Bald patches on cats: What are the reasons for them?

Posted by Argos May 7th 2016.

Is your cat losing hair? Do they have bald patches in their fur in different parts of their body? Bald patches on cats are quite common and the problem can occur in many different forms. So, what causes hair loss in cats and how can you treat it?

Why does my cat have bald patches?

The reasons behind the appearance of bald spots can be wide-ranging.

The most common causes of cat hair loss and bald patches are:

  • Ringworm
  • Stress
  • Allergies
  • External parasites
  • Problems with the thyroid
  • Genetic conditions

RINGWORM INFECTIONS

Unlike a parasite, ringworm is a fungal infection that causes circular lesions on the skin, where the hair will thin or disappear completely.

Ringworm is highly contagious, and it can be transmitted by direct contact with the fungal spores. These can live for up to two years, meaning your cat can catch it from any area an infected animal has visited.

Ringworm diagnosis

Ringworm is usually diagnosed by performing a fungal culture on a sample of hair but examining the hair under the microscope or examining the whole haircoat using a UV lamp (wood’s lamp) can also provide clues.

Ringworm can be detected by taking a swab of the skin and treatment typically involves using shampoos or other medication to restrict the growth of the fungus.

Stress, overgrooming and licking

If you notice that your cat is grooming themselves more often than not, this may be causing them to lose their hair and create bald patches. Sometimes cats may lick their paws if they have had an allergic reaction to something, or it may just be for comfort or out of habit.

It’s important to try to prevent over-grooming becoming a habit because there’s a danger your cat will continue to do it even after he or she has come to terms with the initial trigger. One of the most effective ways to treat over-grooming in cats is by intervention. Whenever you notice your cat licking excessively or for a long period, try to interrupt calmly. Perhaps play a game or offer a treat.

Overgrooming due to stress

Cats are keen self-groomers and take great pride in keeping themselves looking good by licking their fur regularly. They can, however, over-groom by licking too much too often or even biting at and chewing their own fur. This can result in the thinning of fur or complete bald patches, particularly on the front paws.

In rare instances, over-grooming can be a sign of a neurological disorder, particularly in older cats but, more commonly, it is a behaviour triggered by stress. Just like when people feel like pulling their hair out, cats sometimes choose the soothing, comforting activity of licking their fur. The stress can be caused by a change in situation, such as the introduction of another pet to the home or moving to a different house.

Also, if you think your cat might be suffering from stress, go out of your way to devote more time and pay him or her a little bit more attention than normal in an effort to sooth them.

What could be causing my cat stress?

It’s important to consider what your cat’s potential stress triggers could be. According to icatcare, some things that could stress out a cat are:

  • There is a new cat, or a cat they don’t get along with, in your home or the area
  • Their owner is being too intrusive and wants more contact with the cat
  • They are bored and being kept indoors
  • Their hiding places, litter trays and safe spaces are restricted

Try to remove or reduce certain triggers to see if your cat’s stress levels improve.

What do I do if my cat is stressed and losing their hair?

You should always consult with a vet to ensure that medical causes can be ruled out. If you are certain that stress is causing your cat to have bald patches, you could use cat calming pheromones.

Allergies

Reactions caused by contact with an allergen can result in hair loss and other problems such as dry skin and blisters.

Allergic reactions most commonly stem from the cat’s environment such as contact with plants.

It is possible your cat will be allergic to some foods, so might need testing. If you have changed your cat’s diet and noticed hair-loss, then revert to the existing diet and contact your vet.

External parasites

Parasites such as mites or fleas are the most common cause of bald spots in cats. Usually, the problem is caused by your cat suffering a reaction to the saliva of the flea and a localised reaction occurs, particularly on the back, towards the tail. Fortunately, the problem is usually fairly easy to treat, and the hair will grow back as soon as the fleas or mites are gone.

This condition is best treated with products such as ‘spot-ons’ to eliminate the parasites. Products from the vet tend to be most effective, but sometimes additional treatments might be needed to relieve itching – for example, a course of steroid treatment.

Thyroid problems

Thyroid problems in cats arise when the animal produces too much of a hormone (hyperthyroidism). It’s also crucial to understand that cats do not suffer from hypothyroidism unless hyperthyroidism is overtreated. One of the symptoms is the development of bald patches. Hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism can be detected using blood tests. Treating an overactive thyroid in cats is often quite straightforward, using medication prescribed by a vet, though, on rare occasions, surgery might be required.

There are a range of treatment options available for hyperthyroidism, including oral medication, surgery and radioactive Iodine treatment.

Genetic conditions

Some cats will lose hair because of a hereditary condition. There is no treatment for this but, usually the problem is sporadic, and the hair will grow back within a few weeks.

Cat owners should also be aware that some cats have naturally thinning hair, particularly on the tops of their heads or parts of their body they use to brush up against people and objects. This varies between breeds but is most noticeable in cats with dark fur and light skin. It is not usually an issue unless complete baldness occurs. Some cat breeds have no hair or fur at all.

Is cat hair loss alopecia?

Alopecia is the medical term for hair loss or baldness. It can be localised or generalised. So, yes cat hair loss is alopecia.

According to PDSA, depending on what is causing the problem, alopecia may be accompanied by other symptoms such as:

  • Red or scaly/dry skin
  • Patches of dark skin
  • Bumps/scabs on the skin
  • Losing whiskers
  • Drinking more than usual
  • Eating more or less than usual
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