A sleek, shiny, full coat is a sign of a healthy cat, so when your cat begins losing hair, there’s definitely cause for concern. Some causes of hair loss in cats are quite serious, while others are minor and easily managed. You and your vet should explore these potential explanations for your cat’s hair loss.
Stress and Anxiety
When cats are anxious, stressed, or otherwise unhappy, they sometimes begin to overgroom themselves. They might lick an area until the hair falls out or even pluck their own hair out as they groom. Most cats concentrate on the hair along the spine and at the base of the tail or stomach and inside of back legs. This stress-related condition is known as psychogenic alopecia, and though it has no specific cure, there are ways to manage the behavior that your veterinarian can help you with.
Remove Sources of Stress
You and your vet can work together to identify what may be causing your cat stress. If there’s another animal in the home who intimidates your cat, isolating the cat away from that animal may help. Maybe your cat becomes anxious when left home alone. Getting a second cat or providing more toys to keep your cat busy may help bring his stress levels down.
Adding some toys, a climbing center, and a few scratching posts to your home may help keep your cat busier so he has less time to think about overgrooming. Make sure you spend plenty of time petting and playing with your cat so he feels entertained and secure.
Your vet may prescribe an antidepressant medication to help regulate your cat’s mood. This is generally a small pill that you can place in your cat’s food once a day. Your cat may not stop overgrooming completely, but the medications should at least reduce the behavior.
Most cats don’t lose a lot of hair when infested with fleas, but some cats are allergic to the fleas’ saliva and experience symptoms that include hair loss, red and itchy skin, and the appearance of small, scabby wounds. These are a few signs that fleas are to blame for your cat’s hair loss:
- Your cat is developing red, itchy bites. (These are flea bites.)
- There are black specs that look like pepper on surfaces your cat has slept on. (These are flea feces.)
- When you run a comb through your cat’s hair, you see little black insects about the size of a strawberry seed.
If you suspect your cat’s hair loss is due to fleas, schedule an appointment with your vet. Treating the cat for fleas without irritating his already-sensitive skin can be a challenge. Your vet will likely administer pesticides to kill the fleas on your cat and also recommend some products to kill the fleas in your home. Your cat’s hair should begin growing back once he is flea-free.
Is your cat losing hair in round, ring-like patches? Do those patches appear red and scabby? Chances are, your cat has ringworm. This condition is not caused by worms, but rather by a fungus similar to the one that causes athlete’s foot in humans. The bad news is that you can get ringworm from your cat—so avoid petting your cat or handling anything he has touched until he sees the vet for treatment. If you begin seeing similar red, itchy patches on your own skin, call your doctor.
Ringworm is treatable with antifungal medications. If your cat’s case is rather minor, your vet may just prescribe an antifungal shampoo or spray for you to use until the symptoms clear up. In more serious cases, you may need to give your cat an oral medication for a week or more. Keeping your cat’s environment clean, which includes laundering all bedding in hot water, will help keep the infection from spreading to other pets and human family members.
Hyperthyroidism is a common endocrine condition in older cats. Essentially, the thyroid gland begins to release too much thyroxine, a thyroid hormone, and this has an array of effects on the body, which can include hair loss and a matted, scruffy coat. Other signs of hyperthyroidism in cats include the following:
- Weight loss
- A dramatic increase in appetite
- Diarrhea or soft stools
- Panting or otherwise having difficulty breathing
- Increased thirst and urination
The symptoms of hyperthyroidism are often similar to those of other conditions, like diabetes and autoimmune disorders, so your vet will have to conduct a series of blood tests to confirm which disease is ailing your cat. If your cat is diagnosed with hyperthyroidism, medications or other treatments to decrease thyroid hormone production should help alleviate the symptoms, including hair loss.
Whether it’s accompanied by other symptoms or it occurs on its own, hair loss in cats should never be ignored. If your feline companion is looking a little less furry these days, contact us to schedule an appointment for diagnosis and treatment.