is a sign of a bigger health issue, head to the vet so that the necessary tests can be done. The sooner you have a diagnosis, the sooner you can help your cat to get better. 

Cat hair loss treatment

Once the cause of the alopecia is determined, your veterinarian will be able to prescribe the treatment that is most appropriate for your cat. In order to get an accurate diagnosis on the problem, you will likely have to discuss your pet’s medical history and symptoms with your vet. Your vet will also likely perform a full physical examination on your cat, including a skin biopsy and bloodwork if the cause of hair loss is unclear. 

Treatment for cat hair loss include:

Anti anxiety and anti depressant medications

In cases where hair loss is caused by stress, the vet may prescribe medication to help your cat cope. Psychogenic alopecia usually improves with medication, and you will see your cat stop excessive grooming. However, medication, as always, may come with a risk of side effects, though they are not severe. 

Besides medication, you can also work to remove environmental stressors and focus on minimizing stress for your pet. 

Antihistamines

If the hair loss is due to an allergy, antihistamines may be prescribed to reduce your cat’s response to the allergen. Nonetheless, you should also work to eliminate the allergen if is possible. For example, if your cat seems to be allergic to a particular food, then you should remove it from kitty’s diet to prevent further complications. 

Antihistamines are also sometimes prescribed to treat alopecia even when an allergy is not diagnosed as this is considered a very low risk treatment. 

Topical treatments

Topical creams are commonly used to treat hair loss caused by fungal infections, parasites and certain skin conditions. You can check for fleas and mites by using a fine toothed comb on your pet. 

Prevention

Besides topical creams for fleas and mites, you can also keep your pet on regular tick and flea control medication to prevent pests. You will also need to clean your house, especially your cat’s bedding and toys. This will help you to avoid future infestations of parasites that can cause unsightly hair loss. 

Other cause specific treatments

As hair loss in cats can be caused by various factors, your vet may prescribe a cause specific treatment for your cat, depending on the diagnosis. Medications and even surgery is used to treat conditions such as hyperthyroidism. As such, it is wise to discuss with your vet the best course of action to take for your kitty, as well as the risks associated with the treatment recommended. 

cat hair loss
Photo by Edgar on Unsplash

Hair loss on different parts of the body

Depending on the underlying cause, your cat may present with hair loss on different parts of its body. For example, you may be wondering why your cat is losing hair on its ear, belly, or tail

While allergies, fleas and parasites, and infections can affect any part of your cat, conditions such as stud tail and ear mites cause cats to lose hair on specific areas. At times, your vet will be able to determine the underlying cause of hair loss depending on which area is suffering hair loss. 

Conclusion 

Hair loss in cats is usually treatable and not serious. However, if you notice new areas of fur loss or scabbing and red skin on your cat, it’s best that you consult your veterinarian. Most likely, your cat will recover from alopecia once the underlying condition is treated. Nonetheless, if it is permanent, your cat can still live a full life. Follow up with your vet to ensure that your cat’s skin is healthy.

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