Feline hair loss (or alopecia, to give it its scientific term) might be distressing for both you and your cat, but it’s actually surprisingly common. While it’s often nothing to be alarmed about (cats, especially certain breeds, shed as a matter of course during the warmer months), it can sometimes indicate an underlying medical or emotional problem that requires prompt attention. Typically speaking, you can recognize abnormal hair loss (as opposed to the perfectly normal hair loss caused through shedding) by volume: during seasonal shedding, your cat’s fur may look a little patchy, but it’ll still be abundant enough to cover their skin. If you start noticing “bald patches” and lots of exposed skin, you know you’re looking at something a little out of the norm. If a medical condition is to blame for your cat’s alopecia, it’s likely you’ll notice several other signs besides the obvious. Itching, licking, biting, excessive grooming…. if your cat starts to show signs of these kinds of behavior, something’s most definitely up.
Here are five reasons why cats experience hair loss
Humans aren’t the only creatures capable of developing a pesky allergy. Cats are just as susceptible, with the range of things they could be allergic to running a similarly wide gamut as us. With hair loss being a common symptom, it’s worth considering whether your cat might be sensitive to one of these common allergens:
- Skin Irritants (metals, plastic, rubber, wool, chemicals, dyes, steroid creams, topical antibiotics, certain plants).
- Inhaled Irritants (mold, pollen, and house dust mites).
- Fleas (or more specifically, flea saliva, which can result in hot spots, itching, skin irritation, redness, tenderness, and hair loss).
- Food Allergies (food allergies can be surprisingly common but are often difficult to diagnose. An elimination diet might be needed to determine the exact source of the problem).
If your cat’s hair loss is accompanied by excessive grooming, licking, or other strange or uncharacteristic behaviors, they may be suffering anxiety. Cat’s are just as vulnerable to stress and general anxiety as us, and can display it in many of the same ways. Just as we can quite literally start pulling our hair out when we’re stressed, so can they. Other than simply overgrooming to the point that they’re pulling hair out faster than they can replace it, constant licking can result in ulcers and skin infections that exaggerate the alopecia ten-fold. To avoid stress, it’s important to schedule plenty of regular one-on-one time with your cat, giving them lots of affection when you’re around, and leaving them with plenty of interactive games and activities to keep them mentally stimulated when you’re not.
Infections don’t just upset your cat’s inner workings, they can have a devastating effect on their outward appearance. If your cat’s hair loss is accompanied by a scaly, balding ring, ringworm may be to blame. Ringworm is remarkably easy to pick up, especially if your cat goes outside and interacts with lots of other cats in the neighborhood. As ringworm is a fungal infection, anti-fungal medications will usually be recommended as a treatment.
Hair loss can sometimes be one of the first signs of an underlying health condition, hypothyroidism and other hormonal imbalances being just two. Along with hair loss, a hormonal imbalance may result in weeping skin lesions. As a cat’s response to skin irritations is to increase their grooming to excessive levels, the problems will soon be magnified: along with hair loss, their constant licking may result in painful ‘hot spots’ developing.
A pregnant or nursing cat can often experience hair loss. Known as ‘blowing her coat’, the phenomena, which can result in almost a complete shedding from nose to tail, is absolutely normal and nothing at all to be worried about. As soon as your cat’s hormones restore themselves to their natural balance, the hair loss will stop and your cat’s fur will return to its full splendor in next to no time.
Diagnosing Hair Loss
Identifying the cause of your cat’s hair loss isn’t easy alone, so always seek out professional advice. As PetMD notes, your veterinarian will usually begin their assessment with a thorough examination. If they find no trace of fleas or flea eggs, they’ll usually order a skin biopsy to check for any underlying dermatological problems. A blood serum chemistry panel can also sometimes be necessary if they believe the hair loss stems from a thyroid problem or hormonal imbalance. Lastly, an x-ray or ultrasound may be needed to check for cancerous growths or abnormalities in the adrenal glands.
Once you’ve got to the bottom of what’s causing your cat’s hair loss, the next step is to get them on the correct treatment plan. Typically, treatments will focus on one or more of the following:
- Ointments/ lotions
- Behavior therapy
In some cases, the hair loss will stop almost immediately after treatment starts. Other cases can take slightly longer to resolve (anything from a few weeks to several months), depending on the diagnosis. While you’ll often simply need to wait it out until the treatment kicks in, take careful note of their progress (as well as any setbacks) and speak to your vet if you’re at all concerned that your cat’s not progressing at the rate they should be.
Prevention over Cure
As any vet more concerned with your pet’s health than your money will tell you, prevention is always better than cure. While you can’t safeguard your pet against all the conditions that can result in alopecia, there’s plenty you can do about some. Flea allergies are one of the most common causes of hair loss, and one of the easiest to prevent. Maintain a consistent de-fleaing program to keep those nasty critters well away from your cat’s fur. If your cat’s the nervous or easily bored type, providing plenty of fun and games to keep them mentally stimulated can go a long way to preventing hair loss from nervous disorders.