All cat owners know that cats shed … everywhere. If you own a cat, you’re resigned to finding hair in your clean laundry, on your bed, on the couch and—always—all over your best suit. Shedding is normal and healthy, but sometimes a cat loses more hair than it should, resulting in actual balding. This condition is known as cat alopecia. If your cat is losing hair more rapidly than you think she should, pay serious attention, because hair loss is always a symptom of an underlying health condition, and some of them can be serious.
What Causes Alopecia?
The list of possible causes of alopecia in cats is long, from allergies to anxiety, so you need to be alert to possible symptoms of any of the following:
- Flea allergy dermatitis: Allergy to the saliva from the flea bite.
- Food allergy: Allergy to a protein in food.
- Inhalant allergy: Allergy to an inhalant such as cigarette smoke.
- Notoedric mange: Mange caused by spider-like parasites.
- Ear mites: Tiny spider-like parasites that live in and around the ears, causing intense itching.
- Psychogenic: Compulsive over grooming.•
- Pyoderma: Bacterial infection of the skin.•
- Abscess: A serious collection of pus located in the tissue, most often caused by a cat bite.
- Hyperthyroidism: Usually caused by a benign tumour of the thyroid gland.
- Stress: Surgery, new pet, new baby, illness etc.
- Cushing’s syndrome (hyperadrenocorticism): Excessive levels of cortisol in the blood, either caused by the adrenal glands or the administration of steroids.
- Ringworm: The most common contagious fungal skin infection in cats.
- Feline Acquired Symmetrical Alopecia: Believed to be a hormonal disorder.
- Drug reaction, either topical or injected.
- Seborrhea: Condition that causes the skin to flake and become oily.
- Stud tail: Hypersecretion of the glands located at the base of the tail.
The Veterinarian’s Tests
If you notice excessive hair loss in your cat, get her to the vet right away to make sure that she’s not having any life-threatening health issues. To discover the cause of the hair loss, your veterinarian will pay careful attention to the location, size, and shape of the hair loss, your cat’s medical history, and her general health. The vet will need to know how long and where the cat has been scratching/itching, if she has recently been prescribed any medication (topical flea/worming products, injection etc.), and whether she’s experienced any other changes in her daily routine.
Some diagnostic tests your veterinarian may perform include:
- Fungus culture: To look for ringworm.
- Trichogram: A microscopic exam-ination of the hair root, in which broken tips indicate that the hair loss is self-induced.
- Food elimination trial: A food trial which usually lasts between 8 and 12 weeks, during which you must adhere to a prescribed diet and refrain from giving your cat any other foods, vitamins, minerals or chewable medications. If the allergy clears up, then a food allergy is the likely cause. After the trial, the cat will be placed back on his regular food to see if it is safe to conclude that the food was the cause of the allergy.
- Specific blood tests to check for hyperthyroidism and Cushing’s syndrome.
- Skin scrapings: These are studied under a microscope to look for mites.
How Will It Be Treated?
Treatment of alopecia depends on the underlying cause, of course, but it may include any of the following:
- Ringworm: Lime sulfur dips and/or anti-fungal drugs.
- Food allergies: Switching to a new, low-allergenic diet.
- Hyperthyroidism: Radioactive iodine to destroy the tumor or surgery to remove it, followed by lifelong replacement of thyroid hormones.
- Cushing’s syndrome: Gradual withdrawal of corticosteroids if it is veterinary-induced, surgical removal of the affected adrenal gland if a tumor is involved, or surgical removal of both adrenal glands if a pituitary tumor is the cause.
- Inhalant allergy: Avoidance of the allergen, if possible.
- Notoedric mange: Clipping, weekly lime sulfur dips, and topical treatment such as Revolution brand medication.
- Ear mites: Removal of the exudates, followed by an insecticide such as Revolution.
- Psychogenic: Behavior modification, including keeping your cat in a stress-free environment and drug therapy (if other methods fail).
- Pyoderma: Antibiotics and clipping the affected area.
- Abscess: Draining of the abscess and prescribed antibiotics.
- Feline Acquired Symmetrical Alopecia: Prescribed hormone therapy (although not all veterinarians recommend this).
- Drug reaction: Switching or discontinuing medications.
- Seborrhea: Shampoos, omega-3 fatty acids, and prescribed antibiotics.
- Stud tail: Anti-seborrheic shampoos and neutering.
- Sunburn: Severe sunburn may be treated with topical or oral steroids.
While finding cat hair all over you and your house is perfectly normal when you’re a cat owner, don’t overlook a cat who is losing hair more rapidly than normal. Have your veterinarian give your cat a thorough check-up to determine whether your cat is suffering from an underlying, treatable condition that can put a stop to the excessive shedding. With the proper treatment, your cat will get back her normal, beautiful, shiny coat that signals that she’s healthy and happy.
Rebecca Diaz, DVM is the owner of The Cat Clinic, a feline-only veterinary clinic located at 67870 Vista Chino, Cathedral City, CA, www.catcitycat.com,