Why Do Cats Lose Hair?

Is your feline friend a little less furry these days? Some hair loss, like shedding her winter coat, is normal. But if she loses a lot of hair, there might be a problem.

Does she constantly scratch or lick herself? Cats groom themselves a lot (up to half of the time they’re awake). Too much can cause hair loss, skin sores, and infection. If your cat seems more interested in licking her fur than other activities like playing or eating, that’s a red flag.

Your cat could lose her fur because:

  • She was born with a harmless skin condition.
  • It’s a side effect of an easy-to-treat condition.
  • She’s sick.

The Most Common Reasons

You’ll need to check with your vet to find out exactly what’s going on. In most cases, the cause isn’t serious.

It could be:

Allergies: They’re the top cause of hair loss. Like people, your cat can be allergic to food, insect bites, medicines, dust, or pollen. To ease the itch, she’ll lick her fur until there are bald spots. It’s simple to treat, but you might have to give her medicine for the rest of her life.

Parasites: Fleas, mites, lice, and ticks can make her scratch and lick, too, causing bald spots and even sores. Treatment is usually quick and easy. Ask your vet which medicine you should use.

Ringworm infection: No, it’s not a worm. It’s a fungal infection. And a scaly ring of missing hair is a sign. Your vet can tell you for sure and prescribe antifungal creams or ointments.

Stress and anxiety: When a cat is stressed and obsessively licks and scratches, she can lose hair. Vets call this “psychogenic alopecia.” Cats that have it tend to pick at their belly, sides, and legs. It’s most common in female purebreds with nervous personalities. Treat her wounds, and ask your vet if she needs an antidepressant or changes in her environment, like putting up high perches or keeping dogs away.

Pain: Cats with arthritis may lick themselves at the site of the pain.

Rare Causes

Pure breeds, like Himalayans and Bengals, are more likely to have genes that cause hair loss. Others, like the Sphynx, are bred to be hairless.

It’s unlikely, but hair loss can be a symptom of an immune system problem, diabetes, an overactive thyroid, or cancer. Tell your vet all about your cat’s diet, behavior, and home to help pinpoint the cause.

WebMD Veterinary Reference Reviewed by Amy Flowers, DVM on April 24, 2017

Sources

SOURCES:

Abitbol, M. Public Library of Science One, March 17, 2015.

Cornell Feline Health Center: “Cats That Lick Too Much.”

Favrot, C. Schweizer Archiv für Tierheilkunde, July 2014.

Credille, K. Veterinary Dermatology, December 2013.

Frymus, T. Journal of Feline Medical Surgery, July 2013.

Lobetti, R. Journal of Feline Medical Surgery, Nov. 18, 2014.

Ralph Womer, DVM, Village Veterinary Clinic, Auburn, AL.

Glen Puckett, DVM, Moore’s Mill Animal Hospital, Auburn, AL.

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