Why Does My Cat Have Patches of Hair Missing?
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The reason your cat has patches of hair missing from their coat is that something is wrong physically or mentally. A cat's hair is a signifier of their well-being. A healthy cat will have a thick and lustrous coat (excluding naturally hairless cats), an unhealthy cat will lose not only their shine, but also the hair itself. This can mean more hair coming off on the brush, but can get to the point of developing bald spots. Such missing patches of hair on a cat will rightly lead to concern with their care givers. Knowing what these physical or mental problems may be means also looking at related symptoms and understanding your cat's general welfare.
In discussing why does your cat have patches of hair missing, AnimalWised looks at the causes of hair loss as well as possible ways to prevent it happening in the future.
Reasons for a bald spot on a cat
If your cat has patches of hair missing, it is easy to jump to conclusions. Since we know a cat's coat is a signifier of their overall health, hair falling out can feel like a serious warning. In some circumstances, this is the case. In others, the problem may be minor, temporary or even not a problem at all in the case of natural shedding. However, if there is a bald spot on a cat, we will need to find the reason as soon as possible. They include:
- Scratch or physical trauma
- Parasitical infestation
- Disease or underlying medical condition
Our article goes into detail about this specific causes of bald spots on cats. We also provide ways by which you can help prevent inappropriate hair loss in cats.
Why does cat hair fall out?
Cats need to adapt to different temperatures precipitated by the changing of seasons. They do so by shedding in the springtime, although indoor cats may moult throughout the year. It is important to know that this natural shedding is not abnormal. You can distinguish natural moulting as hair coming off the whole body in an even fashion.
When a cat's hair comes off in patches, especially if it results in a bald spot, then this is not normal shedding. Rather than moulting, this is a condition known as alopecia or, simply, hair loss. It is very rare for a feline to have alopecia all over their body. Instead, generalized alopecia shows patches of skin appearing due to a number of factors. In humans, hair loss can be caused by genetic factors such as hypertension as well as age and illness. Cats generally don't live long enough for this to be an issue. This means that alopecia in cats is usually down to a health factor.
Alopecia in cats most often presents itself in localized areas such as the nape of the neck, sides or flanks and underbelly. One cause of hair loss in cats is excessive licking. The conical papillae on a cat's tongue act as a brush with which cats groom themselves for general hygiene purposes. However, if a cat licks excessively, they can end up tearing out the hair and leading to bald spots. This excessive licking will likely be due to some psychological issue which results in compulsive licking.
Understanding the different types of hair loss in cats will help us to diagnose which ones are affecting your cat.
Hair loss in cats due to ringworm
If your cat is displaying hair loss in the form of round patches, especially if they are on the top of the head, then it is likely to be due to ringworm. Not actually a parasitical worm as you might expect, ringworm is a fungus which infects the skin. Also known as dermatophytosis, it is a relatively common disorder especially in younger cats. In adults cats, it usually begins when a cat is subject to stress, which could be due to anything from moving home to having a new family member.
Inadequate hygiene conditions are also a predisposing factor. Ringworm is usually self-limiting which means the cat's own immune system can work to restore their skin back to a healthy condition. When the skin is healthy, the patch of hair will grow back. Without the help of medication, improving immunity, controlling diet and ridding the cat of certain stressors can resolve the problem.
If, however, the case is severe, the veterinarian will likely medicate with a ringworm antifungal treatment for cats. This is likely in the form of a topical cream, an oral pill or even an antifungal cat shampoo for lesser cases. For acute cases the treatment can continue for up to and over 4 weeks, although a resolution should present itself around this time. When healed, any bald spots on the cat should regrow with hair.
Ringworm is a contagious zoonotic disease which can be passed on to humans. You need to be particularly careful with young children, the elderly or those with an otherwise compromised immune system. You have to ensure adequate hygiene levels by disinfecting the areas in which your cat spends as well as airing out rooms and washing items with which they interact.
Ringworm is diagnosed with the help of a wood lamp. This is a special device which is passed over the suspected area and can illuminate the presence of the infection.
