A bald cat? Hair loss, or alopecia, is a very common symptom in cats, and can be really frustrating to try and deal with! Unfortunately, there are a wide range of possible causes, so the best thing to do is to work with us to rule them out one at a time until you find the underlying problem.
So, what can cause baldness in cats?
Common causes include…
Fleas in particular, but also lice and mites are all possible causes of hair loss. Fleas are ubiquitous in the UK – all cats are probably exposed periodically. To complicate matters, many cats suffer from Flea Allergic Dermatitis (FAD) – an allergy to flea-bites. This typically causes severe itching, bald patches and small red bumps or scabs to form on the skin. With any cat who is showing signs of skin disease, the first and most important step is to institute a thorough flea control program – talk to one of our vets for advice, as many over-the-counter remedies aren’t potent enough to reliably control fleas.
Infection of the skin with bacteria, yeasts or fungi can also cause hair loss. These result in redness of the skin, variably itchiness, scabs, hair loss and sometimes oozing sores or raw patches. The exact cause may vary, but the vet will be able to prescribe antibiotics and/or antifungal medications and washes or shampoos to resolve the condition.
Most skin infections, however, are secondary to another condition, so resolving the infection may just treat the symptom – in that case, you need to keep looking for the underlying cause.
Cats can get allergies to all sorts of things, not just flea bites! Sometimes, cats get contact dermatitis (an allergy to some substance they touch, like a floor cleaner, or furniture polish). These tend to leave swollen, sore patches in the areas of skin in contact with the substance.
Other cats develop food allergies – these rarely cause a stomach upset, but are more likely to cause itchy skin and hair loss. Diagnosing a food allergy is a complicated business requiring an “Exclusion Diet”, where the cat is fed only a special food that their immune system can’t react to.
Cats can also become allergic to pollen, dust mites, air freshener, or indeed anything else they’re exposed to – but fortunately, this is rare. Diagnosing and treating an allergy will require you to work closely with the vet, as changes to their lifestyle and medications may both be required.
Cats do suffer badly from stress-related conditions – this is because they evolved to be small carnivores who both hunt and are hunted, and as a result were largely solitary, or at least lived in small loose-knit family groups. As we’ve domesticated them, they have become better able to tolerate other cats and larger predators (like dogs, or us!) living with them, but as a result of their heritage, any change in their physical or social environment can really upset them.
One of the most common ways that cats manage stress is overgrooming – like self-harming, excessive and repeated grooming makes them feel in control of their environment again and lets them cope with stressful situations. However, it does result in hair loss (typically under the belly and in the groin) and may result in secondary skin infections.
Possible causes of stress in cats are numerous, but may include:
- Changes to the physical environment:
- Moving house
- New building work
- Changes to the layout of the house or garden
- Inability to hide somewhere (open plan minimalist houses, for example, aren’t usually cat-friendly environments)
- Changes to the social environment:
- New cats in the area
- Loss of a friend or companion
- Aggression by other cats
- Competition for feed bowls (always make sure there are enough for all the cats, including any “visitors” who come in to steal!)
- Competition for litter trays (you must always have one tray for each cat, plus one extra)
- New people in the house (e.g. a new baby, or workmen)
- People who have left the house (e.g. grown up children moving out)
Fortunately, however, there are a number of different techniques that you can use to minimise your cat’s stress. Firstly, of course, try to resolve the underlying issue. If this isn’t possible, then pheromone treatments (“Feliway”) are very effective, and casein-based products (e.g. “Zylkene”) will also relieve stress. In severe cases, our vets will be able to prescribe medication to help them feel better and to cope with the stress; these drugs are powerful, but can be used for a short time then the dose gradually reduced as the cat adapts to the situation.
If you’re not sure what the cause is – please call us at Animal House Vets! We’ll be able to help diagnose and then treat or manage the problem.