When they're in their most relaxed state, cats can usually be found stretched out and lounging in a warm patch of sun or snuggled up on their favorite soft surface, where they can truly indulge in their elaborate grooming rituals. For felines, part of their self-care regimen involves using those scratchy tongues to "brush" and clean their fur, but sometimes, cats can groom so intensely that entire patches of hair come out, resulting in thin or bald patches on the skin. Is this behavior part of the cleansing routine, or could it be a sign of something else?
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Alopecia in cats
Whatever the species—cat, dog, human being—the condition of hair loss is technically known as alopecia, which refers to the partial or total loss of hair in an area where hair is usually found. For people, this could be referring to the hair on their head, and for cats, alopecia can affect essentially any part of their fur-covered bodies.
According to the Merck Veterinary Manual, alopecia can sometimes occur at birth thanks to underdeveloped hair follicles. Usually, however, hair loss in mammals is a symptom of an underlying disease or disorder, especially if your cat is pulling her own hair out.
Possible causes of hair pulling
In order to stop your cat from pulling his hair out, you'll need to identify the exact cause of such behavior and treat it accordingly. Vetstreet states that the most common reason cats pull their own hair out is that their skin is itchy.
If you notice your cat scratching and chewing at his fur, especially if your cat is pulling out fur at the base of his tail, there's a good chance you could have pests like fleas, mites, or even a tick on your hands. A yeast infection may be another cause of itching and hair pulling in cats, as could allergies to their food or the environment.
In some cases, cats can pull their hair out due to obsessive-compulsive tendencies or extreme anxiety. VCA Hospitals describes such a condition as feline psychogenic alopecia, which expresses itself through compulsive grooming habits like licking, tearing out patches of hair, chewing on paws, or tail chasing, to name a few. This condition is usually the result of a neurological disorder or may be used as a coping mechanism for stress, anxiety, or fear.
Hair pulling prevention
Once you've identified why your cat is pulling hair out, you can treat the problem and prevent it from recurring. If your cat is chewing on her skin or pulling out her hair because of parasites like fleas, medicated flea drops given on a regular basis will not only kill existing fleas but can prevent new bugs from settling in on your feline's furry body.
If no pests are present on your cat but she's still steadily scratching her skin or chewing on parts of her body, you may want to speak to your veterinarian about allergy testing. If you suspect that an allergy to an ingredient in her food is what's causing your cat to pull her hair out, your vet will likely recommend an elimination diet, which will help you to isolate the exact protein that's causing the allergy.
Environmental allergies, yeast, or other bacterial infections can be identified through either a skin test or scrape, and treatment from that point should not be terribly invasive or troublesome.
Psychological hair pulling prevention
Psychological hair pulling will require a slightly different approach to treatment and prevention, but once you've identified the trigger that's setting off your cat's compulsive tendencies, you will be able to curb her attempts over time. Some cats will require more stimulation and playtime to keep their teeth off of their fur, while others will need a calm and stress-free environment to keep them from pulling their hair out. Each course of action will depend on your cat.
To determine the right path for your cat, it's recommended that you consult your veterinarian or a behaviorist to help you assess the situation. Keep an eye out for anything that may be inducing anxiety in your cat so that you can take steps toward eliminating the stressor from your cat's life if possible.
Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.