Categories: hair loss

Hair Loss in Cats


Photo by General Wesc

 
Hair loss in cats is often a frightening sight for pet owners who immediately rush their companion to the veterinarian for a diagnosis. When it comes to the domestic cat, there are many conditions and diseases that can create a hair loss problem. Some instances are quite normal, while other hair loss in cats can indicate an illness that requires medical attention.


Please note: there are a lot of comments with photos with replies which may assist a visitor in diagnosing causes of hair loss or at least provide guidance on what to do next.


When self diagnosing your cat’s illness it is best to start with the most obvious cause and work away from that point. Of course it almost goes without saying that beyond dealing with fleas and lice (possible causes of cat hair loss) you should see a veterinarian. This page is meant to simply give some guidelines gleaned from extremely reliable sources.

I set out below the possible causes of cat hair loss in the order of most likely cause. Cat hair loss has many potential causes and tests may have to be carried out to assist diagnosis.

Common Hair Loss Conditions in Cats

Loss of hair in cats doesn’t mean the end of the world, as there are plenty of reasonable explanations why excess shedding takes place. Many of the following common hair loss conditions are reversible and sometimes avoidable when an owner learns of the substances or circumstances that affect their feline.

Allergic and Irritant Contact Dermatitis

A cat may experience an allergic reaction when they become exposed to a variety of substances and objects that comes in contact with the skin. This may include metals (such as nickel), rubber, wool, plastic, and chemicals (dyes and carpet cleaners). Irritating substances, such as poison ivy, may also cause the inflammation that can lead to hair loss in cats. Additional symptoms include cat skin redness, small bumps and blisters, and itching.

Atopy (allergic inhalant dermatitis)

When a cat inhales house dust, pollen, or mold, an allergic reaction may follow. As a result, they may display redness, itchiness, inflammation in the ear, and hair loss. In some cases, an infection develops or a cat experiences hot spots.

Mange

It is a particular mite species that causes the infection that leads to itchiness, scales, and some hair loss in cats when the condition is severe.

Facial Alopecia

It is normal for cats to lose hair located between the eye and ear when suffering this condition. Usually, facial alopecia is seen when cats are between 14 and 20 months old. Shorthaired and dark-haired cats are the most affected.

Flea Allergy Dermatitis

Many cats possess flea bite hypersensitivity, where an intense reaction to the saliva of the flea is experienced. Common symptoms include extreme itching, redness, scaling, and hair loss. An infection may also develop as a result of saliva contact with the flea. See Feline Allergies (new window). Cats will lick excessively removing hair. Miliary dermatitis can sometimes be seen on the skin (red lumps).

Painful or itchy area and licked to relieve it

If an area of the cat’s body is painful she may lick the specific area. If it is a disease that causes itchiness the licking will cover a wider area. As cats lick a lot anyway, under these circumstances she will over lick causing a potential hair loss.

Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine refer to cat doing this as “fur mowers”. The area(s) licked help in diagnosis. Fleas, for example can infest areas around the neck (where a cat can’t lick) and also at the base of the spine before the tail begins. If a cat overlicks there it could be flees. In fact I regularly flee comb the hotspots on my cat to check for flea infestation as we feed a stray cat.

An allergy to pollen or food may in result in “fur mowing” the back and abdomen for example.

Clearly licking is normal but when it results in hair loss it is not and their will be an underlying problem. Lice and matting might provoke excessive licking but in my experience matting doesn’t. The first call then is to check for the simple and obvoius mentioned above. If they are all clear it’s vet’s work and it may be due to stress.

Stress displacement behavior – licking – Feline psychogenic alopecia

Any number of reasons can cause stress in cat. But is it normal licking behavior. For sure cats like stability and routine. These are very important. For example it can take many months (perhaps up to a year) to fully settle in to a new home. In the meantime she may be stressed.

Licking can be a form of displacement behavior (some more on this subject – new window). When we are uncertain we and trying to think through a difficult problem we scratch out heads ot bite out nails or fiddle with something! Cats do the same. The classic is to lick their nose (the human equivalent of head scratching). If it goes beyond that it can indicate severe stress and a habit. The route cause must be addressed. It will most likely be something that we have done to break the routine of destabilize the environment. These should be easy to rectify. It might be separation anxiety for example. On occasions I have given my cat a little bit of Rescue Remedy in her food to help with stress levels. A vet will probably prescribe a mild sedative and a change in lifestyle. And see next listing.

