Shedding fur is a natural part of feline evolution. However, it’s important to recognize the difference between your cat’s typical shedding and what may be abnormal hair loss. Is your cat losing hair to the point of thinning fur or even baldness in some spots? Cat hair loss, also known as alopecia in cats, can have several causes—most of which are easily treatable.
Certain breeds are more prone to hair loss
Some hairless cat breeds actually start out with fur, like the Donskoy, and then lose their hair over time. Other breeds, such as the Lykoi, Minksin, and Peterbald, are often partially hairless.
Furthermore, Oriental purebreds may carry genes that are more likely to cause alopecia in cats; for instance, Siamese cats are more prone to hair loss on the outside of the ears.
Symptoms accompanying cat hair loss
Besides your cat losing hair on places such as the underbelly, underside of the tail, hind legs, sides, or genital area, you may notice these other signs of alopecia in cats:
- Itchy, scaly, or dry skin
- Red patches on the skin or darker skin coloration
- Excessive shedding
Many adult cats—regardless of breed—experience thinning fur on the strip of skin between their ears and eyes.
Causes of cat hair loss, plus treatment options
Hair loss typically occurs secondary to cats overgrooming themselves—also known as psychogenic alopecia.
Cat overgrooming related to allergies and/or fleas
Veterinarians most often see cat hair loss due to an underlying allergy to flea saliva. If a cat with fleas is also allergic to the pest’s saliva (on top of the discomfort fleas normally cause), the cat may overgroom to the point of hair loss. Less commonly, hair loss is a symptom of mange in cats. Your cat may also have other allergies—dust, pollen, food, insect bites, or medications, to name a few—that cause itchiness, prompting him to overgroom in attempt to ease his symptoms.
Treatment options: Use a fine-toothed comb to determine whether your cat has fleas, lice, mites, or another pest problem. Talk to your vet about which medication you should use for treatment; typically you will use a topical medicine like Revolution/Stronghold, Frontline Plus, or Advantage for fleas. If your cat has other allergies, your vet may be able to prescribe medication; otherwise, you may need to make some lifestyle changes, such as varying your cat’s food and providing him with a cleaner living environment.
Cat overgrooming related to anxiety and stress
Sometimes behavioral issues in cats lead to hair loss. If your cat is highly stressed or anxious, he may overgroom himself to the point of baldness, especially in easy-to-reach spots like the belly, sides, and legs. This is more common in female purebreds, but can develop in any cat.
Treatment options: You may be able to ease your cat’s overgrooming by determining the cause of his stress: Has there been a recent change in his living environment or lifestyle? Might he have separation anxiety while you’re out of the house? If all else fails, talk to your vet about prescription anti-anxiety medications. (Never give your cat human anti-anxiety medication.)
Alopecia in cats is also attributed to skin infections, including bacterial, yeast, or fungal—most notably, ringworm.
Treatment options: Your veterinarian will want to do several tests in order to diagnose the type of infection. Ringworm in particular can be treated with topical lime sulfur baths, oral antifungal medication, and environmental clean-up.
Hair loss may be a sign that your cat has hyperthyroidism, or an overactive thyroid. Another potential hormonal imbalance called Cushing’s disease leads to an excess of steroids in the body, causing the hair follicles to die.
Treatment options: Your veterinarian may prescribe hormone therapy drugs and a change in your cat’s diet.
Arthritis in cats is chronically undertreated. If your cat has achy joints or is injured, he may lick the site of the pain to ease discomfort.
Treatment options: If you suspect your cat is injured, take him to the vet as soon as possible. There are a wide range of options when it comes to treating arthritis in cats; work with your veterinarian on a plan that best suits your cat.
Serious medical issues (rare)
Rarely, cat hair loss can be a sign of a serious underlying medical issue such as cancer or diabetes.
Treatment options: Provide your vet with any other symptoms or health concerns your cat is presenting; he or she may want to run some diagnostic tests just to rule out these more serious conditions.
Will my cat’s hair grow back?
Fortunately, in most cases your cat’s hair will grow back—provided he has been properly diagnosed and treated. There is a chance that hair will not regrow if your cat experienced abnormal hormone levels that caused the hair follicles to die.
Cat hair loss is most likely caused by overgrooming. You can attempt to prevent alopecia in cats by using flea and tick prevention on your cat, as well as keeping him stimulated and as stress-free as possible.