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Why is my cat losing hair

The essentials

  • Alopecia is hair loss in cats — Sometimes, hair loss in cats is normal, while other times it may be a cause for concern.
  • Your cat can lose hair on different parts of their body — Pay attention to where your cat is losing hair (ears, belly, side, or legs).
  • It could be due to underlying illness — Anxiety, pain, fleas, and skin infections can all cause a cat’s hair loss.

When a cat suffers from hair loss, it can appear as bald spots, patchiness, or as a general thinning of their coat. Medically referred to as “feline alopecia,” this condition tends to be accompanied by other unwanted symptoms, including scabs, lesions, bumps, and an increase in licking (and, subsequently, hairballs). 

In some cases, hair loss in cats is considered normal — like when it’s time for your cat to shed their winter coat. 

On the other hand, sudden hair loss may also be a sign of an underlying illness or parasite. That’s why it’s key to call up your vet as soon as you spot changes in your pet’s coat.

The 8 most common causes of hair loss in cats

Hair loss in cats has been linked to a number of different conditions, from breed and allergies to more serious conditions like overgrooming and infection. Cats can lose hair on just one or multiple parts of their bodies, but patches tend to be most common around their belly, sides, and legs when they scratch or lick themselves non-stop. 

The good news is that most cases of feline alopecia are easily reversible — the trick is simply to treat the underlying cause. Keep an eye out for symptoms of these conditions to help pinpoint the cause behind your cat’s hair loss:  

1. Allergies

This is one of the most common causes of acquired hair loss in cats. Signs of allergies in cats are excessive licking, itching, and scratching in response to a food, pharmaceutical, or environmental irritant. Consequently, cats with allergies often develop hives, red marks, and open wounds at the site of hair loss. 

2. Genetics

Purebred cats are more likely to have alopecia. These cats include Himalayans and Bengals. Other cats, like the Sphynx, are naturally hairless. Hereditary alopecia is a congenital condition that doesn’t present with accompanying inflammation. This type of hair loss is apparent very early in a cat’s life  — sometimes at birth or shortly after. 

3. Overgrooming due to anxiety or stress

While hair loss can be the result of a physical ailment like an infection, it can also be caused by anxiety. Over time, many of these cats begin to display pattern baldness as a result of scratching or licking an area of their body, which causes it to shed. 

Other compulsive disorders, like psychogenic alopecia , can cause a cat to obsessively groom itself in an effort to relax themselves when they’re feeling stressed. 

4. Fleas, mites, or parasites

A flea, parasite, or mite could be the cause behind your kitty’s discomfort and intense itchiness. Outdoor cats are especially prone to flea infestations, which can result in symptoms including non-stop irritation, lethargy, and pale gums brought on by a potentially life-threatening condition called flea anemia

Fleas and ticks may present as small black specks you can see in your cat’s fur, but mites are a bit trickier to detect. Mites burrow deep under a cat’s coat and can only be seen under a microscope. Similarly, Notoedres cati is a rare parasite that causes hair loss on a cat’s face or eyelids. 

5. Hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism

The hormones produced by the thyroid play a key role in regulating the body’s metabolism. When the thyroid makes too much (hyperthyroidism) or too little (hypothyroidism) of these hormones, cats experience several physical side effects, including weakness, lethargy, cold sensitivity, weight gain, and hair loss. 

Hyperthyroidism is much more common in cats than hypothyroidism and is most commonly an acquired condition that affects middle-aged cats and older. 

6. Skin infections

Bacterial infections, like pyoderma , usually arise when a cat scratches or excessively licks their skin. Infections cause hair loss in localized areas and can also produce discharge. Other infections, like ringworm, are fungal infections that affect both the hair and skin. 

7. Pain

Cats experiencing pain in their joints, especially those with arthritis, may lick their bodies to relieve their pain. Cats may also overgroom the areas around injuries or painful infected areas. 

For example, cats with urinary tract infections (UTIs) have been known to excessively lick their genital and abdominal areas. Because you can’t see what’s causing the pain in some cases, this type of hair loss is often mistaken for a behavioral issue rather than a medical one. 

8. Feline acne

Your cat could have a harmless skin condition, like feline acne. Skin conditions like these can cause dryness, redness, swelling, bumps, scabs, pustules,  irritation, and excessive grooming that leads to shedding. 

Because feline acne is most common in a cat’s chin, you may notice your cat rub their face against the carpet for itch relief. You may also notice blackheads on your cat’s skin in addition to hair loss.

Rare causes of hair loss in cats

There are a few other — and possibly more serious — health conditions that can cause hair loss in unlikely circumstances, including:

  • Diabetes. In rare cases, feline diabetes can trigger skin changes in older cats, including redness, crusting, oozing, and hair loss along the face, genitals, and lower legs. Some diabetic cats may also form thickened skin or ulcers on their paw pads. 
  • Cancer. In most cases, feline cancer does not lead to hair loss. However, some cats can experience a rare, life-threatening form of cancer called paraneoplastic alopecia, in which their immune system has an adverse reaction to a tumor, also known as a “neoplasm.”

How to prevent hair loss in cats

Here are a few preventative measures you can take to ensure that your cat’s skin and fur remain healthy and intact.

