cat pulling clumps of fur out with its teeth
Cat Health and Wellness

Why Do Cats Pull Their Fur Out in Chunks?

Cat spend hours of each day grooming. This is natural, until the cat starts to pull out fur in clumps. This is rarely a deliberate action. It is due to a condition called alopecia, in which fur becomes loose and falls out. The cat will shed fur whenever it grooms.

Alopecia is caused by parasites, skin infections, and allergies. An overactive thyroid will also cause alopecia, as it can lead to the excess grooming of a pained body part. Some cats inherit alopecia from a parent’s genetics. Stress and anxiety will just aggravate the issue.

Some fur loss is normal, but large chunks of fur coming out is more concerning. Find out why your cat is losing fur and treat the cause. Your cat will then be able to groom normally and its fur will grow back.

What is Alopecia in Cats?

Alopecia is a medical condition where a cat’s fur becomes loose and falls out. This means the cat will tug fur from its body constantly. This will often occur during grooming. Cats spend up to 25% of their day grooming, which leads to significant fur loss.

Alopecia is a symptom of a health condition. If your cat is effortlessly tugging out fur in clumps, there will be a medical explanation. Treating the underlying cause is key to getting rid of alopecia in cats. Once this action has been taken, the fur will grow back.

If your cat’s fur is not falling out naturally, the hair will be torn from the root. This is more concerning and painful. It usually suggests a stress reaction. Tearing out fur through stress is known as psychogenic alopecia.

A telling sign of this condition is that the hair loss will be largely symmetrical. The cat will tug the hair from every part of its body. A medical explanation for alopecia will typically focus on one or two affected areas.

Why Does My Cat Have Alopecia?

The common cause of alopecia in cats are:

  • Stress and anxiety
  • Pain
  • Parasitic infestation
  • Skin infections
  • Allergies
  • Poor diet
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Inherited condition

Find the cause of alopecia as all of these ailments can be treated. Once the right treatment has been issued, your cat will stop tugging out its fur.

cat shedding fur in clumps

Stress And Anxiety

Sometimes, a cat will pull out hair due to stress. Grooming is a self-soothing activity for cats. If a cat is stressed, it may start grooming to excess. Left unmanaged, this leads to psychogenic alopecia. The cat grooms so much that the fur becomes loose and falls out.

Even if the cat is stressed, underlying medical conditions often explain cat hair being tugged out.

The Journal of the American Veterinary Association studied 21 cats with alopecia, with just 2 showing no signs of physical illness.

Even if your cat is calm, do not assume that the alopecia will pass. As a medical explanation is likely, your cat may still yank out fur. The distress of ill health may just be increasing your cat’s anxiety.

In most cases, the issue is resolved with lifestyle changes. You must identify what is causing your cat such emotional turmoil. Examples of environmental stress include:

  • Changes to the daily routine
  • New residents in the home, human or animal
  • Bullying from another cat
  • Exposure to loud noises
  • Uncomfortably environmental factors (i.e. hot or cold temperature)
  • Boredom and lack of stimulation
  • Loneliness

Attend to your cat’s needs, getting it into a structured and reliable routine. Ensure that your cat enjoys one-on-one attention with you every day. If you are away for long periods, ensure your cat has some human interaction.

Pain And Discomfort

As cats find grooming soothing, they will lick wounds. According to Physiology and Behavior, cat saliva has natural antibacterial properties.

If your cat is acting strangely after being outside, such as grooming to excess, note where it is focusing. When the cat is calm, check for any signs of injury. A fight may have occurred, leading to injury.

If you find no signs of injury, your cat could have localized pain. Arthritis pain, for example, is common in senior cats. Your cat will be in constant and chronic discomfort. This excessive grooming is an attempt to ease this. Eventually, this grooming will lead to your cat’s fur falling out.

Pain is a likely explanation for alopecia if the fur loss is concentrated in particular areas. Your cat will be licking around its legs and thighs. The cat will also be lethargic and irritable. Cats in pain will also be more verbal than usual.

Never leave a cat in pain to suffer. A solution will not arise organically. If your cat is no longer hiding discomfort, it has been carrying pain for some time. The alopecia will grow more pronounced the longer the issue goes untreated.

Parasites

If fleas or mites invade your cat, the hair will fall out in clumps. The cat will also scratch constantly. This may lead to the cat pulling out hair. The cat is attempting to make the environment inhospitable for parasites.

Flea infestations are most noticeable around the tail, groin, back, head and neck. The cat will scratch constantly. This will remove lumps of fur from the body. Bald patches will also become visible. These will be asymmetrical, seemingly appearing at random.

