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How to Stop and Reverse Cat Hair Loss

"Cat hair loss is not always a problem, with shedding a natural part of a cat's life. Cat's shed more during warm weather months. Shedding also varies by breed. The biggest difference between normal shedding and hair loss that isn't normal is when new hair doesn't replace any thinning hair or bald patches. A cat that is losing hair has multiple potential causes including flea allergy, excessive licking, mange, ringworm, stress and thyroid disease . Treatment is based on diagnosing and eliminating the underlying cause."

Excessive amounts of cat hair loss is not normal an can indicate some type of underlying disease. Cat's normally shed, with more hair loss during warm  spring and early summer months. It also varies by breed.  If your cat is losing hair, but the hair is then replaced, then this could be normal for your cat.  If the feline hair loss results in a thin or bare area, then you should consider problems that are not normal.

The location (s) where a cat is losing hair can indicate the cause as described below.

Common Causes of Cat Hair Loss and Related Symptoms

Flea allergy dermatitis: Cat flea allergy occurs when a cat is allergic to the flea’s saliva. 

cat hair loss
Cat Hair Loss From Flea Allergy Dermatitis

Feline Psychogenic Alopecia: or Psychogenic dermatitis: Feline psychogenic alopecia occurs if your cat licks herself, due to anxiety, stress, or boredom, until there is cat hair loss and skin irritation. This is seen in 10 to 15% of cats and often in conjunction with other underlying causes.

Cat Skin Allergy

Various types of feline skin allergies can cause hair loss in cats including:

Cheyletiella or Demodicosis mange: this is caused by the Cheyletiella mite. Symptoms include itching, scaly skin, and cat hair loss. It is treated with medication. Diagnosis is done with skin scrapings. Treatment requires a miticide to kill the parasites such as Naturasil.

cat hair loss mange
Cat Hair Loss due to Mange

Pregnancy and nursing: shedding is common at this time, and hair lost will grow back.

Endocrine System Issues: if the thyroid gland is producing excess or too little thyroid hormone hair loss can occur. Diseases of the endocrine system include hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism, hyperadrenocorticism and Diabetes mellitus. Symptoms include cat hair loss, hair that is easily pulled out, and oily skin. Other symptoms include increased appetite and weight loss. Treatment involves surgical removal of one or both lobes of the thyroid gland, radiation therapy to destroy the damaged thyroid tissue, or medication to correct the diabetes or hormone replacement.

cat hair loss diabetes
Cat Hair Loss from seborrhea sicca  due to Feline Diabetes
Source: Washington State University

Ringworm: this is not really a worm but a fungal infection. It gets its name from its appearance, which is a red ring with a white center. It can leave scaly, bald patches. Cat ringworm is treated with anti-fungal medication such as Naturasil for Ringworm.

cat hair loss ringworm
Cat losing hair due to Ringworm (also on human arm)

Diagnosis of Cat Hair Loss

Your veterinarian will examine hair in both healthy patches and where it is being lost. The first test is to determine if the hair can be pulled out with a simple pull or broken off.

If the hair is easily broken or removed an examination of the skin is done looking for different types of lesions. Your veterinarian will try and determine if any redness was caused by itching (pruritus) or if there is another cause. There are several diagnostic steps:

  1. Examination for Parasites: Your veterinarian will comb your cat's hair and take a skin scraping to determine if fleas or mites are causing the condition. Depending on what is found a treatment for fleas or mites (Demodex, Cheyletiella, Otodectes) is recommended.
  2. Look for fungus: A special lamp is used (Wood's lamp) to see if their is fungus on the hair. If fungus is found then your veterinarian will prescribe the medication fipronil which can be given as an ointment (7 day treatment) or oral drug (called nitenpyram).

    If your cat does not respond to either of the above your veterinarian will recheck your cat for parasites after 4 weeks or look for food allergy as a cause of the condition.

  3. Dietary Change: An elimination diet will be recommended where your cat's diet is changed to few ingredients. Additional ingredients are added until symptoms reappear. Foods eliminated include fish, beef, dairy, pork, chicken, lamb/mutton, eggs and wheat.
  4. Feline atopic dermatitis test: If food allergies do not appear to be the cause the next step is to test for some type of skin allergy or atopy (skin sensitivity to allergens that you are born with) through a series of skin allergy tests. Your veterinarian could also prescribe medications to help with allergic reactions such as antihistamines.

If all of these causes are ruled out then the trigger is either something that has not been diagnosed such as an allergic reaction to your cat's environment or emotional distress caused by cat's inherited disposition or stress in your cat's life. Causes of stress includes separation anxiety when you leave the house, the introduction of a new pet into the household, a new child or even the rearrangement of furniture in the rooms where your cat lives.

References

Causes of Hair Loss (Alopecia)
Nash, Holly DVM

Diagnoses: Shake and Stir and Add a Twist of Dermpath: The Cat with Non Inflammatory Alopecia
Burrows, Mandy

 

Ask our Vet a Question about Cat Hair Loss

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We will do our best to answer questions quickly (it depends on how many we receive each day). If you need an immediate response we suggest using this online cat veterinary answer service that is available 24 hours a day.

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