Pregnancy and Nursing Hair Loss

When a stressful situation (such as giving birth) takes place, a cat may experience hair loss. Sometimes a loss in hair can surface as a sudden symptom, which can spread across the entire body. When the underlying condition is treated or is no longer a concern, the hair will grow back.

Hyperthyroidism

Hair loss and strands that are easily pulled out are common symptoms of hyperthyroidism, which causes skin lesions in about 1/3 of affected cats.

Psychogenic Dermatitis

The constant licking that some cats possess as a habit can lead to hair loss. Some of the possible causes of this condition include stress, boredom, and a reaction to changes in their environment, such as a new member in the household. Symmetrical hair loss is a common symptom.

Ringworm

Several different kinds of fungus can cause the ringworm infection, which creates crusts, scales, and hair loss in cats. Cat ringworm is the same as human ringworm and it is transmittable from a cat to a human (zoonotic). This is a reason why (some say) a cat should not sleep on your bed (I totally ignore this).

Malassezia

This is another fungal infection as is ringworm. The full name is Malassezia pachydermatitis. It is a yeast commonly found on the cat’s skin. Normally it does not cause problems. Overgrowths cause problems. Overgrowths happen when there are immune deficiences, bacterial infections and seborrhea. Hair loss is common with this infection. There are moist red areas. Vet will diagnose with skin scrape. Treatments include cleaning with benzoyl peroxide or chlorhexidine shampoo then applying miconazole ointment.


****Diseases that cause hair loss in cats****

There are 200 comments over four pages and growing. There are many photographs and ideas for causes of hair loss. Please take the time to explore the comments. The comments are over four or more pages to allow the page to load in a reasonable time.

Rare or Uncommon Hair Loss Conditions in Cats

Sometimes hair loss in cats is not easily detected or beyond the remit of the average pet owner and it requires the assessment of a veterinarian in order to receive effective and accurate treatment. Below are a few instances that may or may not offer a straightforward remedy:

Apocrine Sweat Gland Cyst

Although a rarity in felines, water-filled nodules may appear in the head, neck, and limbs, which can cause hair loss in cats.

Alopecia Areata

With alopecia areata, patches of hair loss in cats are seen about the head, neck, and body. Itching is not a symptom of this condition. Usually, cats are able to recover from this suspected autoimmune disorder without any medical treatment.

Bacterial Infection

Hair loss in cats may take place when they are battling a bacterial infection caused by parasites, allergies, or a condition that affects the hormones.

Chemotherapy

When a cat undergoes chemotherapy as a treatment for cancer, they lose hair that eventually creates a soft and fuzzy appearance about their coat. Some cats may even lose their whiskers. After chemotherapy treatments are discontinued, the hair will grow back. Interestingly, the new hair may appear a different color or display a dissimilar texture.

Congenital Hypotrichosis

Kittens born with congenital hypotrichosis possess little to no hair. Any signs of hair are lost by the time the kitten reaches the age of four months.

Cushing’s Disease

When a cat produces or comes into contact with an increase of corticosteroids, they may experience a thinning of the skin, as well as hair loss. More on Cushing’s Disease.

Drug or Injection Reactions

Hair loss in cats sometimes occurs when they suffer a rare skin reaction to a drug that has been given orally, topically, or when inhaled. This type of reaction is most often seen when a cat comes in contact with penicillins, sulfonamides, and cephalosporins. Symptoms usually occur within two weeks of receiving the drug, which may also include itching, redness, swelling, ulcers, the formation of papules, and wound drainage.

Folliculitis

When an infection has attacked the hair follicles of a cat, pustules develop and open up to create crusts, which may itch and cause hair to fall out. Symptoms of folliculitis often surface on the face, head, and neck.

Solar Dermatosis

Some cats are more susceptible to the sun, where a reaction causes redness, scaling on the nose and ears, crusts, ulcers, and hair loss. This condition is mostly seen in cats with white ears.

