Why is my cat losing fur? Unravelling the mystery

20 September 2023 - 5 min read
Common skin problems in cats. Cat scratching or licking themselves due to itchiness. A balding area of fur, with obvious hair loss

Is your furniture starting to disappear beneath a deluge of cat hair? Are you seeing patches or even bald spots where once there was lustrous feline fur?

You’re not alone. It’s all too common for cats to start losing fur. Fortunately, there’s plenty you can do to reverse the trend, but first you’ll need to learn what’s causing the problem. Read on to learn why some cats lose fur, and what you can do to help.

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Decoding your cat's coat: Normal shedding vs. red flags

First, we should point out that all cats lose hair. (Okay, maybe not Sphynxes.) Run-of-the-mill shedding isn’t a cause for concern.

But the kitty is in the details.

Seasonal shedding: Nature's wardrobe change 

At certain times of the year, especially in the spring and autumn, your cat will naturally shed—often quite a lot.  You’ll notice more hair on your furniture or clothes, or maybe even some furry tumbleweeds rolling across the floor. This is nothing to be alarmed about, and grooming can help mitigate the mess. Even though cats do a lot of self-grooming, brushing can help remove loose hair and reduce hairballs. Regular brushing is essential year-round, but you’ll need to ramp up your efforts during shedding season.

Different cat breeds have different shedding patterns. For instance, Maine Coons and Persians tend to shed in greater quantities but less frequently, which can lead to lots of furballs. Short-haired breeds like the aptly named American Shorthair may shed more consistently, but in smaller amounts. Some breeds, like the Siamese and the Russian Blue, don’t shed very much at all. And again, don’t get us started on the Sphynx.

Needless to say, your cat’s grooming needs will vary based on how much they tend to shed.

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The telltale signs of unhealthy hair loss

So how can you tell the difference between regular shedding and problematic fur loss? Here are some signs to look for:

  • Patchiness: Unlike normal shedding, which is usually even across the body, unhealthy hair loss often looks uneven or appears in patches.

  • Bald spots: Healthy shedding should never result in bald spots. If you do see bald spots, get your cat to the vet as soon as possible.

  • Skin conditions: If you notice redness, bumps, or flakes on your cat's skin, that's a strong sign their fur loss isn’t just seasonal shedding. Also, take note of whether your cat is scratching itself more than usual.

  • Increased reactivity: Your cat may have a skin condition or other health issue if they’ve been hissing, painfully meowing, or scratching or biting you whenever you touch an area of fur loss.

  • Grooming changes: If your cat is either grooming excessively or grooming noticeably less, it could be a sign of an underlying issue affecting their fur and skin health.

  • Underlying health concerns: If the fur loss is accompanied by other signs like lethargy, changes in eating habits, or weight loss, these could be signs of a more serious health condition.

If you pay close attention to these signs, it’ll be easier to determine whether your cat needs a trip to the vet or if their fur loss is just Mother Nature at work. 

Stress: The silent fur snatcher

Yes, cats can really lose fur just because they’re stressed out. Changes in their environment, like a move, a new pet, or even a new piece of furniture, can cause anxiety and even depression, which can then lead to fur loss.

Here’s how it works: Stress triggers the release of hormones like cortisol, which can affect your cat's skin and hair follicles. Elevated levels of cortisol can lead to increased oil production, which in turn may cause your cat to groom excessively in order to relieve the discomfort. This over-grooming can lead to thinning fur and, in extreme cases, bald patches.

Any of the following can lead to stress-induced fur loss in cats:

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Will removing stressors reverse hair loss?

Here’s the good news: Fur loss caused by stress is often reversible. Once you identify the problem and remove or manage it, there’s a good chance you’ll see a decrease in over-grooming and a return to normal fur growth. Here are some options for de-stressification:

  • Safe spaces: Create a designated area where your cat can retreat and relax.

  • Consistency: Maintain a consistent daily routine, from feeding times to playtimes.

  • Interactive toys: Puzzle feeders and more can keep their minds active and occupied.

  • Quality time: Don't underestimate the power of a good cuddle or petting session.

  • Regular exercise: Physical activity is as good for cats as it is for humans.

  • Soothing sounds: Believe it or not, some cats find music or white noise calming.

  • Positive reinforcement: Only use treats and affection to reward good behaviour.

For more tools and strategies for addressing feline stress, read our articles on feline depression and cat separation anxiety.

