Pet owners are quite familiar with the amount of fur their cats lose on a daily basis. Sometimes, it’s hard to believe they still have a healthy coat of fur left after how much they shed! However, while shedding is perfectly normal for our feline friends, other coat problems, like bald spots, are warning signs of an underlying problem.
If you discover a missing patch of hair on your cat, it’s important to pay closer attention to your pet’s behaviors and other symptoms. Not all causes of bald spots are severe, but they can make your kitty quite uncomfortable, so it’s best to address it as soon as possible.
Here’s what you should know.
Common causes of bald spots
Bald spots can stem from a number of underlying conditions. Fortunately, many of these problems display different signs, making it easier to get to the root of the issue. Here are some of the most common.
- Overgrooming: Stressed, anxious or very bored kitties may develop a habit of grooming themselves as a form of entertainment or self-soothing. Unfortunately, this habit can be detrimental to their coats! Overgrooming can lead to hair loss and completely bald spots. The skin underneath may be clear and healthy, or it can look irritated or have lesions.
- Allergies: Allergies—whether caused by food, airborne irritants or other environmental allergens—often cause itching and inflammation on the skin. If this problem is persistent, your cat might scratch, lick and bite to the point of causing hair loss! Like with overgrooming, excessive scratching could lead to wounds on the skin.
- Fleas: External parasites like fleas can cause a similar reaction to allergies. Fleas drive cats crazy with their irritation, leading them to scratch and bite themselves to find relief. Flea baths or topical treatments can get rid of the infestation, reliving your cat of their itching and allowing their hair to grow back.
- Infection: Infections on the skin, whether bacterial or from a fungus like ringworm, may cause hair loss in the affected area. The hair loss is usually due to the tissue being affected by the microorganisms growing there. The skin will also be affected, potentially resulting in redness, swelling, scabbing, open lesions, pus and/or bleeding. Identifying and treating the specific infection usually results in the fur returning.
- Skin cancer: Some forms of skin cancer in cats, such as squamous cell carcinoma, cause raised lumps on the skin. In some cases, these colorful lumps will cause hair growth to be interrupted, resulting in a bald spot on and around the affected tissue. Some forms of skin cancer will cause oozing sores instead of bumps, often accompanied by hair loss.
What to do after spotting a bald spot
Although it’s a good idea for pet parents to conduct frequent at-home examinations of their pets to check for changes and warning signs of illness, it’s most likely that you’ll notice a bald spot on your cat while petting or brushing them. If this is your first time seeing the hair loss, here are the steps you should take.
- Examine the area: Take a closer look at the bald spot, the skin below and the surrounding area. Look for other signs like wounds, pus, bleeding, scabbing, discoloration and lumps and bumps. Take note of anything that looks unusual or new. The symptoms your cat is presenting can help you get to the bottom of where the bald spot came from and how to treat it.
- Watch their behavior: Watch your cat as they relax in your home and take note of any unusual behaviors. Are they scratching or biting at their skin more often than normal? Does there seem to be one area in particular that’s bothering them, or are they irritated all over? Do they start to groom themselves at particular times, like after a stressful event? Their behavior can be just as big a clue as their physical symptoms in diagnosing the problem.
- Dress any wounds: If your cat not only has hair loss but also an open wound or sore on the skin, you’ll want to take action right away to clean the area and prevent your cat from irritating it further. Clean the wound with lukewarm water, apply a topical ointment and gently wrap the wound in gauze or clean cloth until your pet can be seen at the vet.
- Make a vet appointment: Any time your cat experiences sudden hair loss, it’s smart to have them evaluated by your vet just to be safe. Behavioral things like boredom-induced overgrooming can be remedied at home, but you want to make sure your cat isn’t suffering from a more serious ailment! At the vet, they will run tests and examinations to determine exactly what is behind the hair loss and what the most appropriate treatment will be.
It can be frightening to suddenly observe coat and skin issues in your cat, but there’s no need to fret. Many causes of bald spots can be diagnosed and treated easily, allowing your kitty to enjoy a full, healthy coat of fur once again.