Cat Hair Loss: Causes and Treatment

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Orange tabby cat who is losing some fur licking his paw

Is your cat losing her fur? Hair loss in felines (alopecia) can occur for many different reasons, so identifying what’s behind a cat’s loss of fur may take some work.

What causes hair loss in cats?

Feline fur loss may have fungal and parasitic causes, such as ringworm, mites or flea allergies. Food allergies are another possibility, as are metabolic conditions such as hyperthyroidism, the term for over-production of thyroid hormones. In some cats, urinary tract issues reportedly cause continual licking, with hair loss as a result.

Answers to the following questions may help reveal the cause: Does she groom herself a lot? Is she itchy and does she scratch herself often? If you have other cats, what is her relationship with them — harmonious or contentious? Have you changed anything in your home lately that could be causing increased stress in your cat?

Signs of a healthy cat

Excessive grooming in cats

If your cat appears to be healthy otherwise, it’s possible that over-grooming to reduce stress — also known as displacement grooming — may be what’s happening. Displacement grooming, which is considered to be rooted in anxiety, may serve to lower a cat’s stress level, help calm her and deflect aggression from other individuals. It is common to see a cat who’s in a stressful situation suddenly begin to groom herself.

Over time, this displacement behavior can become independent of the initial stressor and eventually become compulsive in nature. This condition is known as “psychogenic alopecia.” (Psycho means “of the mind,” genic means “producing or arising from,” and alopecia means “hair loss.”) This type of alopecia generally occurs on the inner forelimbs, the rear area of the abdomen, the groin region, the tail and/or the lower back area, and it may or may not be symmetric. The hair loss occurs only in places that can be reached by the cat’s tongue; secondary skin changes, such as redness or bumps, are rarely evident.

Visiting your vet

To find out more about what’s going on, take your cat to your veterinarian for a complete exam, including blood work, a thyroid function check and a urinalysis. These tests will help to rule out any metabolic causes of hair loss, such as Cushing’s disease (which is rare in cats), hyperthyroidism or urinary tract disease.

One study examining cats with a presumptive diagnosis of psychogenic alopecia found that medical causes of itching and hair loss were identified in 76 percent of the cats, while only 10 percent of the cases were found to be purely behavioral. The remaining 14 percent involved a combination of psychogenic alopecia and medical causes of itching and hair loss.

How to find a good vet

Ideas to reduce a cat’s stress level

If your cat’s lab results are all normal and there is no evidence of other causes, you may wonder what to do next to help your cat. Because psychogenic alopecia is based on emotional states of stress, anxiety and frustration, focus on minimizing stress for your kitty. Here are some ways to do that:

  • Place perches and climbing posts in key areas, such as in front of a window. This may encourage your cat to express her natural tendency to rest on high surfaces and view her environment from above.
  • To enrich her environment and offer privacy, give her access to some cardboard boxes and paper bags (with the handles removed for safety).
  • Play with her using interactive toys, such as a feather wand, to stimulate her natural hunting instincts and help her burn off excess energy.
  • Get a Feliway diffuser, which releases a synthetic version of a feline pheromone, a calming chemical substance that cats produce naturally.
  • Other options for providing enrichment include scattering kibble around to encourage her to “hunt” for her food, offering nontoxic cat grasses or catnip, and giving her food puzzle toys.

Anti-anxiety supplements, medications and calming foods for cats

If these modifications are not successful, or your veterinarian feels additional intervention is necessary, anti-anxiety supplements such as Anxitane or Composure can be considered. There are also calming food options on the market by brands such as Royal Canin or Science Diet that may help. If further therapy is needed, you may want to talk to your vet about putting your cat on an anti-anxiety medication, such as Fluoxetine or Paroxetine.

With so many potential underlying causes, fur loss in cats can be a difficult thing to resolve. The key is to keep an open dialogue going with your vet, and to explore the solutions that feel right for you and your sweet feline.

Keeping your cat healthy