Cat Alopecia: Why is Your Cat Losing Hair?

Dr. Michael T. Robbins, DVM, DACVIM
By Dr. Michael T. Robbins, DVM, DACVIM
Updated: 5/15/20242-4 minutes
bearded man nuzzling his cat

With the first signs of cat alopecia, or hair loss, you may notice your cat is shedding more, the coat is not as thick as usual when you’re petting or brushing, or you may see bald patches on his or her coat. 

Can cats get alopecia? Yes, there are several causes of hair loss in cats, including overgrooming, stress, and medical issues. We cover the more common conditions below, but this is hardly a complete list. Always speak to your vet if you have any worries about your pet’s health. 

What is Cat Alopecia?  

Alopecia is defined as the partial or complete lack of hair in areas where it should normally be present. Alopecia in cats can be both acquired and congenital (present at birth). 

In most cases, hair loss is a sign of an underlying problem that must be identified and treated. For cats where hair loss is accompanied by itching, the cause of the itching should be addressed first.  

Congenital alopecia, which may or may not be hereditary, shows up at birth or shortly after. It is caused by a lack of development of hair follicles. Hairless breeds, such as the Sphinx, have been bred for this lack of hair follicles resulting in hairless adult cats. 

What Causes Hair Loss in Cats?

Alopecia in cats may be caused by several different issues with various symptoms. Identifying what is causing your cat to lose his or her fur can help you seek the right treatment to get your cat feeling, and looking, like themselves again.  

There are several skin conditions or infections that can cause hair loss in cats including:  

These conditions can be extremely irritating, causing your cat to itch, scratch, and overgroom. Excessive scratching and grooming can cause bald patches as your cat pulls out his or her fur. This is called barbering. 

Stress is another factor that can cause alopecia in cats. When your cat bathes itself, it’s doing so to keep his or her body clean. But grooming is also a way cats soothe themselves in stressful situations. If a cat is under pressure from a new move, a new animal being brought into the house, or loss of a caretaker, he or she may overgroom.  

Additionally, cats may repeatedly groom an area on their body, such as a joint or paw, if it is causing pain. Overgrooming can also lead to an increase in your cat vomiting hairballs. 

Bald spots on your cat and hair loss can also be caused by a hormonal imbalance. Specific hormones are responsible for your cat’s hair growth, and a surplus or deficiency in this may also be the reason why your cat is losing fur. 

Pregnant or lactating cats may lose their hair due to the changes in their hormones during this time. If you have a momma cat that is losing her fur, discuss it with your vet, but don’t be too alarmed. Her fur should eventually grow back over time. 

Symptoms of Alopecia in Cats

Depending on the cause, signs of hair loss may be obvious or subtle. It can range from thinning coat to bald spots. Keep watch for other signs that can indicate the underlying problem, such as: 

  • Ringworm: the bald spot will appear in a circular shape with scaling or crusty skin.  

  • Fleas: your cat will be itching, and the hair loss may be on his or her back, especially around the base of the tail. You’ll also notice tiny, dark brown bugs that jump and burrow into the fur, and you may get bites as well.  

  • Allergies: your cat’s skin will be itchy, scaly, or crusty.  

  • Stress/overgrooming: you may notice your cat grooming obsessively and vomiting more hairballs than usual.  

  • Dull coat and lack of energy: This can be a sign of a poor diet or an undetected disease. If your cat is lethargic, talk to your vet and consider a diet formulated to provide your cat with necessary nutrients.  

Although rare, there are some causes for hair loss in cats that are contagious and can affect humans as well. If you see changes in your cat’s coat or skin, make an appointment with your vet.  

Keep in mind, cats will shed more heavily during their molting seasons. They shed their winter coat in the spring as the weather warms and their summer coat in the fall to grow their winter coat. As long as the hair loss is from all over the cat’s body with no bald patches, this is completely natural. Regular grooming sessions with a brush or comb can help keep the shedding hair off the furniture and excess hair out of their tummies. 

Diagnosing Hair Loss in Cats

Your vet will give your cat a thorough examination to determine what’s causing hair loss in your cat. Fleas are among the most common causes of itching and hair loss. If it’s fleas, your vet may recommend a flea treatment. 

Your vet might also take hair samples or scrape a little sample of your cat’s skin to test for ringworm and other parasites. This is a painless procedure that doesn’t require anesthesia. However, there are occasions when your vet may decide to take a small skin sample from your cat under anesthetic or to perform an allergy skin test to check for cat skin conditions. Alternatively, they may take a blood sample to look for underlying diseases that could be causing your pet’s hair loss. 

When no underlying parasite or condition can be identified as the cause of your cat’s alopecia, and you suspect stress is causing your cat to overgroom, talk to your vet about any changes in the household or your cat’s lifestyle that could be causing the stress. Your vet may recommend pheromone sprays or antianxiety supplements.   

If there is still no obvious reason for your cat’s feline alopecia at the end of your vet’s investigation, you may be referred to a veterinary dermatologist or allergist.  

Cat Alopecia Treatment 

The treatment for alopecia in cats will depend on the cause of the cat’s hair loss. Once your vet has results from any tests, they will be able to identify the right course of action. While you may read about home remedies for cats with alopecia on the internet, we recommend discussing those treatments with your vet first.  

Here are treatment options for the most common causes of alopecia in cats: 

Anti-Flea and Antifungal Treatments 

If your cat’s hair loss is due to fleas, other parasites, or a fungal infection like ringworm, your vet will recommend flea and/or parasite control products or an antifungal treatment.  

Diet Plan to Avoid Allergies

If your vet suspects a food allergy, your cat may need to go on a hydrolyzed protein diet for up 12 weeks. If the hair loss and skin issues improve, then you’ve identified the food allergen your cat needs to avoid. You can keep your cat on the hydrolyzed diet or look at food options with novel proteins.  

Plan to Reduce Stress

For cats that are overgrooming due to stress, your vet may refer you to a veterinary behaviorist who can help identify the cause of the stress and give you advice on how to reduce stressful situations and calm your kitty. Your vet may recommend calming supplements with probiotics that can help cats cope with stress. 

Identifying the Sore Spot

If your vet’s examination shows that your cat is overgrooming because of pain in their joints or bladder, they will treat the underlying problem with necessary medication. When the pain stops, the cat hair loss will too.  

Once the cause for the alopecia in cats has been found, you should hopefully have a happy and healthy pet again!  

Want more cat health tips? Get advice from our experts with our other cat health articles. 

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