Alopecia in Cats
Alopecia it’s a common cat skin disorder. It may affect felines of all genders, breeds, and ages, and the condition may either be acute or gradual. Here, Innovet Pet Products goes into more detail about alopecia in cats:
Alopecia: What is it?
Alopecia usually refers to deficiencies within a cat’s coat or failure to grow hair at all. Cat alopecia causes the cat to have complete or partial hair loss and may be varied or symmetrical, depending upon the cause. It may impact a cat’s endocrine system, skin, immune system, and lymphatic system in addition to his coat.
Feline symmetrical alopecia is one type of cat hair loss; it is defined by hair loss that forms in a symmetrical pattern (on both parts of the body) without any distinct skin changes. With feline acquired symmetrical alopecia, the most typically affected spaces include a cat’s thighs and trunk.
Feline endocrine alopecia typically is an indication of an underlying medical problem which has to be identified for the condition in order to be treated successfully. While it is normal for felines to shed and occasionally have patchy coats between seasons—like when a feline is shedding a winter coat—alopecia usually is an extremely distinctive kind of hair loss.
Alopecia in Cats: What Causes It?
As it’ll come to psychogenic alopecia in cats, causes may vary. Hair loss and alopecia may be congenital, meaning a feline is born with the condition, or it is acquired. It happens as hair follicle growth becomes disrupted.
Cat inflammation (more on that in the next few paragraphs) may cause damage to the hair follicle and trigger hair loss. Specific diseases and infections may cause hair loss in a more widespread region of the body; these might impede hair growth or thoroughly destroy the hair shaft or follicle, which causes the hair to fall out. If the condition happens because of an inflammatory cause, it also may lead to pain, discomfort, or itchiness in felines.
Causes of Cat Inflammation
Inflammation happens as the body senses infection, injury, or additional irritants and sends white blood cells to the space as protection. In felines, inflammation may cause them to be dehydrated, lethargic, and reluctant to consume their food.
The best method of helping with your pet’s inflammation includes making them as comfortable as possible to ease their discomfort. Perhaps get him a comfortable bed or take him to get a massage. Below we list reasons your pet might have inflammation:
IBD (Inflammatory Bowel Disease)
If your kitty has been vomiting frequently, chronic diarrhea, or both, he might have IBD. Inflammatory bowel disease is caused by a reaction to chronic irritation as inflammatory cells, referred to as plasmacytes and lymphocytes, invade the wall of the intestines and/or stomach.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease is more commonly diagnosed in middle-aged or older cats. Blood in stool, fatigue, and weight loss are other signs that your pet might have Inflammatory Bowel Disease.
Also, pancreatitis may cause inflammation in your cat. Unlike canines, cat pancreatitis does not have anything to do with nutritional factors. Pancreatitis within your cat may happen because of multiple factors, which includes medications you’re administering to him, diabetes, infections, abdominal trauma, and diseases.
Cats that have more serious pancreatitis may develop disseminated intravascular coagulation, sepsis, and heart arrhythmias. Your cat might have pancreatitis if he is exhibiting signs of fatigue, weight loss, and fever.
Among the most known inflammation in cat causes is arthritis. Cartilage will form a cushion in between the bones at a joint, and as the cat grows older, the cartilage begins deteriorating and becomes less flexible. Additional arthritis in cat causes include weight gain, infection, dislocation of joints, and injury.
Encephalitis is just a fancy term for brain inflammation. Inflammation in the brain may be caused by foreign bodies, immune-mediated disorders, and infections that are brought on by parasites, fungus, bacteria, or viruses.
This kind of cancer sometimes can be mistaken for feline Inflammatory Bowel Disease, as most of the symptoms are similar. Usually, lymphoma affects cats’ gastrointestinal tract, lymph nodes, and mediastinum. But it may affect any part of the kitty’s body.
Dermatomyositis and Polymyositis
Both of those conditions include generalized inflammatory disorders. Usually, polymyositis is caused by muscle damage that turns to inflammation. Dermatomyositis is a kind of polymyositis, yet with this condition, you’ll generally find skin lesions on the cat. Dermatomyositis may be misidentified as a feline skin problem, yet like polymyositis, the inflammation is found inside the muscles. Drugs, immune-mediated infections, and cancer may cause dermatomyositis or polymyositis in your cat.
Occasionally cats’ bodies sense that something is wrong as there in fact, isn’t anything wrong. That’s the case with autoimmune diseases. Their body believes there’s an injury; therefore, it begins to send white blood cells to the “infected region” to battle foreign bodies as there isn’t anything there.
Those white blood cells begin to eat away at a body’s normal tissues, assuming that they’re the foreign bodies. Spending an overabundance of time inside the sun or getting exposed to ultraviolet light may cause autoimmune diseases in felines.
Conjunctivitis or (pink eye)
Eye inflammation is usually caused by different bacteria and viruses. Purebred felines and cats exposed to other felines are more than likely to experience conjunctivitis. But, inflammation in your pet’s eyes doesn’t always mean he’s experiencing conjunctivitis. Allergies and coming into contact with foreign objects also may cause inflammation in your pet’s eyes.