Additional considerations that can lead to hair loss in cats include food allergies; feline acquired symmetrical alopecia (the symmetrical loss of hair on the on back of thighs, abdomen, and genital areas); granulomas (solid nodules); hair loss at the site of a vaccination (can last for months); infestation of lice; sebaceous adenitis (the unknown deterioration of the sebaceous glands); and seborrhea, which is inherited or part of a secondary infection.

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  1. Header photo: Published under an Attribution 2.0 Generic creative commons license. The cat lost his hair after he broke his leg.
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Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 71-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I have a girlfriend, Michelle. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare.

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  • Help! My cat excessively grooms his tail. it started a few months ago when we had visitors and he hid their entire visit. What concerns me is he still does it. His once fluffy tail now looks more like a string. Thanks!

    • Probably stress. Self-grooming is calming for a cat. Have you tried Feliway? Ensure the home is very calm and reassuring. Is there anything else which has disturbed him, Melissa?

  • My cats a fatty. He’s 5 years old and i’ve Notice a scab has appeared on his stomach. It been there for two weeks. At first I thought my other cat was attacking his stomach while he sleeps but it doesn’t appear to want to go away. He’s an indoor apartment cat and if it was infectious my other cat would have it. He can’t lick that area, and in the picture I put some coconut oil on it to help with the dryness of it. Any idea wat it might be?

    • Jessica, this looks like scratches to me. It looks like a minor injury rather than an allergy or overgrooming or a skin condition. I'd watch the area over a period of a few days to see how it develops. If it heals and fades then it is scratches. If it stays or gets worse it is possible a skin condition. I am not a vet. Good luck. He may have 'bottomed out' on something. Is there something in the apartment which might have caused the abrasions?

      • Hey Michael
        Thank you for ur reply. It’s been there a few weeks which is wat caused my concern for him but he can’t lick it either so could that be the reason it’s taking a while to heal? It looks like three claw scratches so it might have been my other cat. Is there something I can put on it to help it? Again he can’t lick it so I can put anything on it without him digesting it?

        • Good point. It could have been a play fight or fight and the other cat's hind legs scratched the stomach. I'd just leave it and watch. It should heal on its own. It looked healthy to me.

  • The darker area is where the skin scrape was taken the skin shows hyperpigmentation after it healed

  • Hello
    My 3.5 cat has a bald spot on the back in an ear that has gotten worse on the course of two months. It doesn't itch her. A skin scrape came negative for parasites, fungal, bacterial etc.
    She has been on hills zd for a couple of years which is a hypoallergic diet due to severe vomiting and diarrhoea food allergy issues and ins and she has been doing great. Do you think she could have become allergic to this diet?
    Sometimes the spot gets red and her ear feels hot to the touch.
    Any advise?
    Vet thinks that it could be vasculitis or telegenic effluvium ( she had a dental procedure done a month and a half before the thinning) and she was quite stressed.
    Thanks a lot

    • Hi Angela. Well first of all, sorry for the delay in responding. I have checked the books I have and they are good books. I am not a vet. I don't think your cat is allergic to the food. The ear does not look sore or red. It is not blistered and it has not been scratched because it itches. As you it does not itch. Food allergies cause itching. Allergies in general I believe cause redness on the skin and there will scratching. 90% of hair loss in cats is due to overgrooming. Have you observed her grooming her left ear? At the moment I can't come up with anything better. That may sound feeble but that's the way it is.

    • Hi Angela. I have published your image and comments and well do my best to reply as fully as I can as soon as I can. Thanks for commenting.

  • My Pinggoy is suffering from hair loss on his ear under after scratching that part. and also on the top of his both eyes. in his ears and in his head. Why is that. I saw dark spots on his skin particular in his pores. BTW, his skin is white and he is a black male cat with double coated. his first coat is white or gray and his long hair is black. he is a puspin. a Philippine cat.

    • My gut feeling is that these areas itch. Therefore he scratches or he washes these areas. There are numerous potential causes. Ear mites is one. Head mange is another. It might be an allergy. Or fleas or ringworm. The trouble is the causes are numerous. I think you'll have to see a vet for tests. Sorry. The best of luck. And thanks for commenting Flowny.