  • Give your cat a safe environment. If their hair loss is due to allergies, it’s important to identify the offending allergen so you can eliminate it from your home. If your cat spends time outdoors, you can use a vet-approved preventative treatment to protect them from mites, heartworms, fleas, and ticks.
  • Reduce stress. Help lower anxiety levels by providing access to clean food and water. Many owners set up perches, scratching posts, and interactive toys around their homes to help their cats let out their pent-up energy. If you’re undergoing a move or change, do your best to keep your cat on their normal schedule to make the transition as smooth as possible. 
  •  Use treatment. You should first and foremost treat their hair loss with whatever the vet prescribes or recommends. Your cat’s fur is the protective barrier for their skin. If it’s left untreated, it can cause other serious health issues in the future.
  • Feed your cat a high-quality diet. Feeding your cat a high-quality diet, such as one rich in omega-3 fatty acids, can help keep their coat shiny and full. If your vet suspects your cat has a food allergy, they may put them on a 6 to 8-week food trial in hopes of identifying the exact cause.

How vets diagnose and treat hair loss

For most vets, the first step in treating a cat’s hair loss is reviewing their medical history. Age, vaccination records, and history of any other recent stressors all go into a vet’s diagnosis and treatment plan. 


After looking over your cat’s medical history, most vets will perform a physical exam to look for the cause of their condition.  Other common diagnostic procedures associated with feline alopecia include: 

  • Wood’s lamp. Vets examine cats in a dark room under this special ultraviolet lamp to detect some cases of ringworm infestation.
  • Fungal culture. In this test, a vet collects a sample of cells to examine for signs of fungal growth. Cultures may be performed by the vet in-house or remotely at a laboratory facility. Results usually take a few days. 
  • Cytology. Vets use a swab to collect a sample of tissues from the cat to examine under a microscope. This is useful for detecting bacteria and yeast, and differentiating whether a cat’s hair loss is being caused by inflammation or an abnormal growth (neoplasia ).  
  • Bloodwork and urinalysis. Analyzing a cat’s blood and urine can help vets test for diseases that affect the entire body, also known as “systemic” diseases. Endocrine disorders, particularly hyperthyroidism, are a prominent example of systemic diseases among cats. 
  • Allergy testing. If the vet suspects a food allergy might be behind your cat’s hair loss, they may put your cat on an elimination diet consisting only of prescription foods for an 8 to 12-week period. In the case of environmental allergies, an intradermal allergy test may be conducted. 
  • Imaging. In cases where cancer is a suspected cause, vets may conduct common imaging procedures like ultrasound and X-rays. 


The best treatment plan for your cat’s alopecia will ultimately depend on the underlying cause of their hair loss. In cases where cats are excessively licking or biting their skin, vets may advise you to temporarily keep an Elizabethan collar (also known as an “e-collar,” or the “cone of shame”) on them to prevent infection and give the hair a chance to grow back without further irritation. 

Common treatments for hair loss in cats include: 

  • Parasiticide treatment. An 8-week course of antiparasitic medications is commonly prescribed to every pet in the household, even when the vet can’t find parasites. This is mostly a safety precaution since cats are such thorough groomers. They can actually get the majority of parasites off their coat before they go in for testing. 
  • Topical therapy. Shampoos and ointments are the most popular treatment plan for skin conditions, including fleas, mites, and fungal parasites like ringworm. 
  • Systemic antibiotics. If your cat’s hair loss is attributed to a bacterial or fungal infection, your vet may prescribe oral treatment in the form of antibiotics or antifungals. 
  • Medications. Steroids (prednisone), immunosuppressants (cyclosporine), and antihistamines (Benadryl, Zyrtec) may be prescribed for itch relief. 
  • Behavior-modifying medication. Prescription meds like Prozac or Clomicalm may be prescribed to treat anxiety and associated side effects in cats, including excessive grooming. 
  • Environmental enrichment. Improving your cat’s access to basic resources like food, water, and their litter box can go a long way toward lifting their spirits and easing their stress. Heap on extra praise, play, and treats the next time your cat seems a little anxious. 

Depending on the cause of your cat’s alopecia, it may take weeks or even months for hair to grow back fully. In the case of chronic issues like allergies or fleas, it’s up to the owner to implement long-term prevention strategies so their cat doesn’t lose hair all over again. 

Be patient with the process, and work with your vet until you can pinpoint the cause and get your cat back on the path of wellness.

Frequently asked questions

Should I be concerned if my cat is losing hair?

Yes. While most cases of feline alopecia are reversible, hair loss in cats is almost always an indicator that something else is wrong. The underlying cause may be parasites, illness, or stress, but all of these require thorough treatment if you want your cat to make a full recovery. 

Why is my cat balding?

Hair loss in cats occurs for a number of different reasons, including allergies, genetics, parasites, and, in rare cases, systemic illnesses like diabetes and hyperthyroidism. The area of hair loss can usually provide clues as to the cause, but the only way to know for sure is to take your cat in to see a vet. 

Why does my cat have thin fur above his eyes? 

Facial alopecia is the closest thing cats have to age-related baldness in humans. It’s perfectly normal for cats to lose hair density between their eyes and ears as they get older. 

What are home treatments for hair loss in cats?

Depending on the cause of your cat’s hair loss, you may or may not be able to treat it at home. For example, ringworm requires owners to apply a topical shampoo to their cat’s fur while giving them a bath. Hair loss caused by stress-related grooming may be mitigated with the help of OTC calming supplements — though these aren’t regulated by the FDA, and you should always seek a vet’s guidance before introducing anything new into your cat’s diet.

What does feline ringworm look like?

Ringworm in cats is most commonly characterized by circular patches of hair loss in a cat’s coat, as well as inflamed, scaly, or crusty skin, dandruff, and infection of the claws or nail beds. This condition requires topical antifungal medication for proper treatment. Consult your vet for more information.