Why is my cat losing hair?

Published 12:59 pm Tuesday, May 10, 2011

By FRED SELF / Veterinarian

This is the second part in a series discussing hair loss in dogs and cats. Last week, we discussed conditions that cause alopecia — hair loss — in dogs. Now, we will consider conditions in cats.

Like the list of conditions we discussed last week, this is a partial list that covers the conditions we see most frequently.

Fleas top the list of problems that lead to hair loss. Even though cats tend to groom more frequently and to a higher degree, they still find themselves a favorite host for fleas. The balding pattern tends to be the area around the base of the tail and the space on their belly between their back legs. When faced with a cat losing hair, check closely for fleas and use a flea control product just in case.

Allergy also causes hair loss in cats. With cats, the form of allergies leading to hair loss is slightly different from that in dogs. Food allergies and atopy can be present, but cats also have an allergic condition that produces miliary dermatitis.

Food allergies are most often related to the protein source in foods. Some cats require a special diet to keep their bodies from recognizing proteins. Atopy, an allergy to something in the environment, can be caused by anything with which the cat may come into contact. Miliary dermatitis is a special case. Instead of obvious areas of hair loss, you see only a thinning of hair and when petting the cat you feel scabs around the head and neck and sometimes near the tail base.

Ringworm also likes to associate with cats. The fungus that causes ringworm can affect cats in two ways. The well-known way is circular areas of missing hair. However, cats can be carriers of the fungus and never show signs. Instead, they spread the condition to others without suffering its effects themselves.

A unique condition in cats that can cause severe hair loss, most often on their belly and between their rear legs, is psychogenic grooming. The cause or causes of this condition are not well known. It could be related to boredom or microscopic mites that are not found during a physical exam. Regardless of its cause, the balding can be quite severe, as the cat keeps itself licked hairless.

When faced with a pet losing hair, look for a cause and solution quickly and be willing to treat the condition for as long as necessary.

Dr. Fred Self is a veterinarian at Shelbiana Animal Clinic in Columbiana, along with Dr. Charles Thornburg. You can reach the clinic at 669-7717.