Mites frequently populate a cat’s ears. These parasites manifest as discharge from the ear, and possibly even bleeding. Mites can also move into a cat’s fur. These are more visible than fleas. As mites are small and white, they are sometimes referred to as, “walking dandruff.”

Mites will have the same effect as fleas. The cat’s skin will itch, and it will remove fur to displace these invaders. It is critical to remain on top of preventative treatments against fleas and mites. This is even more important if your cat roams outside. Stray and feral cats, as well as wild animals, often carry parasites.

Some cats are allergic to fleas and mites. The saliva in the bite of a parasite causes a reaction, known as allergic dermatitis. This causes hair loss and further irritation. If your cat continues to tear out fur after treating an infestation, investigate the possibility of allergic dermatitis.

Infection

If your cat has a skin infection, alopecia will follow. Skin conditions are usually bacterial or fungal in nature. Ringworm is the most common example. Ringworm is a contagious fungal infection that spreads fast.

If your cat has ringworm, its skin will cover in dry scabs. These will damage hair follicles and cause irritation. The cat will scratch, often to the point of bleeding. Hair will be torn at the root during the process.

Bacterial infections often start with feline acne. Acne is typically restricted to below a cat’s chin. This will rarely result in fur being removed. Untreated acne can spread throughout a cat’s body, though. This leads to the fur falling out and being removed manually.

Bacterial infections on the skin can also stem from upper respiratory tract infections. A course of antibiotics will usually resolve these concerns.

Environmental Allergies

Allergic reactions in cats are common causes of alopecia. When a cat consumes or inhales an allergen, the skin is often the first thing to react. Your cat’s skin will grow dry, itchy or experience a breakout of hives.

When this occurs, the hair follicles will become damaged. In addition, your cat will look to groom itself to excess. Your cat will be in physical discomfort and will be keen to relieve this. Every time it scratches, more fur will come out in clumps.

Ordinarily, removing exposure to the allergen will resolve the immediate issue. Your cat’s fur follicles will start to work normally again, and the itching will cease. Be patient, and the fur will regrow.

Unfortunately, learning what the allergen is can be a trial-and-error process. Cats can develop a range of allergies. It’s not always as simple as a particular type of food. Common environmental allergies in cats include:

  • Dust
  • Grass
  • Perfumes and colognes
  • Air fresheners
  • Laundry detergent and other cleaning products
  • Cigarette smoke

As soon as you learn what is causing reactions in your cat, take protective action. It’s possible for a cat to build tolerance through exposure, but unlikely. Your cat will just end up pulling out more fur.

cat pulling out fur and losing weight

Diet

A poor diet can lead to a cat developing alopecia. This becomes increasingly likely as cats age. A senior cat requires a diet that provides appropriate nutrition. Without this, a cat’s fur becomes dull and the follicles damaged. This will lead to the fur being plucked out every time a cat scratches or grooms.

Suddenly changing a cat’s diet can also lead to alopecia. The stress of this change will affect your cat. In addition, the cat’s skin may itch. This will lead to more scratching, and by extension the removal of fur.

Hyperthyroidism

Hyperthyroidism, or an overactive thyroid, is rare in cats. It can strike down senior felines, though. Most cats that develop hyperthyroidism are aged 13 or older. Alopecia is one of the most telling signs of this condition.

A hyperthyroid cat will generate an excess of the thyroxine-a hormone, better known as T-4. This hormone will cause cats to shed hair all over their body. This means that hair will be tugged out with a minimum of effort. Other symptoms include:

  • Rapid weight loss, despite a hearty appetite
  • Bursts of hyperactivity
  • Excessive thirst and urination
  • Panting and drooling
  • Diarrhea

If you suspect that your cat has hyperthyroidism, tests must be run. It is important that hyperthyroidism is treated. According to the American Journal of Veterinary Research, long-term hyperthyroidism is often linked to renal failure.

In most cases, the cat will be treated with lifelong oral medication. This is common in senior cats, for whom surgery is considered risky. If the cat is considered healthy enough, the thyroid gland may be surgically removed.

Hereditary Alopecia

If neither you nor a vet can find an explanation for alopecia, it may be in the genes. This condition can be hereditary. It could have been passed on from a cat’s mother or father.

Any breed of cat can pass on low-quality hair follicles. This will be apparent early in the cat’s life. A cat predisposed to alopecia will start to lose fur before its first birthday. This will be tugged out during grooming and play.