Congenital Hair Loss
Now let’s get back to what causes feline alopecia. Not every kind of congenital hair loss is hereditary, even though it typically has some type of genetic basis. Congenital alopecia occurs when there’s a lack of normal hair follicles. This disorder either can be visible at the time of birth, or its symptoms may be suppressed until the kitty is at a specific age when hair loss starts to happen. Congenital hair loss either can be localized to one area or symmetrical.
Hair loss may occur in relation to atopic dermatitis, which is an inflammatory, chronic skin disease that is caused by allergies. Cat allergies are very common. The common cat allergen sources include grasses and pollens, insect bites, mold spores, dust mites, food, cleaning products, certain materials and fabrics, perfumes, and prescription meds. Allergy symptoms frequently include cat sneezing or coughing, rashes, feline vomiting, and itching. Cats often will chew or scratch at their skin to alleviate their pain, which damages their coats even more.
Fungal and Bacterial Infections
Bacterial and fungal infections may cause complete to partial alopecia in felines. Ringworm is an extremely common fungal infection, and it’ll appear as hair loss in circular patterns, and occasionally inflammation, lesions, crusting and redness. A few fungal infections clear up by themselves, whereas other ones require more proactive treatments, such as antifungal ointments, shampoos, or medications. If alopecia’s cause is because of a fungal infection, pet owners ought to take some precaution as some infections may be zoonotic, meaning it may be contracted then spread from one animal species to another.
On the other hand, bacterial infections typically must be treated using antibiotics prescribed by a veterinarian. One typical bacterial infection in felines is caused by staph, which generally presents as crusting and redness, in conjunction with hair loss.
Cat alopecia sometimes can be caused by endocrine disorders or hormonal imbalances. There are certain hormones which are responsible for hair growth in felines; therefore, a deficiency or excess in any of those may cause hair loss or slow growth of hair follicles. Pregnant or lactating cats might suffer hormonal changes, and as a result, might lose some hair; other alopecia causes due to hormones may be hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism, Cushing’s disease, Addison’s disease, and increased steroid levels. Hormone-associated alopecia usually is noninflammatory, and any itching typically is related to a secondary skin infection or additional source.
This condition is a frequent reason for cat hair loss. Mange is caused by an overabundance of Demodex mites, which can’t be seen to the naked eye. As the mites begin inhabiting the hair follicle of the cat, it may cause skin conditions such as hair loss, lesions, and skin crusting, particularly if left neglected. Mange is categorized as an inflammatory disease, yet symptoms and severity of symptoms, may depend upon the kind of mite the kitty has.
If the cat is handling pain, such as feline arthritis, he might lick himself in an effort to alleviate the discomfort. As alopecia happens for this reason, hair loss stops when the discomfort stops.
Nervous and Stress Disorders
Compulsive behaviors, like excessive grooming, chewing, and licking, have been well-known to appear in felines that have depression, anxiety, or additional psychological disorders. As they are feeling nervous or in duress, cats turn to those behaviors as a method of soothing, but it may cause localized hair loss in regions in which they are looking for relief. It’s frequently called psychogenic alopecia.
Occasionally alopecia also can happen on its own, without any particular cause, whatsoever.
Symptoms and Signs of Cat Alopecia
Alopecia may present itself as a massive number of symptoms, yet it usually is extremely distinct. It usually is characterized by hair balding or thinning; additional symptoms are dependent upon the underlying cause of the hair loss.
Hair loss may gradually occur over a period of time, or be acute, with hair loss and additional symptoms suddenly appearing. Alopecia may be localized, and appear in just one region, or it might spread to several body areas as the condition progresses. Also, the hair loss might be symmetrical, and show up on both parts of the body, or sporadic and isolated.
Sometimes, cat alopecia causes an inflammatory response, in which the hair loss is accompanied by irritation, redness, and skin crusting. The skin that surrounds the affected region, other times, seems normal, and the kitty will exhibit no reaction to the disorder—it’s normal with congenital alopecia.
Alopecia often is related to medical symptoms beyond hair loss. Behavioral indications of alopecia are scratching, itching, licking, and chewing, because cats attempt to cope with the irritation. Depending upon the hair loss cause, the skin impacted by the alopecia becomes irritated, discolored, and inflamed. If the circumstance is serious, the impacted areas may develop blisters or sores.
Some alopecia causes might trigger the development of secondary skin diseases, like fluid discharge or infection. They may lead to foul smells, and raised, thickened, or crusty skin.
Alopecia: How is it Diagnosed?
If you believe your pet might have alopecia, and it tends to have suddenly appeared, immediately take him to a vet for an accurate treatment and diagnosis.
During your appointment, the vet will require information on your pet’s medical history. The session also will likely involve a physical exam that determines the alopecia’s cause.
