Bald patches are common among cats, with the problem occurring in several different forms. Some cats show noticeable balding, while others may exhibit slight thinning of the fur. A cat may have a single bald patch or many patches on different areas of the body.
In most cases, facial alopecia is not a cause for concern. Facial hair loss in cats is often part of the process of aging. As a cat grows, the same amount of hair on its body begins to spread out, causing the hair to thin in some areas. However, if you notice any itching, lesions on the skin or redness, seek veterinary help as it may indicate that there’s an underlying health condition.
1) Facial Alopecia
Facial alopecia or preauricular (meaning before the ear region) alopecia is a normal aging process in cats that typically occurs on the head, above the eyes and between the eyes and ears.
This type of hair thinning in cats is neither a medical disorder, nor a disease. Facial alopecia is most prominent in shorthaired varieties with dark hair after the age of 1 or 2.
Kittens have the same hair density all over their bodies. As they grow, certain regions may appear to thin out. This thinning of the fur may continue until the cat reaches 3 years of age.
Since facial alopecia is considered normal, there is no treatment for it. However, if you notice other signs of a skin condition, such as scratching or lesions, your cat’s bald patches may be a result of a condition that requires medical attention.
2) Hereditary Hair Loss
Some cats lose hair on areas near the eyes or ears because of their genetics. Apart from the transfer of genes that lead to bald patches in cats, there is no underlying cause for genetic hair loss in cats.
Because it does not bother a cat or cause any itchiness or irritation, there is no treatment for it. There is also no treatment for stopping genetic hair loss or encouraging it to grow back.
Some breeds of cats that are more susceptible to genetic hair loss include:
- Devon Rex
Ringworm is not a worm, but an itchy fungal infection that thrives in hair follicles and feeds on dead cells. As the fungus occupies a cat’s hair shafts, the shaft breaks at skin level, resulting in bald patches. Ringworm typically causes itchy, round patches, typically on the top of a cat’s head.
Ringworm is diagnosed using a wood lamp, which can be passed over the affected area to illuminate it and detect signs of infection.
Ringworm is also referred to as a dermatophytosis and is common in younger cats. Older cats may suffer from ringworm due to stress caused by moving away from home, a new family member, loss of a family member, a dominant cat or a bullying dog. Another common cause is not maintaining proper hygiene in your home.
In most cases, ringworm is a self-limiting condition, so your cat’s immune system will work to restore its skin back to its normal condition, and the hair will grow back when the skin is healthy.
Ringworm can often be resolved without the use of medication by removing the cause of the stress, controlling your cat’s diet and taking steps to improve your cat’s immune system health.
At times, ringworm may cause unpleasant crusty patches around your cat’s ears and other affected regions. Talk to your vet about possible treatments that can help eliminate the problem.
If your cat has a severe case of ringworm, your vet may administer an antifungal treatment designed for cats. The antifungal is commonly in the form of a topical cream (Itraconazole) or an oral pill (Griseofulvin).
Treatment may continue for up to 4 weeks depending on the severity of the condition. Some vets may also recommend using an antifungal cat shampoo in less severe cases.
Other treatment options include lime sulfur dips and completely shaving the cat.
4) Ear Mites
Ear mites can cause severe itching in cats, causing them to rub their faces excessively and suffer from hair loss on the head and ears.
Ear mites are easily transferrable and can cause mite infestations in other cats in the household. Mites can even transfer onto people, but they cannot survive on them.
Signs and symptoms of ear mites in cats include:
- Continuous scratching
- Head rubbing
- Shaking of the ears
- Hair loss on the ears and head
- A brown, waxy buildup in the ears
- Foul odor from the ears
If you suspect your cat has an ear mite infestation, take it to a vet as soon as possible. Ear mites can be easily diagnosed using an otoscope. Treatment often includes gently, but thoroughly cleaning out the ears and applying a prescription medication into the ear canal.
You will have to repeat treatment for 7 to 10 days to kill any new hatchlings and prevent mites from recurring.
The most common flea that affects cats, dogs, and humans is the Ctenocephalides felis.
According to research published in Parasite Immunology, it is the saliva left behind by a cat flea bite that leads to itching in cats.
Hair loss from fleas can occur anywhere on a cat’s body; however its face, head, and ears are most vulnerable when the cat rubs itself against carpets, furniture and scratching posts while trying to relieve the itchiness.
Use a flea comb to detect fleas. If your cat has fleas, there will be tiny black dots, or flea excrement on the comb. The flea dirt will turn red when you smash it due to the residue from your kitty’s blood.
Start by removing as many fleas as possible by combing your cat and bathing it. This will eliminate most of the fleas from your cat’s body and help prevent future infestations when you use a topical flea control medication or natural remedy for fleas.
Comb your cat’s entire body using a flea comb, making sure you don’t miss any areas. Keep a bowl of diluted bleach near you to shake the fleas off the comb every now and then.
Doing so will kill the fleas you’ve collected on the comb instantly, preventing them from falling back on your cat while you comb other areas of its body.
Bathing the cat after combing will drown the remaining fleas. You can use a mild cat shampoo or a flea control shampoo or dip while bathing your cat to remove its fleas.
Mange is another type of mite infestation that causes severe itching in cats. It can easily be transferred between cats and usually affects the ears, face, and neck. In most cases, you’ll notice significant balding in the affected regions, along with a grayish-yellow crust on the skin.
