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Let's face it: If you own a cat, you might as well buy stock in a lint roller company. Unless your kitty is a Sphynx — a relatively hairless cat — it’s normal for your little fuzz ball to shed some hair around the house. (Some breeds may also inherit genes for hair loss, such as Siamese cats, who often lose hair on their ears.)
But if your cat is losing abnormal amounts of hair, or if you notice patches of skin devoid of hair, it’s time to visit your veterinarian.
Even if there's absolutely, positively no way that your cat could have fleas, certain patterns of hair loss — especially around the thighs, abdomen, lower back and flanks — are typically caused by them. Many cats with infestations are such good groomers that they lick away any evidence of the buggers. Other tiny external parasites, such as mites and lice, can also cause hair loss.
Cats who are allergic to their food or inhaled substances may experience hair loss around the head and neck, as well as other areas. The exposed skin may appear relatively normal or it may show signs of a secondary bacterial infection, including inflammation or ulceration. Your veterinarian may recommend a trial with a hypoallergenic food, as well as additional allergy tests to get to the bottom of the problem.
Bacterial or fungal infections, an inflammation of the sebaceous glands, or even skin cancer can also lead to hair loss in affected areas.
There are many factors that can also disrupt the normal hair growth cycle, leading to sudden hair loss, such as metabolic or endocrine conditions, pregnancy and drug interactions.
Sudden changes in the household — a new baby or pet or even construction workers in the house — can lead to stress and overgrooming. In this case, the pattern of hair loss tends to be symmetrical and occurs anywhere that the cat can reach with her tongue, including the belly, groin, limbs and flanks. If you find more hairballs than usual on the floor, it may be a clue.
Diseases, such as hyperthyroidism, can also lead to overgrooming. And cats with diabetes often have unkempt coats, hair loss and a greater susceptibility to skin infections. Even inflammation in the urinary tract may cause felines to lick the hair off the skin directly above the bladder.
With so many possible reasons for hair loss, it’s not always easy to find the exact cause of the problem. Your veterinarian may recommend diagnostic tests, including skin scrapes, fungal cultures, blood panels, allergy testing, diet trials or skin biopsies to determine the right diagnosis and treatment for your cat.
With proper treatment, your cat will once again have a full, luxurious coat in most cases. And you’ll still need to keep that lint roller handy.
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