As in people, hair loss in cats is referred to as alopecia. For an owner, unusual or unexpected hair loss in a cat can be frustrating. Hair loss can occur in localised areas such as the back or tail; or it may be widespread. The owner may wonder if their cat is gravely ill. Fortunately, many cases of hair loss are not life-threatening and can be treated at the veterinarian's office once properly diagnosed.
Allergic and Irritant Contact Dermatitis
Some cats may suffer from hair loss after coming in contact with certain materials or chemicals. This can occur after contact with rubber, carpet deodorisers, flea treatments or poison ivy. It can lead to small blisters or red skin and hair loss at the site of contact, such as along the back or tail. (Reference 2)
In severe cases, cats infected with cheyletiella mange can suffer from hair loss all over the body. The affected cat may also have itching and scaly skin. Cats with any type of mange should see a veterinarian immediately for treatment. (Reference 2)
Fleas can cause hair loss along the back and at the base of the tail, among other areas of the body. Often, the affected cat is allergic to the bite of a flea and begins to pull out tufts of hair along the base of the tail. Fortunately, by using monthly flea preventatives, the owner can prevent this situation from occurring. If a bite has already occurred, antihistamines can be used to sooth the allergic reaction, and the cat should be treated for a flea infestation. (References 1, 2)
Pain can also cause hair loss if the cat is excessively grooming the painful area. For example, cats who are suffering from pain at the base of the tail due to the tail being pulled may excessively groom the tail or the back in an attempt to sooth their own pain. Pain can also occur from sores or skin lesions anywhere on the body. Owners who see or feel unusual lesions or lumps on or beneath the cat's skin should seek veterinary care immediately. (Reference 1)
Psychogenic alopecia is a common cause of hair loss in cats. In this case, the cat is grooming himself due to psychological reasons such as fear, stress or anxiety. This grooming can occur anywhere on the body, including the back or the tail. (Reference 1)
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
In some cases, psychogenic alopecia can become obsessive. In this situation, the cat is excessively grooming himself. These cats may require an anti-anxiety medication to help control the excessive grooming and treat the underlying anxiety or stress. (Reference 1)
In some cases, the cat may be losing her hair in a straight line or pattern starting somewhere along the back and down the tail. This patterned hair loss may indicate that the cat is regularly rubbing up against an object, such as a cat door or a coffee table. While this can be frustrating, there is no real treatment available to prevent the cat from rubbing up against objects.