What are Pattern Baldness?
Pattern baldness in cats is known as feline acquired symmetric alopecia. This is a relatively new name given to felines with pattern baldness, as veterinary experts once believed this condition to be directly linked to endocrine disease, terming the condition “feline endocrine alopecia”. However, new research shows that pattern baldness in cats is seen as a clinical symptom related to pruritic underlying diseases. The new research has allowed veterinarians to obtain a better understanding of the condition, which has aided in the tools used to treat it.
If your cat sheds profusely, has slow hair growth, and unusual bald spots in the fur, she could have feline pattern baldness. Pattern baldness is a form of alopecia, a lack of hair follicles in an area of the body where hair was previously present. A cat will often lose hair in the genital region, the underside of the tail, on the inside of the hind legs and on the underbelly. Pattern baldness in cats is caused by a variety of underlying conditions, including hormone imbalance, skin infections, allergies and parasites.
Symptoms of Pattern Baldness in Cats
The main symptom of pattern baldness in cats is symmetric baldness found in the genital region, the underside of the tail, on the inside of the hind legs and on the underbelly of the cat. The hair shafts might be broken and have a prickly feel to them when the owner strokes the feline’s coat. The hair may also begin to grow back in the bald patches, but the growth time appears delayed or takes longer to reappear than normal hair would. Depending on the specific cause of the pattern baldness, the feline may display accompanying symptoms including:
- Pruritic skin (itchy skin)
- Scaly or dry skin
- Excessive shedding
- Erythema (red patches on the skin)
- Lichenification (thickening of the skin)
- Hyperpigmentation (patches of darker skin coloration)
Causes of Pattern Baldness in Cats
The most common cause of pattern baldness in cats is an underlying allergy to flea saliva, known to the veterinary world as flea allergy dermatitis. A cat with a hypersensitive immune system will break out in hives, small red bumps, have itchy skin, and lose hair due to one or more flea bites. However, pattern baldness in cats has been known to be caused by a variety of underlying conditions including:
- Dietary allergies (food allergies)
- Atopy (environmental allergies)
- Mites (Demodectic Mange)
- Bacterial infections of the skin
- Fungal infections of the skin (Ringworm)
- Yeast infections of the skin
- Hyperthyroidism (an increased level of thyroid hormone released by the thyroid gland)
- Hypothyroidism (a decreased level of thyroid hormone released by the thyroid gland)
- Cushing’s Disease (excess cortisol)
- Pancreatic Neoplasia (abnormal pancreatic cells growth)
Diagnosis of Pattern Baldness in Cats
An accurate diagnosis of pattern baldness in cats will require a thorough review of your cat’s medical history including previous illnesses, medications and parent history, if available. The veterinarian will proceed to conduct a physical exam and may even pluck a few hairs to examine under the microscope for evidence of dermatophytosis. A complete blood count differential as well as a biochemistry profile is often requested to rule out the possibility of a hormone related condition caused by the thyroid, pancreas, or adrenal glands. Additional diagnostic tests include:
A specialized fine-toothed comb that reaches down to the skin of the feline is used to comb the hair in order to detect fleas, lice or mites.
Skin Scrape & Skin Smear
Your veterinarian may request a skin scrape test to identify the presence of a bacterial, yeast, or fungal infection of the skin.
A skin scraping is a test in which the vet uses a dull blade to scrape a few of the skin cells and particles from the epidermis (outer layer of skin) to be examined.
A skin smear is a test in which the vet uses the skin cells from the scraping, places the particles on a slide and them examines them under the microscope.
If previous diagnostic tests result in negatives and there is no evidence of internal disease, your veterinarian may request a skin biopsy to further diagnose the underlying condition.
Treatment of Pattern Baldness in Cats
The treatment of pattern baldness in cats depends on the underlying cause of the abnormality. Skin infections can be treated with an antibiotic for bacteria and a fungicide for fungal or yeast infections. If your cat’s baldness is caused by a parasite such as fleas, lice or mites, they can easily be treated with dips, shampoos and topical treatments. If the underlying cause for pattern baldness is caused by a hormone imbalance, your veterinarian may prescribe hormone therapy drugs and a change in the feline’s diet.
Recovery of Pattern Baldness in Cats
The prognosis for pattern baldness in cats depends on the underlying condition causing your cat to become bald and loose hair. In most cases, once your cat has had a proper diagnosis and treatment is received, hair grows back. Talk to your veterinarian about your specific case of pattern baldness in your cat to receive a clear prognosis.