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What is Losing Hair?

Perhaps you have noticed a bald spot on your cat. If your cat is older or shows no signs of distress, this could be a hair follicle infection or some other issue with the hair follicle, and is a form of alopecia. Maybe the cat is scratching the area excessively or gnawing at the spot as well. If so, your cat could be experiencing skin diseases such as:

  • Flea allergy dermatitis
  • Skin mite dermatitis
  • Ringworm
  • Pain
  • Food allergy
  • Psychological reasons

Why Losing Hair Occurs in Cats

Flea Allergy Dermatitis

Flea allergic dermatitis or FAD is a reaction to the proteins in a flea’s saliva left over when a flea bites an animal. Cats that experience FAD may scratch incessantly at or chew the affected area to the point that it becomes inflamed or develops sores. Depending on the cat’s allergy level, flea bites can cause a major reaction in the affected cat. Generally, this disease can present at any time during the year, but warmer months are the primary times of the year that the disease is prevalent. “Hot spots” (red, oozing sores that develop in the affected area) can appear anywhere on the body, but the most common areas for FAD are the neck or rump. Cats may develop a secondary infection that creates thick, darkened skin and an odor. Black “dirt” may seem to crop up at the hairline. Any breed or age cat can develop FAD. 

Skin Mite Dermatitis

Also known as mange, skin mite dermatitis is caused by a microscopic parasite that lives on the skin and in the hair follicles of cats. Cats will scratch themselves excessively to relieve the discomfort of the mite; skin mite dermatitis can occur anywhere and everywhere on the body, even the pads of the feet. Skin mite dermatitis has several derivations: 

  • Ear mites - Coffee-ground appearing debris will permeate the ear, making the ear look  very dirty; affected cats may shake their heads and claw at their ears
  • Feline scabies - Crusty scabs and hair loss characterize this form of dermatitis
  • Dandruff - Dandruff-type scales and bumpy skin

An infestation of mites causes skin mite dermatitis. At least six different types of mites are considered specific to felines. There is no evidence that any of these mites are breed specific, but mite infestations appear to be worse in the very old, very young, or an otherwise unhealthy cat. 

Ringworm

Ringworm is caused by a fungus. Hair around the face, ears, and feet are most likely to be affected. It will begin to disappear, and skin will become discolored, dry, and flaky. Ringworm affects cats of all ages and breeds.

Pain

Cats that are experiencing pain may excessively lick in that area. Hair loss over a joint may indicate arthritis, but abscesses rise from under the skin and can be quite painful.

Food Allergy

Using presenting on the head and face first, a food allergy can cause red, scabby patches that itch. 

Psychological Reasons

Once all possible external causes have been ruled out, it is possible that your cat has some underlying psychological issue, such as stress. This stress could be caused by anything from another pet to guests in your home to a change in food. Cats lick or “groom” themselves as a source of comfort, so for some, constant stress brings constant grooming, which could lead to hair loss. 

Hair loss from pain, an allergy, or psychological reasons is not related to age or breed of cat.

What to do if your Cat is Losing Hair

Because flea allergy and skin mite dermatitis may require a skin scraping test to determine the best route of treatment, it is probably best to see the vet if you notice your cat scratching excessively, gnawing at her skin, and the tell-tale black debris associated with ear mites and FAD.  Your vet will prescribe antihistamines or steroids to calm the allergic reaction down, then he or she can get your cat started on preventative medicine to curtail another allergic episode.      

Ringworm can be treated with topical medicine prescribed by your vet. 

If you suspect your cat has a food allergy, you may have to do some experimentation with her food or change up her diet. Some cats become allergic to the high-carbohydrate commercial cat food found common at retail stores, so your veterinarian may need to guide you in an elimination trial and prescribe a switch to an organic or high-protein diet. If your cat experiences hair loss due to stress, your vet may prescribe anti-anxiety medicine.

Prevention of Losing Hair

Once a flea infestation has been cleared up in your cat, it is highly important that you continue preventative medicine as prescribed by your vet. Mites can be more tricky to eliminate, however. Once mites are cleared off the cat, be sure to thoroughly clean your cat’s living area and to keep the cat away from other cats that may carry mites. Ringworm can be prevented by keeping your cat exclusively indoors. Cats that are outdoors should be checked periodically for lesions and kept away from strays. Prevent food allergies by feeding a high protein diet.

Cost of Losing Hair

Treating cats for hair loss is often not very expensive. Flea prevention can be initiated for approximately $300 and  your vet will tell you whether you will treat your cat monthly or every six months. Treating a cat for skin mite dermatitis can be a little more expensive. Testing, medications to eliminate the mites, and any preventative medicine can range from $200 to $500. The national average for treating skin mite dermatitis is $250.