The vet will likely ask you when the loss of hair began, how it progressed, and whether the cat has been excessively scratching and itching. You also may have to note whether you have noticed any other symptoms which might be related to an infection, like frequent urination or lethargy.
The remainder of your appointment will involve a physical exam. The vet will search for fleas or additional parasites, indications of secondary infections, scars, sores, and injuries. They’ll also monitor the hair loss distribution; a pattern may narrow down or indicate a potential cause. Determining whether the kitty’s hair has directly shed from the hair follicle or was broken off might help to establish the disorder’s cause. If the hair was broken off, it is an indication that the alopecia was self-induced, typically from excessive grooming.
If allergies actually are to blame, the veterinarian will know because the cat will probably develop wounds referred to rodent ulcers or eosinophilic granuloma complex which may become very noticeable and large.
If the vet hasn’t had the ability to determine the hair loss cause based upon a visual exam of the cat, they might order diagnostic tests, which includes blood tests, skin smear, and urine samples. They ought to assist in pinpointing the underlying causes, whether it be a hormonal imbalance, fungal infection, or bacterial infection. The vet might also do a skin biopsy if the prior tests are inconclusive. X-rays and ultrasounds also can be utilized to rule out adrenal glands problem or cat cancer.
Psychogenic Alopecia in Cat’s Treatment
Alopecia cat’s treatment exists, yet for the most part, determining an appropriate treatment depends on correctly identifying the cause. General psychogenic alopecia cat treatment usually includes topical treatments and antibiotic shampoos. Uncovering the clinical problem behind the alopecia, is the most efficient method of treating it; the real cause must be rightfully diagnosed for the vet to determine what treatment is going to work better.
The easiest psychogenic alopecia cat’s treatment is eradicating fleas or additional parasites. Usually, a topical medication is prescribed to eliminate the bugs. Once that is treated, the cat’s hair ought to grow back normally, but that might take a couple of weeks to a few months to completely regrow.
If the alopecia is caused by an allergic reaction, the veterinarian will work to narrow down the cat’s allergen. They might prescribe an antihistamine, medicated shampoo, corticosteroid therapy, or anti-inflammatory medication. In some instances, the cat might recover as you remove the allergen from her diet or environment, and won’t require allergy medication, whatsoever.
If your pet is diagnosed with psychogenic alopecia because of nervous behaviors, changes to environment are necessary to solve the issue. Offering her extra toys might distract her from compulsive grooming. If it is possible to determine the cause of her anxiety—for instances visitors, dogs, or kids—giving him places to hide or high perches may help.
While the vet narrows down the cause of the kitty’s hair loss, they might prescribe a topical or antibiotic treatment to decrease his discomfort and itching.
Alopecia: Can I Prevent It?
Alopecia isn’t always preventable; however, there are many things to do to decrease the likelihood of your pet acquiring the disorder. For example, ensuring that your pet has a stress-free and safe environment will go a long way at sustaining his general health. A diet that is rich in nutrients also will assist in keeping his coat healthy.
Can You Catch Alopecia?
If your pet’s alopecia was caused by parasites or fleas, keeping your house clean and using tick and flea control products may assist in preventing it from happening again. If your pet spends any amount of time outside and you reside in a region that’s normally infested with parasites, you regularly should use tick and flea repellents to keep the kitty from becoming infected.
Even though alopecia itself isn’t necessarily a severe condition, as a symptom, it might be a sign of a more concernƒaing issue. It is vital to observe your pet’s overall health. Regularly bathing and grooming your furry friend will aid you in recognizing if he has more coat problems. Arranging a yearly appointment with the vet also will help in identifying or catching any medical problems, such as the ones related to alopecia, before they become severe.
Dr. Sara Ochoa
Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, St. Georges University
Sara Redding Ochoa, DVM was raised in north Louisiana. She graduated from LA Tech in 2011 with a degree in animal science. She then moved to Grenada West Indies for veterinary school. She completed her clinical year at Louisiana State University and graduated in 2015 from St. George’s University. Since veterinary school she has been working at a small animal and exotic veterinary clinic in east Texas, where she has experience treating all species that walk in the hospital. In her free time, she likes to travel with her husband Greg, bake yummy desserts and spend time with her 4-legged fur kids, a dog Ruby, a cat Oliver James “OJ”, a rabbit BamBam and a tortoise MonkeyMan.
Thanks for stopping by!
P.S. We Love You!
The Innovet Team
Please do not ask for emergency or specific medical questions about your pets in the comments. Innovet Pet Products is unable to provide you with specific medical advice or counseling. A detailed physical exam, patient history, and an established veterinarian are required to provide specific medical advice. If you are worried that your pet requires emergency attention or if you have specific medical questions related to your pet’s current or chronic health conditions, please contact or visit your local/preferred veterinarian, an animal-specific poison control hotline, or your local emergency veterinary care center.
Please share your experiences and stories, your opinions and feedback about this blog, or what you've learned that you'd like to share with others.