Have you noticed bald spots showing up on your cat with seemingly no explanation? Maybe you’ve noticed your cat licking certain spots more or he’s itchy or irritable. Maybe your kitty has even been going potty outside the box. All of these can indicate stress or medical problems.
There are quite a few reasons your cat may have developed bald spots, and your veterinarian is the best to go when you notice this. However, it’s a good idea to play detective first because the more information you can give your veterinarian, the more likely they’ll be to accurately diagnose the hair loss problem and treat it.
So, what causes bald spots on cats?
Even the best cat owners may end up with fleas on their cat. Fleas are sneaky and can get into your home on your clothes or other pets. They can hide in carpets and under furniture for months on end. And fleas can be difficult to get rid of, too!
If you’ve noticed your cat chewing and seeming itchy, it can be related to fleas. Not only are fleas irritating to your cat, but some cats can develop a condition called flea bite dermatitis. This is a type of allergy to the saliva the fleas produce, which causes extreme irritation when fleas bite the cat.
Fleas tend to congregate around the base of the tail on cats, which is a sensitive area, so this creates even more irritation. You may notice your cat chewing around the base of the tail, leaving bald spots behind. Fleas may also hang out on the face, so your cat may scratch at its face frequently, leaving bald spots on the neck and chin.
Fleas can be hard to spot on cats and they are pros at hiding, but there are a few things to look for. Fleas and flea bite dermatitis can both leave behind red, bumpy skin. Also, fleas defecate what is essentially dried blood. If you’ve noticed rust-colored spots in your kitty’s water bowl, then there are likely fleas. If you notice small brown or red flakes on your cat, you can put them on a white piece of paper and put a drop of water on top. If it’s flea poop, the flake will melt back into liquid blood.
Contrary to popular belief, ringworm isn’t a worm at all. Ringworm is a fungal infection and is common in stray and outdoor cats. Ringworm has a distinctive circular, flaky rash that will appear as a bald spot. It may be red or irritated and may or may not seem to bother your cat.
Most ringworm infections are relatively easy to treat, but before you try any over-the-counter medications, it’s best to check with your vet to ensure your kitty actually has ringworm. By the way, ringworm is contagious to people and it’s common for people to pick ringworm up from domestic animals.
When cats become stressed, they may begin to overgroom to the point of losing hair. This stress can be caused by physical illness or changes in the environment, including new pets, moving to a new home, and even changes in food.
Cats are very sensitive to change, so try to introduce changes slowly. Remember to always provide your kitty plenty of quiet places to hide, especially if you suspect the stress may be related to children or other pets.
Overgroomed cats can lose hair from anywhere, but you will notice them grooming a particular spot over and over until there is a bald patch. Overgrooming is common on the legs and you may notice your cat losing a significant amount of hair on the front or back legs. Pain can cause overgrooming in cats, especially joint or bone pain.
If your kitty has arthritis, you may notice hair loss with the development of hot spots, which are shallow wounds created by your cat licking the same place over and over. Over time, hot spots can turn into lick granulomas, which is a thickened area of skin around the hot spot, as the body attempts to heal the skin. Hot spots and lick granulomas are not serious but can indicate underlying problems.
If you suspect your cat is overgrooming, evaluate the environment, make changes you can make, and check with your vet to ensure there is not an underlying medical issue or a need for anti-anxiety medication.
Some chemicals are caustic, meaning they can cause burns. If your cat gets into your garage or cleaning chemicals, you may notice hair loss that is accompanied by painful, raw areas of skin. If you believe your cat has gotten into dangerous chemicals, get them to a vet immediately.
Some cats are very sensitive to topical medications, like flea medications. If your cat begins losing hair in the specific pattern of how you apply their flea medication, whether it’s in a line down their spine or dots at the nape of the neck and base of the tail, then they may be reacting to a topical medication. If this happens, talk to your vet about what your options for flea and tick control are. Your cat may do better with oral medication or a prescription collar. Always make sure you are purchasing legitimate, veterinary-grade flea and tick medications. Cheap big-box store brands are notorious for causing these reactions and far worse reactions, like seizures. Some online pharmacies will sell fake veterinary products, so purchasing directly from your vet is your best bet for safety.
Cats can be allergic to some foods and they can also become allergic to a product they previously did well with. Systemic allergies in cats usually lead to diffuse hair loss across the body.
Food allergies are usually related to a specific protein, so if you believe your cat has developed food allergies that are leading to hair loss, switching to a different protein food and trying it for 6-8 weeks may help. So, if your cat has been on a chicken-based food, you may try a fish-based food. Make sure to read labels thoroughly because some products may sneak into places you wouldn’t expect.
Some allergies are environmental, like grasses, trees, and even other animals like dogs and humans. There are allergy tests your vet can perform to identify what exactly your kitty is allergic to.
Mange can be contagious to other pets or benign and is not common in cats, especially cats that are not stray. If you have recently taken in a stray cat, or if your cat was missing and is now back home, and you notice large patches of hair loss, talk to your vet about testing for mange.
Any time you notice hair loss on your cat, it’s best to avoid touching it and wash your hands thoroughly anytime you handle your cat or their bedding.
7. More serious causes
Multiple medical conditions can lead to hair loss, including cancers, hyperthyroidism, and protein deficiencies. Identifying the underlying cause of the hair loss will determine the course of treatment you and your veterinarian decide on.
Keep in mind that hair loss in cats is a symptom of a problem, not a problem itself. If your cat is developing bald patches, begin your detective work to identify as many causes in your cat’s environment that you can find that may lead to hair loss. Watch your cat closely for changes in behavior, like irritability and loss of appetite, as well as hiding more than normal. Collect as much evidence as you can before you take your kitty to the vet so you can give your vet as much information as possible to help get your kitty back to normal.
Featured image credit: Nils Jacobi, Shutterstock