Cats can get patterns of hair loss, which could be their way of expressing themselves through choosing to style their fur in their own unique way by fashioning a funky hairdo, but more often than not it’s an indication of an underlying problem.
The two major issues that contribute to feline balding patterns are skin parasites, allergies, fungal infections and psychological disorders. Next, I will touch on each cause and discuss what can be done to diagnose the underlying cause and fix the problem.
Cats can get skin mites such as Demodex, Notoedres or Cheyletiella which can sometimes be confirmed with a skin scrape or ear swab. At times, Demodex can even be picked up on a fecal examination as the cats ingest a lot of the mites as they’re itching themselves. There are topical products available in order to treat these mites.
Fleas are a major contributor to feline barbering as they can be quite itchy. The pattern seen is most frequently on the lower back. Fleas are not always visible and so sometimes it is necessary to implement a flea control trial even if no fleas are seen in order to rule it out as a cause of baldness. Treatment should be carried out for 2-3 months to ensure all life stages of the flea have been killed off. If itching persists despite treatment, it can be assumed there is another cause of the balding.
Allergies are a major cause of itching in cats and can cause them to groom themselves to the point of balding. Allergies can be seen to both the environment and to food. It is more difficult to determine environmental causes of itching unless intradermal skin testing is performed by a dermatologist. If environmental allergens are found, there are serums that can be developed to help desensitize your cat to the allergen as well as limiting contact to known allergens. Food allergies are determined by carrying out a food trial where the cat is limited to eating only hypoallergenic or limited ingredient foods for a period of 2 months to see if the itching stops.
Cats can get fungal infections of their skin, also called “ring worm”. This condition can be sometimes diagnosed with a fluorescent light called a woods lamp but only certain strains will show up. Often either a skin biopsy or fungal culture will need to be carried out to determine whether ring worm is present. This condition can be contagious to people, and so prompt diagnosis and treatment is important.
Cats can start to exhibit grooming behaviours due to obsession, anxiety,</a> or even boredom.
To help correct for boredom, the approach is geared towards environmental enrichment. This can be achieved through more toys, attention, playing games and giving them objects to scratch and climb. There are many resources available to give ideas on how to better provide your cat with proper enrichment.
For anxiety related barbering, there are several approaches. The most non-invasive way to start is by using pheromone products in the home to help calm the cat. These pheromones are naturally made by cats to help communicate that an environment is safe, and so by artificially infusing a room with the pheromones can have a calming effect on the cat. There are also some commercial diets and supplements on the market that include hydrolyzed milk proteins which are meant to help stabilize mood. If those have no effect, the next step to treating anxiety related disorders is through the use of anti-anxiety medications similarly to how people can be prescribed anxiety medications.
As you can see there are many different reasons for a cat to take on an odd hairdo. If you notice any abnormal fur patterns on your cat you can schedule an appointment with us so we can help you narrow down the root cause to your cats extra flair.
Written by: Dr. Megan Haines, DVM