A closer look: Hair Loss (Alopecia) in Cats
In general, alopecia is caused by one of three changes: injury, hair follicle damage, or hair growth cycle abnormalities.
Feline alopecia can be categorized in many different ways:
Acquired or congenital alopecia: Congenital alopecia presents at birth and is caused by lack of hair follicle development. Hair loss may be apparent shortly after birth or can occur when the animal is older. Acquired alopecia occurs when the animal is born with healthy hair follicles but develops the inability to produce normal hair due to an underlying condition.
Symmetrical or asymmetrical alopecia: Symmetrical alopecia occurs when hair loss is present on both sides of the animal’s body. Symmetrical alopecia can be both congenital and acquired. Asymmetrical alopecia occurs when hair loss is present only on one side of the body.
Localized or generalized alopecia: Alopecia can present as localized to one area of the animal's body, or generalized affecting the whole body. Non-inflammatory or inflammatory alopecia
Itchy or non-itchy: many causes of alopecia, particularly non-infectious causes, do not cause itchiness.
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Alopecia can be caused by a number of underlying medical conditions.
Some cats may suffer from hair loss due to psychogenic alopecia, a behavioral issue that occurs when the animal compulsively and excessively grooms.
Alopecia is a common symptom in cats. A wide range of underlying conditions can cause hair loss, some of which can be life-threatening. Prognosis depends on the underlying cause. Hair loss may be permanent, especially when it is caused by damage to the hair follicle.
Veterinary attention is crucial in detecting the underlying cause early, which increases the probability of a good prognosis.
Testing and diagnosis
Diagnostic tools ton investigate hair loss include:
- Physical examination
- Full dermatological database: including skins scrape, skin cytology, skin and fungal cultures, and Wood’s lamp evaluation
- Blood tests
- Skin biopsy: usually only undertaken if the dermatological examinations do not determine the underlying cause
- Therapeutic trials of antiparasitic medications, allergy medications, or pain medications to rule out conditions
Once the underlying cause is determined, treatment depends on the underlying cause and may include:
- Flea and mite medication
- Allergy medication
- Pain medication
- Topical medications
- Behavioral therapy and behavioral medication in the case of psychogenic alopecia
Note: many topical formulations of medications and shampoos are toxic to cats. Always consult a veterinarian before using topical treatments on cats.
Normal shedding can be mistaken for alopecia. Shedding is a normal and healthy characteristic of cats. Any amount of shedding is considered normal. Shedding differs from alopecia as shedding does not cause bald spots.
Cats suffering from alopecia may present a number of additional symptoms.