Everything You Need to Know About Hair Loss in Cats

Cat hair loss

If you start to see bald patches appearing on your cat’s coat, it’s time to put on your detective hat. There can be many reasons behind hair loss in a cat. Different issues will require different treatments.

So, how can you tell what’s going on? Read to find out how to get to the bottom of an issue that can sometimes be fraught with complexity.

The Definition of Alopecia in Cats

Alopecia is a medical term we use to describe hair loss in cats. It’s not uncommon in cats and there can be various causes for it. Often, there’s more than a single reason for alopecia. That can make it hard to diagnose and treat.

Sometimes, cat hair falls out spontaneously. On other occasions, it happens due to cats biting, scratching, or overgrooming. Although small areas of hair loss such as between the ears and eyes may be nothing to worry about, it can be a sign of a serious underlying disease. You can think of alopecia as having 2 main types:

  • Congenital alopecia: typically happens in kittens or young cats. Often breed-related, it won’t cause cats itchiness. 
  • Acquired alopecia happens in cats of any age with normal hair coats but who lose hair due to an underlying illness or skin disease. Causes can be mites, an allergy, or a metabolic disease like hyperthyroidism. 

Cats with alopecia can have patches of hair loss on one or several parts of their body. Where the patches are will depend on their underlying cause. Sometimes the skin may appear irritated and red but it can also appear normal. Signs of inflammation include:

  • Itchiness with more scratching or biting than normal
  • An increase in the number of hairballs.
  • Bumps, sores, scabs, and redness

If there’s an underlying disease affecting your cat, you may see these signs:

  • Changes in appetite and energy levels
  • Vomiting, diarrhea, increased thirst, and urination
  • An enlarged abdomen
  • Conjunctivitis or inflamed ears

Causes of Hair Loss on a Cat

Congenital alopecia is easier to diagnose. Some cats are born without hair. It’s a feature of certain breeds like Sphinx or Elf cats but it can happen in any breed of cat. Sometimes cats are born with a thin coat of hair that they lose over time. It’s common in Siamese and Burmese cats.

Some cats are born with a full coat of hair that thins out as they grow older. Cornish Rex breeds have a predisposition to this. 

If a cat has acquired alopecia, the problem could be due to one or more of the following:

  • A bacterial infection, yeast, ringworm, or parasites
  • An allergy to food, fleas, food, or something in the environment
  • Discomfort due to an illness e.g. in the bladder or kidneys
  • An endocrine disease such as hyperthyroidism 
  • The stress caused by a pregnancy, nursing, or fever
  • Certain cancers
  • An immune-mediated disease
  • A psychological or behavioral issue that causes compulsion and anxiety.
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How Veterinarians Diagnose Cat Hair Loss

In order to make an accurate diagnosis your vet will need a detailed history of your cat. They’ll want to know the following:

  • Your cat’s age and what flea prevention treatment you have administered
  • Whether your cat is experiencing itchiness or is prone to seasonal skin issues
  • Whether your cat has been experiencing unusual stress

They will then want to perform a physical examination of your cat. When your cat is displaying alopecia it is often a clue to the underlying cause. 

The base of the tail and lower back might suggest flea issues. Anal gland issues can cause irritation below the tail. If the cause is psychological (and thus due to overgrooming), it’s unlikely a cat will have hair loss on their face or neck.

Your veterinarian may then carry out various tests. These could include:

  • Wood’s lamp to test for a ringworm infection
  • A fungal culture
  • Examining a skin sample under a microscope to check for bacteria or yeast
  • Skin scraping to check for parasites like mites
  • Skin biopsy for a pathologist to view and study
  • Bloodwork and urinalysis to check for an endocrine disorder
  • An ultrasound or X-rays to look for signs of cancer

Allergy testing is a little more time-consuming. Your vet may suggest you try an elimination diet. That could mean using prescription food for 2 to 3 months to test for a food allergy. The vet might recommend intradermal allergen testing if they think your cat might have some form of environmental allergy.

A psychological issue may end up being at play but you would only know that for sure once you’d been able to rule out other potential causes. Sudden changes in a cat’s environment like a house move can cause this kind of problem. 

The Treatment for Hair Loss in Cats

Treatment is going to depend on the underlying cause of your cat’s hair loss. You may need to use an Elizabethan collar (e-collar) if your cat continuously licks or bites their skin. The collar helps stop infections and lets the hair regrow.

Other types of treatments include:

  • Using a parasiticide product for 2 months to get rid of potential parasites 
  • Topical therapies such as medicated shampoos or ointments
  • Antibiotics or antifungals medication
  • An elimination diet trial 
  • Antihistamines to reduce itchiness
  • Taking action to reduce the stress of your pet

Recovery From Cat Alopecia

How long it takes your cat to get over alopecia is going to depend on the underlying cause. It could take several weeks but even many months. When the underlying cause gets diagnosed and treated properly, your cat’s hair is likely to grow back.

Some issues will need long-term management. This could mean using year-round flea treatments, prescription cat food, regular use of topical medication, and the continued use of medication. 

You should always work closely with your vet to get the best possible outcome.

Talk to Us!

Contact your vet if you notice any changes such as bald patches in your cat’s coat. Some of the conditions that cause alopecia in cats are serious and can make your cat miserable. It’s crucial to let your vet know about hair loss symptoms in cats such as:

  • Scabs, a rash, or patches of dark skin
  • Dry skin, itchiness, and overgrooming
  • Losing whiskers and lethargy
  • Drinking more than usual
  • Eating more or less than usual or eating more or less than usual

We have a team of highly experienced vets on standby waiting to talk to you. Book a timeslot now and get expert advice.

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