Alopecia In Cats
Estimated Read Time: 6 ½ minutes
If you’ve started to research “hair loss in cats” because you’ve noticed your furry friend has developed bald patches or thinning hair or loss, there are a number of reasons to consider why your cat might be experiencing alopecia…
Alopecia In Cats: What Causes Hair Loss In Cats?
The most common reason for hair loss in cats is over grooming. However, the root reason behind them beginning to over groom can vary. Reasons include:
Allergies: Like people and dogs, your feline friend can develop an allergy to food, pollen, dust, medicines or insect saliva (including fleas!). To soothe the irritation and itchiness, they’ll lick the area which can pull the hair out. It’s important to work this out with your vet, as they may need a special diet, flea/mite treatment or feline specific anti-histamines.
Parasites: Fleas, tics or a mite infestation may be bothering them and their excessive licking will be to try and ease the issue, but will thus be causing hair loss. Cats, like dogs, should be on regular parasitic treatment to deter these pesky bugs from making home in your kitty’s fur. If a parasite infestation is the case, discuss how to treat it with your vet and then start them on regular preventative treatment to stop it from happening again (or try an alternative routine if they were on a regime already, as it’s clearly not worked).
Arthritis/Joint Pain: In maturer cats, they may be over licking a particular site to provide some pain relief to their achy, arthritic joints. It’s estimated that 90% of felines over the age of 12 experience arthritis in at least one joint. If you suspect this is the reason, read our blog on Arthritis In Cats to understand the sign betters and learn how to help here.
Ringworm: Ringworm is a fungal infection that appears as a circular, scaly ring on your cat’s skin. You’ll notice the ring because it will be hairless! You’ll need to see a vet pronto, and obtain some anti-fungal ointment or potentially even oral treatment.
Stress: Yes, even our furry feline friends can experience stress and anxiety. This can cause obsessive licking, scratching, and itching causing hair loss in cats! Vets call this condition psychogenic feline alopecia…
What’s Psychogenic Alopecia In Cats?
Cats are very clean animals, and self-grooming is a natural behavior to expect from them. They spend 5-25% of their waking hours' grooming (and when they typically sleep for 14 hours of a day, this is a lot of time!).
Psychogenic alopecia in cats (or psychological baldness/over-grooming) is caused when their grooming time increases significantly and begins to take noticeable precedent over their other kitty activities.
You can guess it’s psychogenic alopecia if the hair loss seems fairly symmetrical and it usually occurs on the main trunk of their body, belly, inner thighs, groin, or butt. Your cat may also be plucking, biting, and chewing at the area rather than just licking. The skin may be irritated and red too and they may be producing more frequent hairballs than they used to. In some cases, your cat may try and hide their over-grooming from you and skulk off to engage in the behavior in private…
But, what causes cats stress like this and causes them to over-groom to the point of hair loss? Reasons include:
- You’ve recently moved home
- Your household’s schedule has changed significantly
- An aggressive relationship with another cat is taking place in the house
- A new member has joined the household (animal or human)
- A member of the household has moved out/passed away (animal or human)
- You’ve had work done to your home or moved furniture around
- They’re bored
- An unfamiliar animal in the neighborhood has been roaming your yard
- Noise from renovation (yours or a neighbors)/workmen on the street)
- Another similar stressor you can attribute to their new behavior
Unfortunately, the behavior if not noticed/supported straight away can become a comforting habit to your pet and can continue to occur once the causing stress has passed or has become normal/routine. Their brain can start to release endorphins (happy hormones) when they start performing excessive grooming and they can become addicted to the feeling it gives them…
Unfortunately, there’s no real process for diagnosing psychogenic alopecia in cats – it’s a matter of ruling out all the potential physical causes and thus leaving only this mental condition to be the root cause. But, there are ways that you can help with feline psychogenic alopecia…
How Can You Treat Psychogenic Alopecia In Cats?
Firstly, when addressing psychogenic alopecia in cats, it’s important to identify the stressor and either remove it or provide comfort to your cat whilst the stressor occurs (before they start performing the behavior). Ideas to help long term include:
- Not to engage with them whilst they over-groom: This can be interpreted as praise, which endorses the behavior. However, this doesn’t mean you should punish them either. Punishing your cat will induce fear and increase their anxiety, which will just increase the behavior as a comforting mechanism instead. Ignore them completely when you see it happening.
- Increase Playtime/Decrease Boredom: Provide them with toys and interaction when they are not over grooming: sticks with feathers on the end, lasers toys, and scratching posts/climbing frames – particularly if they’re an indoor cat. Aim for at least 20 minutes of play and interaction with your kitty a day, in two blocks of 10 minutes. This can be really helpful if boredom is the suspected cause.
- Provide them with a safe space: Cats like to feel safe in enclosed spaces. Invest in hiding tents or perches in your home, where they can retreat to when it all gets a bit too much. If they do have a problem with another cat you own, it’s advisable to separate them from each other.
If your try all of the above to no avail, have a conversation with your vet who may prescribe feline-specific anti-anxiety medication to try and help them or they may refer you to a cat behavior specialist.
Alopecia In Cats: Can Certain Breeds Be More Prone To Feline Alopecia?
In short, yes: Sphynx cats, for example, are bred to be hairless on purpose! However, pure breeds such as Bengal cats and Himalayans are more genetically predisposed to alopecia than other felines.
It’s rare, but hair loss in cats can also be a sign of cancer, thyroid problems, and diabetes. If none of the above suggestions make sense of your cat’s alopecia or help them recover, make an appointment to check in with your vet so you can discover the root cause of the issue and get your kitty the appropriate treatment.