Hair loss in cats: Causes& TreatmentHair loss (alopecia) is a common problem in many cats. Hair loss can occur in individual areas or over the entire surface of the body. Patterns may vary or may be symmetrical. Treatment options exist for hair loss in cats, but they are limited. A special case is hair loss due to cancer in cats, which we will discuss separately in this article.
Symptoms and types of hair loss (alopecia) in cats
The typical signs of alopecia in cats are partial or complete hair loss. The skin around the area of hair loss may appear normal or show redness, bumps, scabs and skin loss. Hair loss in cats may occur in a symmetrical form, or alopecia may occur randomly on the cat's skin.
Why does my cat have hair loss?
There are a few different reasons why cats may lose hair. Alopecia is common in older cats that have been diagnosed with cancer. More on this below. Nervous disorders, which can also result from excessive grooming, can also cause cats to lose their hair. Hormonal imbalances, especially too much thyroid hormone or elevated steroid levels in the body, can cause hair loss. Some cats have skin allergies, which can also be the cause of hair loss. Parasites that cause mange and fungal problems like ringworm are also a common cause of alopecia in cats. Another less common factor is heredity.
Paraneoplastic alopecia in cats
Paraneoplastic alopecia in cats is a cancer-related skin disorder. This disease is rare. Usually a sign of internal tumors. While the link between skin lesions and cancer is unknown, most cats with paraneoplastic alopecia have pancreatic cancer. By the time the skin lesions appear, the cancer may have already spread to other areas. Metastases have already formed in the body by that time.
Since this form of hair loss is associated with cancer, many parts of the body are affected. There is the initial tumor and any additional cancer that has spread internally and externally. The skin then shows lesions. Cats lose hair. Weight can also be affected, with some animals refusing to eat (anorexia).
Paraneoplastic alopecia is not associated with a particular race. Age seems to be a factor, as most cases occur between nine and sixteen years of age. The average age is 12.5 years.
Symptoms and types of paraneoplastic alopecia
There are several symptoms that owners may notice. Individual symptoms may subside quickly, but considered in combination, a visit to the veterinarian should be made immediately. Excessive hair loss is common in these cases and may be observed, as well as itching and increased preening. A decrease in appetite as well. A weight loss are typical symptoms. Some cats develop painful cracks on the pads of their feet. Resist walking because of them.
There are many possible causes of skin lesions, including Cushing's disease (hyperadrenocorticism), thyroid disease (hyperthyroidism / hypothyroidism), symmetrical hair loss (alopecia), mange (demodicosis), fungal infections (dermatophytosis), skin fragility, cancer and others. Because of the many possible causes, it is essential that your cat is seen by a veterinarian.
Some of the above diseases can be diagnosed with a simple physical exam, while others require further testing. Endocrine analysis, skin swabs, biopsies and ultrasound are just some of the tests that can be used. These tests will check for cancer and either confirm or disprove the possibility of another disease.
The veterinarian will first draw blood if the cat is losing hair to have the blood work tested in the lab. This helps to detect possible hormonal or thyroid imbalances that cause alopecia. Various imaging techniques such as X-rays and ultrasound may also be used for diagnosis to rule out signs of cancer or abnormalities in the adrenal glands. If the veterinarian believes the hair loss is due to a skin problem, a skin biopsy may be taken or a culture may be taken.
The physical examination by the veterinarian includes checking the extent of hair loss. There may be gray patches in the areas of hair loss on the skin. The outermost layer of the skin is examined to determine if it is peeling. In addition, the veterinarian will probably examine the pads of the cat's feet for possible cracks.
In the vast majority of cases of cats presenting with paraneoplastic alopecia, the condition is caused by or associated with pancreatic cancer. Other cancers are also possible triggers for hair loss.
Treatment of hair loss in cats
When alopecia is due to a skin condition, thyroid imbalance, or other hormonal imbalance, numerous medications are available. If hair loss is due to a behavioral problem, behavioral therapy may be necessary to alleviate the problem. Overall, however, treatment options are quite limited.
While removing a tumor is a good step, it may not cure the cat because in many cases the cancer has already spread. Chemotherapy also does not seem to improve this condition due to the advanced nature of the disease.
Life and management
In cases where the pet is terminally ill, the owner can make the pet's remaining days as comfortable as possible. This usually includes changing the diet to a healthier alternative. In some cases, it may also be necessary to tube feed the cat. In cases where cancer is the trigger for hair loss, death is likely to occur within 20 weeks of the appearance of the skin lesions.