Because mange is highly contagious, it is critical that you take your cat to a vet for immediate treatment. Mange is diagnosed by retrieving a scraping from the affected area of the skin and viewing it under a magnifying glass to detect mites.
Mange can only be treated by clipping away your cat’s fur and applying a lime sulfur dip once a week until the mites are absent when viewed again under magnification. Your vet may recommend repeating this treatment for up to 6-8 weeks to completely treat the infestation.
7) Alopecia Areata
Although not fully understood, most researchers believe that alopecia areata may be an auto-immune response triggered by a cat’s diet.
In most cases, alopecia areata causes loss of hair in the head, back and neck regions due to excessive rubbing or scratching.
Your vet may try to treat the condition by testing for food allergies and then completely removing any allergens from your cat’s diet.
8) Food Allergies
Hair loss around the head, ears, face, and neck, accompanied by oozing sores and intense itching can also be a sign of a food allergy in your cat.
Often, a food allergy may also lead to chronic ear infestations, increasing the rate of hair loss in affected cats. In such cases, hair loss occurs mainly due to the intense skin irritation caused by an allergic reaction.
Regardless of the cause, any skin irritation will push the cat to scratch and bite its skin, pulling out hair from the affected region.
If you suspect your cat has a food allergy, seek veterinary attention as your cat’s condition may worsen the longer you wait.
Food allergies can also cause loss of hair from the bottom of the tail, or the lumbosacral area. However, in some cases, it may extend to the abdomen and the flanks.
Diagnosis of food allergies requires multiple food trials. Your veterinarian will recommend a restricted diet and slowly reintroducing certain foods one at a time.
This will allow your vet to determine possible allergens in your cat’s diet and recommend a more suitable diet that will not trigger an allergic reaction. According to the Journal of the American Medical Veterinary Association, the most common food allergens were fish and dairy.
If the allergic reaction is not caused by a food substance, your vet may turn towards other allergens such as pollen or saliva from fleas. Your vet may also prescribe deworming medications and other drugs to manage skin irritation and itching until the allergen has been determined.
According to research by the Canadian Veterinary Journal, feline atopy is a pruritic skin disease in cats that’s caused by environmental allergens, such as pollen, dust, and mold.
Signs of food allergies and feline atopy are indistinguishable as both leads to intense itching that causes cats to scratch themselves excessively. This results in balding around the ear and head region.
Treatment for feline atopy involves removing the allergen from your cat’s environment as much as possible or restricting its exposure to the allergen. Your vet may also prescribe antihistamines to soothe the itchiness.
10) Chronic Stress
If your cat is stressed, it may groom itself excessively to soothe itself.
However, constantly licking, pawing and biting may cause your cat’s fur to fall off, especially in areas where the fur is short, such as the head and the ears. This type of hair fall is often referred to as psychogenic alopecia.
Rarely, overgrooming can also be a sign of a neurological condition, especially in the case of older cats. Cats are highly susceptible to stress and may be affected by changes in situations in your home, from moving to a different house to the loss or introduction of a family member or pet.
In severe cases, overgrooming can also result in large bald patches. Therefore, it is critical that you stop it early. Doing so will prevent it from becoming a habit that might continue even after a stressful situation has been resolved.
Start by removing the cause of the stress. Check if another cat is bullying your kitty or invading its territory, or if there’s any loud noise near the area where your cat rests in.
Consider moving its bed to a quieter location or to an area of the house where there’s less traffic from other family members or pets.
Another important step is intervention. If you notice your cat grooming for prolonged periods, interrupt it by playing a game. Play is an excellent source of mental and physical stimulation for cats that also helps increase your bond with your pet and reduce its stress.
Some cats also respond well to healthy stimulation, such as toys, cat trees and high perches in multiple areas of the house. If your cat is overgrooming because it is bored, exercise and play can also serve as a means of shifting its focus away from itself.
11) Sebaceous Adenitis
Sebaceous adenitis is an inflammatory condition of the sebaceous glands that leads to the destruction of the glands.
The sebaceous glands found in the hair follicles in the skin are responsible for releasing sebum. Although the disease is uncommon in cats, it can result in balding in the face, head and ear regions.
There is no cure for sebaceous adenitis, but symptoms of the disease, such as itching and irritation can be managed using anti-inflammatory drugs and anti-scaling products to remove the crusty sores that form around the hair follicles.
12) Solar Dermatitis
Solar dermatitis, or sunburn, is a painful burn that may result in flaking and subsequent hair loss. The sunburn is usually most obvious near the ears, but the eyelids and nose may also be prone to hair loss because of the lack of hair for skin protection in these areas.
Treatment for solar dermatitis includes keeping your cat away from the sun. You may also use an antibiotic ointment to prevent infections and encourage healing.
Rare Causes of Bald Patches in Cats
Although rare, hair loss can also be a symptom of an underlying condition or immune system problem, an overactive thyroid, diabetes or cancer. Keep a log of your cat’s behavior and its eating and litter box habits to help your vet determine the cause.
If you notice sudden hair loss on your cat’s face, avoid waiting too long before taking it to a vet. Even though hair loss near the eyes is normal in cats or may be a result of your cat’s genes, it is important to get a proper diagnosis if you notice other unusual signs such as constant rubbing, itchiness and skin lesions. In most cases, your cat’s hair will grow back once the underlying cause has been treated.