Hair loss in cats, officially known as alopecia, is a fairly common occurrence. The range of how much hair is lost and on what parts of a feline’s body can vary widely, however, and this largely depends on the exact root cause of the hair loss. This can range from slight thinning to large bald spots, and it is naturally alarming for a cat lover to notice this on their feline.
While there are some cat breeds like the Sphynx that have hereditary alopecia and never grow any hair, hair loss in other breeds is not normal, and there is always some kind of underlying health issue. It’s important to note that alopecia is not a disease in and of itself, but rather a term used to describe a symptom of a disease or condition.
If your cat has started to lose hair and you’re wondering why, you’ve come to the right place. We’ve put together this list of eight possible causes, along with suggested treatments that can help you solve the issue as quickly as possible and help your feline get back to normal.
Allergies are the most common reason for hair loss in cats, so this is the first thing to investigate. Fleas in particular are an irritant to any cat, but in some individuals, fleas can lead to severe allergic reactions. This is due to a hypersensitivity to antigens within the flea’s saliva, which causes extreme itchiness and leads to excessive overgrooming by your cat. In this case, the hair is not actually falling out but is being pulled out by so much licking, faster than it can be replaced. Mites, food allergies, and lice can also cause overgrooming in some cats and lead to hair loss.
One effective solution that can provide almost immediate relief for cats is corticosteroids (cortisone or steroids). This medication can block the allergic reaction and stop the intense itching. After this, it’s important to provide your cat with year-round flea management and prevention.
While not as common as allergies, skin infections can also cause patches of hair loss in cats. This could be from staph infections, yeast infections, or fungal infections, causing your cat to lose hair in the affected areas. Sometimes, infections may even be caused by your cat licking their skin until there is an open wound, which can then become infected, making hair loss from allergies even worse.
If there is a fungal infection, which will need to be confirmed by your vet, they’ll need systemic treatment from an oral antifungal, such as itraconazole. Topical treatment is also commonly used in specially formulated shampoos.
Pain is another less common cause of hair loss, but it happens nonetheless. Your cat may incessantly lick their fur not from itchiness, but from pain, in an effort to relieve the pain or discomfort. Of course, like in cases with allergies, your cat may inadvertently end up licking away the hair too. This can happen with conditions like arthritis or even injuries like sprains or fractures.
The best plan of action is a visit to the vet to make sure there is no underlying disease or injury. If there is, your vet can then provide treatment accordingly, which will hopefully stop the licking.
A highly stressed feline may seek a way of relieving their stress, often resulting in compulsive behavior like incessant licking or scratching. Moving to a new home, introducing a new pet, or any other big changes in your cat’s life may cause anxiety and stress and cause them to lick themselves obsessively. Usually, once the stressful event is over, they will stop the habit, but at times, it can become compulsive.
Try and identify if there have been any events in your cat’s life that may be causing them stress. See if you can reduce this for them, like keeping a new pet away for a while, or better yet, try to avoid any stress from the beginning as much as possible. Try and introduce new pets slowly and calmly to reduce anxiety.
5. Hormonal issues
Hormonal imbalances, such as those caused by conditions like hypothyroidism, may cause hair loss. There are specific hormones that are responsible for your cat’s hair growth, and a surplus or reduction in these hormones may cause hair follicles to die and result in bald patches. This often occurs with pregnant or lactating cats due to hormonal changes, but once they have weaned their kittens, their hormones should go back to normal.
Unless your cat is lactating, the best course of action is a visit with the vet, as they will be able to test and diagnose any kind of hormonal imbalances and then provide adequate treatment.
A poor, unhealthy diet that is lacking in essential vitamins and minerals may result in hair loss. Cats are obligate carnivores, and diets with too many grains and not enough animal proteins can cause serious health issues, one of which could be patches of hair loss. They may also have an allergy to certain types of foods, resulting in alopecia.
Make sure your cat is on a healthy, well-rounded diet that is made up of mostly animal proteins and provides for all their nutritional needs. If their diet is in order, you may need to find out if they are allergic to something in their food via an elimination diet. Try feeding them solely on lean meats and organ meats, and gradually reintroduce their normal food to source the allergy.
7. Side effects of medication
Certain medications may cause alopecia as a side effect, and simply stopping the medication should halt the hair loss. If your cat is on chronic medication, you may need to speak to your vet about a possible alternative.
While cancer in felines rarely causes hair loss in cats, it does happen. There are rare cancers that may cause related hair loss symptoms, or alternatively, the medication that your cat is on may also be the cause. Pancreatic cancer is the most common type related to hair loss, although several other rare forms of cancer may cause alopecia too.
Most of the time, your cat’s hair loss is a symptom caused by over grooming due to an underlying issue. Once that issue is found, it can be treated, and you can have a healthy, fluffy cat in no time. Alopecia is usually caused by an allergy that is easily treated, but if there are any other causes, a trip to your vet is the best course of action.
Featured Image Credit: RJ22, Shutterstock