Hair loss (Alopecia) in cats

Brown cat sat on bed

Cats commonly present to vets for hair loss, which is also known as alopecia. There are many reasons for hair loss. There are primary and secondary causes of alopecia. Here our vet shares their advice.

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Alopecia (hair loss) in cats

If your cat is losing hair keep an eye out for the following signs, which can help in the diagnosis of the problem:

  • Has your cat started to groom more often than normal?
  • Is your cat displaying signs of itching or irritation?
  • Does the skin underneath the hair look healthy or does it look damaged, red or scabby?
  • Is the hair loss symmetrical on both sides of the body?
  • Has the hair fallen out, or has it been bitten or licked? Is the area smooth or is it rough? Broken hairs caused by nibbling and licking are often rough to the touch.

Causes of alopecia in cats

There are several reasons for cats to experience hair loss. Some are common, such as flea allergies, mites and ringworm infections. They are usually straightforward to diagnose and treat. However, sometimes hair loss is due to overgrooming. This could be due to an underlying disease, such as a hormonal (endocrine) imbalance, or urinary tract disease. It can also occur in cats that are stressed but sometimes the cause is never identified.

Diagnosis of alopecia in cats

A clinical exam by your vet is needed. They will look for signs of parasites and skin infections, and examine the hair at the hair loss site. Sometimes, particularly if mites are suspected, a skin scrape of this area is taken for microscopic examination. If there are suspicious lesions in the area, a skin swab can be taken to check for bacteria. A skin biopsy may be recommended to check for specific diseases and sent to a lab for analysis. A blood sample is commonly included, which can help to identify endocrine diseases.

Treatment of alopecia in cats

If parasites are the cause then a parasite treatment for your cat and your home can be prescribed. Parasite treatment should always be kept up to date. It can take three months to get on top of a flea issue and therefore it is important to monitor the effect of your regular preventative treatments. Further information on managing fleas and Flea Allergy Dermatitis in our article.

Injections, tablets or topical treatments, such as creams, may be prescribed if the skin is damaged or has a secondary infection. They will provide symptomatic relief depending on the case, which aims to break the itch-scratch cycle and help the skin to heal. Steroids are prescribed to reduce itching, whilst antimicrobial medication is prescribed to treat an infection. Otherwise, establishing and treating the underlying cause will be the main aim.

When to call your vet?

  • If you are concerned that your cat has signs of alopecia

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