  • I found a feral kitten (approx 6-8 weeks old) 2 weeks ago. Within the past several days I've started noticing bald patches and flaky spots on the outer edge of his ears. When I gave him a bath some of the flaky spots fell off taking hair with it. Then a couple days ago I noticed patches on the back of his ears missing. Today I noticed a small patch on his back paw. Other than the missing hair he doesn't seem to be very bothered by it. He'll scratch his ear every now & then but nothing major. He doesn't groom obsessively, he barely grooms at all actually. When I first found the little guy he had fleas so I gave him a bath in dawn. Do you have any ideas as to what may be causing him to lose his hair?

    • Cassie, sorry I was slow in responding. I'll write another comment in a couple of hours to try and answer your question.

  • Sorry-forgot to add,in the first case,over the years have had outbreaks,on some cats,of a strange,bright orange l think fungus-the bald patches on his ears appeared in the same places although his other bald areas are right above his eyes and l don't think had any fungus. The other cats that had this did not get bald areas. Have never seen it before or heard/read about it. Got rid of it by cleaning off with mild solution of hydrogen peroxide. Not present on any cats currently. Thanks again.

    • Hi Liza, the bright orange areas are a mystery. Are you sure the orange colour is associated with hair loss? It might not be. On a crude level it may just be that some substance has attached to her ears because she brushed against it. Do your cats go outside and explore unknown areas? I'd doubt that they do that but it is possible and if so she she may have acquired this orange color from some object her ears came into contact with as she pushed he head towards it. A big guess. The fact that the color is "bright" indicates that this not a health issue but a substance. I may have caused irritation however. Nothing I know of with respect to cat health skin issues is bright orange.

      • It has me baffled as well! 4out of my 7 cats go out a lot-I live in the countryside. At present,none have this problem bur it has turned up on3-4cats at a time-tiny areas no more than 2mm across in maybe 3-5places. Only on the long haired male does it seem to have caused bald patches on the ears so may be coincidental. Thanks anyway and if anyone else has ever come across this please let me know.

  • Two cat hair problems(l have 7 rescue cats!)My one long hair has a few small,non-irritated patches between his eyes/ears-facial alopletia? The other,a recently rescued 8-10 week kitten has several bald patches on her legs and tail. Again,does not seem irritated and does not lick excessively. Ideas? Thanks.

    • Hi Lisa, thanks for commenting. Obviously it is very hard over the internet to guess the cause. In fact the more I have dealt with this page the more I realise it is almost impossible and it can be misleading to try and provide answers but it is helpful to others to see possible causes and get some ideas to present to a veterinarian. The trouble is that there are many causes.

      The first one is the area between the ears and eyes. This is an area where the fur is normally thinner very often as you know and where you can see the skin quite easily. This may just be a natural event not caused by any disease or overgrooming because you say there is no sign of irritation or inflammation. Nearly all hair loss is caused by overgrooming but the cause of the overgrooming is the big question because often it will be because the skin is itchy. This page I think is interesting:

      https://pictures-of-cats.org/cat-health-tip-hair-loss.html

      The second one looks more like overgrooming due to stress - pyschogenic alopecia - but you say she does not lick excessively. Mind you it can be tricky to know if a cat is licking excessively or not. We can't watch all the time. I think the hair loss is due to excessive grooming but the is the reason itchiness of stress?

      I don't think I can comment in a constructive way based on the information and that's not your fault. It is just the way it is. Sorry Lisa. Good luck though to you all.

  • My 9 month old cat suddenly has bald patches around his ears, on his shoulders, and a small spot on his chest and side. The skin looks very healthy and mite and flea free. He and his brother and sister were dumped near our home and were almost starved to death when we found them. Since then I have had them spayed and neutered and all their shots are up to date. The shots and surgery were several months ago. The other 2 cats are fine. We have only noticed these bald spots in him the last few days. I have no idea what it could be or what to do about it. Any help would be appreciated.

    • If hair loss in cats is nearly always due to over grooming (see this article: https://pictures-of-cats.org/cat-health-tip-hair-loss.html it may pay dividends to watch your cats and see if one of the other two is over-grooming the cat with hair loss. That is a long shot. Or he is over-grooming those areas himself. Are you completely sure there are no fleas? Do you comb his shoulders and the base of his tail with a flea comb?

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