Allergies causing hair loss in cats
Sometimes, hair loss in cats can have an allergy as its root cause. These allergies can be to numerous things such as pollen, certain foodstuffs or as a reaction to the saliva of fleas. In the latter case, even a single bite can be enough to bring on an allergic reaction. This is one of the reasons it is so important to maintain an appropriate deworming schedule for your cat. Even if you have an indoor cat, fleas can attach themselves to your cat from various sources.
If our cat is suffering hair loss due to an allergy, the veterinarian will be able to confirm it. They will perform and examination as well as question the circumstances of the cat. The reason why cats often lose hair from allergies is that the ensuing skin irritation leads the cats to scratch and bite the affected areas. When this happens they can tear out hair and leave bald spots. In severe cases it can lead to open wounds on the skin. The longer you leave veterinary intervention, the worse this may be.
In a cat with these types of allergies, you will often see that the fur is mainly missing from the bottom of their tail (lumbosacral area), but may extend to the abdomen as well as their flanks. The treatment may require drugs to manage the itching, but prevention is always the best method. Deworming with vet recommended products is required. They should advise you on the most appropriate type of deworming product for your cat.
Other causes of alopecia in cats
Stress in cats is another contributing factor to losing patches of hair. If we want to confirm that the root cause of this alopecia is psychological, we need to rule out any physical causes. Once we have done this, the vet should question your cat's mental state. Stress causes cats to lick compulsively, but stress in general can also lower their immune system and lead to a lessening in the quality of their fur as well as possible bald spots. To avoid this happening, we need to understand the reasons for their distress and counteract them.
If the stressors are not obvious, you may want to contact an ethologist. This is someone who is an expert in animal behavior and welfare. Hair loss in cats due to stress may be due to a disorder known as telogen effluvium. If this is the case, hair loss will occur on the sides, belly and chest of a cat. In these cases, the hair loss is not caused by excessive licking, but due to a molting disorder.
The cycle of hair growth in healthy cats divides into three phases whereby the hair gradually renews. Stress can interrupt this cycle and leave it to remain in the telogen phase, during which the hair does not grow. Once the cause of stress resolves, new hair can displace the existing one during a sudden growth spurt. It does not require treatment, but can be frustrating for the cat. The hair will end up recovering, but we must avoid all causes of stress.
Another reason for alopecia, especially when seen across large areas such as the flanks, is due to an endocrine issue. This can include Cushing's syndrome in cats. This includes the symptomatology of increased water intake, greater production of urine and/or very marked skin fragility. In these cases, treating the primary cause of hair loss is required. This can be diagnosed with a blood analysis.
Preventing hair loss in cats
Now we have identified the most common reasons why a cat may lose patches of its fur and have bald spots, we should consider the preventative measures to stop this happening. They include:
- Hygiene and brushing: hair care must be integrated into a cat's basic routine so that its fur remains strong.
- Deworming: it is necessary to establish a deworming schedule for both internal and external parasites. This should be maintained throughout a cat's life and also be carried out on other animals present in a home.
- Avoid contagions: if our cat's hair loss is due to ringworm or fleas, we must take extreme precaution. The fungus which causes ringworm is very contagious as are other fungal, bacterial and even viral infections. Ensuring we deworm our cats and keep them away from contagions can help prevent hair loss.
- Diet: an appropriate diet with sufficient vitamins and minerals will help maintain a cat's coat. This means providing the right proteins, minerals, vitamins and fatty acids to improve quality and growth of fur.
- Stress: as stress is such a contributing factor to patches of hair loss, we need to make their lives as stress free as possible. This means providing sufficient environmental enrichment, paying attention to them, playing when needed and removing any obvious stressors. This will help a cat avoid boredom and frustration, bringing their defenses up.
This article is purely informative. AnimalWised does not have the authority to prescribe any veterinary treatment or create a diagnosis. We invite you to take your pet to the veterinarian if they are suffering from any condition or pain.
If you want to read similar articles to Why Does My Cat Have Patches of Hair Missing?, we recommend you visit our Skin problems category.