Q: My cat seems to be losing a lot of hair. He has a couple of bald patches. What is the problem?
A: It’s normal for cats to shed, of course. Hairs grow and then fall out on a regular basis, adorning our “fur-niture” (that’s why they call it that), floors and clothing. Sometimes cats spontaneously lose a lot of hair when they are nervous or afraid. Stress activates their arrector pili muscles, attached to the hair follicles, causing the cat to suddenly lose hairs that have been in the resting phase of the hair growth cycle.
That’s a harmless condition, although it may leave your hands and clothing extra furry, but if your cat is starting to get bare patches, it’s time to see your veterinarian. Any time you can see skin, hair loss is not normal.
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Cats can lose fur from scratching or chewing at themselves. Known as traumatic hair loss, it’s usually related to itchy skin caused by allergies or fleabites. Cats with traumatic hair loss are often allergic to substances in the environment, such as pollens or to ingredients in their diet. Occasionally, cats can experience spontaneous hair loss from endocrine diseases such as Cushing’s or from certain forms of cancer, such as lymphoma or liver or pancreatic cancer.
To diagnose the problem, your veterinarian will need to perform a physical exam. If the cause isn’t obvious – fleas, for instance – blood work and possibly a skin biopsy can help to pinpoint the problem. If your cat has an endocrine disease or allergies, your veterinarian can prescribe medication or a change in diet.
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and Kim Campbell Thornton.