Hair Loss in Cats - Feline Alopecia
Why do cats get alopecia?
In many cases, the cause of the hair loss will be immediately obvious, such as a flea or parasite infestation. However, in some instances, it can be caused by a serious underlying health condition that’s difficult to diagnose.
This is why you should get your cat to the vet as soon as you notice any hair loss, and make sure you have good cat health insurance in case it’s something serious.
Causes of feline alopecia - Underlying medical conditions
- Allergies - This is the number one cause of hair loss in cats. If hair loss has come on suddenly, it could be a sign of a change in the environment your cat is allergic to. It could be a reaction to new food, medicines or dust
- Hormonal imbalances - A condition such as hyperthyroidism could be the cause of hair loss. Your cat’s hair will start to look unkempt, they’ll lose weight and may start vomiting
- Skin disease - Conditions like feline acne, mange, and even dermatophilosis can cause hair loss. Other symptoms of skin disease include raised bumps, scabs, and redness
- Parasites - Another incredibly common cause of feline alopecia. Fleas, ticks, chiggers and other parasites can cause enough irritation to prompt your cat to start tearing its hair out
Causes of feline alopecia - Behavioral or emotional issues
Cats are just as susceptible to emotional and mental issues as us humans. If they’re feeling particularly stressed or anxious they may start to excessively lick, scratch or groom themselves as a way of getting some sort of control over their environment.
This, in turn, can lead to hair loss from overgrooming. Cats will tend to over-groom their bellies, sides, and legs, so if you start to notice excessive grooming or scratching in these areas it might be worth a trip to the vet. Once other medical issues are ruled out, they may be able to prescribe some behavioral medicines and help reduce destructive behaviors.
Causes of feline alopecia - Your cat is in physical pain
Sometimes your cat may be in physical pain from other conditions that are causing them to start excessively licking the painful area. This could be joint pain from arthritis, or a muscle sprain or injury. Either way, your cat’s natural response is to lick the painful area to ease the pain.
How to treat alopecia in cats
The first thing your vet will do is take some scrapings of the skin from the affected areas. This will include checking for ear mites, fleas, chiggers, and other parasites as well as less obvious causes like a bacterial or yeast infection.
If the vet finds no evidence of parasites, they’ll move on to a more in-depth examination. This will include blood tests to look for any hormonal imbalances or hyperthyroidism. In rare cases, a malignant tumor may be present on the thyroid that’s causing the hair loss. Your vet will perform an x-ray or ultrasound test to rule this out.
Thankfully, most causes of cat hair loss are relatively simple to treat. Parasites can be disposed of with powders, baths, and medicines and there is a range of treatments for other causes.
Hormonal imbalances can be easily medicated; anti-anxiety medication is available for cats suffering from stress and feline behaviorists are getting more adept at addressing changes to behaviors and lifestyle.
If your vet discovers the hair loss is caused by allergies, your cat will be prescribed medication to treat it. Unfortunately, though, your cat will need these medicines for the rest of its life, unless you can find a way to remove the allergen from its environment.
Preventing feline alopecia
If your cat starts to lick or groom themselves more frequently, or is scratching at certain areas, it's usually a red flag that there is something underlying that will soon cause hair loss.
You should thoroughly examine the skin and hair at least once per week. Try and use a fine-toothed comb so you can part the hair and get a good look at the skin. Parasites like fleas and ticks should be more obvious to spot and a close examination can confirm or rule out parasites quickly.
There are also many home remedies and ways to treat chiggers in pets that can ease itching and help hair growth. Learning how to clean your cat’s ears can also help prevent parasites.
Where allergies have been confirmed, try and remove them as far as possible from your cat’s environment. If this isn’t possible, medication will be prescribed.
Unfortunately, you can’t prevent every type of hair loss, and the best thing to do as soon as you start to notice the signs is to get your cat to the vet who can provide advice and a clear diagnosis.