Hair loss in cats
Check-ups with your vet are the best way to spot any signs of possible illness as soon as possible.
Here are some of the cat symptoms to watch out for. Bear in mind that this list isn’t exhaustive, and you should always speak to your vet if you have any worries about your pet’s health.
What causes hair loss in cats?
Cat hair loss, also known as alopecia, could be caused by several common factors. Once you understand what is causing your cat to lose their fur, you can start to seek the right treatment to get them feeling, and looking, like themselves again.
Cat skin conditions
It’s possible that your cat may have an infection such as cat ringworm (a fungal infection), an infestation of parasites such as mites or fleas, or another cat skin condition caused by an allergy. As these will all be irritating to the skin, your cat might find it impossible not to scratch! By over-grooming or itching, they’ can give themselves bald patches and also fur-balls from swallowing hair as they lick or chew the area.
Stress or painful cat skin
You’ve heard of the phrase “tearing your hair out” when under pressure, and this can be very true for upset cats, as sometimes a stressed cat will start to pull out their fur. More unusually but also possible, cats can over-groom an area if it causes them pain, such as a sore joint.
In your cat, bald patches and hair loss can also be caused by a hormonal imbalance. Specific hormones are responsible for your cat’s hair growth and in turn, may also be the reason why your cat is losing hair. When there is a surplus or deficiency of these hormones, hair loss can occur. You might also find that your pregnant or lactating cat loses their hair due to the changes in their hormones during this time, but don’t be too alarmed as fur should eventually grow back overtime.
General poor health, nutrition or underlying disease
An unhealthy diet, poor health or an undetected disease can all be causes for your cat to lose their hair. As these are all quite broad reasons, it’s important to visit your vet to identify the underlying cause.
Some causes for hair loss in cats can also affect humans, and are contagious. Although this is unusual, it’s worth booking an appointment with your vet as soon as possible to avoid an unhappy pet and owner, too.
Remember that a cat shedding it's fur happens all year round, but they tend to shed more in the summer and autumn, known as cat moulting season. If the hair loss is from all over their body, with no bald patches appearing, this is completely natural and will soon pass.
What can your vet do to help?
Your vet will give your cat a thorough check over to find out what’s causing their alopecia. If they discover fleas, which are a common cause of itching and subsequent hair loss, they may recommend a flea treatment (which you should keep up to date, anyway).
Your vet might also take hair samples or scrape a little sample of skin to test for ringworm and parasites – don’t worry, this is completely painless. Occasionally your vet may decide to take a small skin sample from your cat under anesthetic or to perform an allergy skin test to check for cat skin conditions. Alternatively, they may take a blood sample to look for underlying diseases that could be causing your pet's hair loss.
If, at the end of their investigation, there’s still no obvious reason for the feline alopecia, your vet may refer you to a veterinary dermatologist.
If, however, you or your vet suspect that there could be a behavioural reason for your cat's over-grooming and making themselves lose hair, then you may need to discuss your cat’s lifestyle to work out what might be causing them stress.
How is alopecia treated?
Treating alopecia depends on the cause behind your cat's hair loss. Once your vet has run some tests they will be able to recommend flea control products or an anti-fungal treatment if they discover parasites or ringworm. Treatment of allergic skin diseases can take a little longer but, with the help of a veterinary dermatologist, once the offending food or substance is found, a plan can be put in place to avoid it.
If stress-related over-grooming is suspected, your vet may refer you to a veterinary behaviourist who can help identify the cause of the stress and cat hair loss as well as provide you with advice on how to reduce it.
If your vet’s investigations show that your cat is over-grooming because of pain in their joints or bladder, they will treat the underlying problem with necessary medication. When the pain stops, the cat hair loss will too.
Once the cause for the alopecia in cats has been found, you should hopefully have a happy and healthy pet again!