Remember, it can take time for your cat's hormones to get back to their normal levels. In some cases, they may need more medical treatment. If the fur loss persists even after you’ve tried to help them de-stress, you’d be well advised to consult your vet and rule out any underlying health issues.

Allergies: The itch you can't scratch enough

Pollen, flea bites, and even food allergies can lead to excessive scratching and, as a result, patches or bald spots. Your vet may recommend an allergy test for an accurate diagnosis.

Signs your cat has allergies

If you suspect that allergies are behind your cat's fur loss, keep a lookout for the following:

Allergy symptoms

Clear signs of allergies include:

Allergy triggers

Any of these triggers could lead to allergic reactions:

If you notice any combination of these symptoms and triggers, it may be time to take action. Consult your vet for an allergy test to determine the root cause and develop an appropriate treatment plan.

The course of treatment often depends on the specific allergen. For suspected food allergies, your vet may recommend an “elimination diet,” where potential allergens are removed from your cat’s diet, then gradually reintroduced to see which food is causing symptoms.

For environmental allergies like pollen, air purifiers and regular cleaning can help reduce exposure. Flea allergies often require both topical treatments and oral medications.

Your vet can also prescribe antihistamines or corticosteroids to help manage allergy symptoms.

These treatments can be extremely effective if you follow them carefully. But keep in mind, allergies are often chronic conditions that require ongoing management rather than a one-time tune-up. Even after symptoms are brought under control, ongoing treatment is often needed to manage flare-ups. Regular vet checkups can help your allergic kitty live a comfortable, itch-free, and fabulously furry life.

Pesky parasites

We’ve already touched on this a bit, but it bears repeating: Fleas, ticks, mites, and other parasites feel right at home in your cat's fur. These tiny invaders can cause itching, inflammation, and ultimately fur loss.

Parasites can create a dreaded "hot spot," an area of intense itching and scratching. If your feline friend is losing fur in patches, it's time for a trip to the vet for effective parasite treatment like an anti-parasitic shampoo.

But it doesn’t always need to come to that. Parasite prevention is always easier and often less expensive than treatment. Regular applications of vet-recommended anti-parasitic products can work wonders in keeping those little critters at bay. These can be topical solutions, collars, or even oral tablets.

Another great line of defence is keeping your home clean. Frequent vacuuming, especially in your cat’s favourite areas, can help get rid of flea eggs and larvae. Regular grooming sessions also help you check for any signs of parasites and catch an infestation before things get out of hand.

Taking these steps not only keeps your cat's coat looking its best but can also save you a lot of stress and potential vet bills down the line.

Health conditions

Certain feline health issues can cause your cat to lose fur, and the connection between illness and fur loss won’t always be obvious. If you’re noticing symptoms like lethargy or weight loss in addition to fur loss, you should visit your vet right away. 

Here are some common medical causes of hair loss:

  • Hyperthyroidism: An overactive thyroid gland increases metabolism, leading to a host of symptoms, including fur loss. The increased metabolic rate can make fur more brittle and prone to falling out.

  • Ringworm: This fungal infection attacks the hair follicles, causing the hairs to break off at the skin level. This can result in circular bald patches.

  • Hormonal imbalances: Conditions like Cushing's Disease can cause hormonal fluctuations, affecting the skin and coat. Fur can become thin, and excessive grooming can lead to bald spots.

  • Allergies: As previously mentioned, allergies can lead to scratching and fur loss. The body's histamine response to allergens can cause itchiness and inflammation, affecting the skin and fur.

  • Bacterial Infections: Infections can lead to inflammation and pus, which can block hair follicles and cause fur loss.

  • Flea dermatitis: Some cats are allergic to flea saliva. Flea bites can lead to extreme itching and scratching, which in turn leads to fur loss.

  • Nutritional deficiencies: When your cat’s not getting essential nutrients, like omega-3 fatty acids, the result can be dry, brittle fur that easily falls out.

To address any fur loss that’s caused by an underlying medical condition, you’ll need a proper diagnosis and treatment plan from a vet. When these conditions are left untreated, they can lead to consequences far more severe than fur loss.

Fur real, though

Diligent grooming, dietary adjustments, and stress relief can go a long way, but sometimes feline fur loss points to a more serious health condition. ManyPets cat insurance may reimburse you for diagnostics and treatments. This lets you focus on what really matters: Getting your furry companion back to their radiant, fluffy self.

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