I'm Pullin' My Hair Out! (Feline Alopecia)

Updated: Jan 7


All cats shed whether it's a lot or a little. It's a natural cycle for a cat as the seasons come and numerous factors affect the coat quality. What is not normal are bald or missing patches of fur. This is called (no matter the cause) alopecia. If your companion seems to be missing quite a lot of fur in large clumps and patches resulting in baldness, as your cat’s caregiver it is now your mission to find out what is causing it (1).


Over-grooming and skin allergies tend to often be umbrella terms for a slew of illnesses and disease affecting the skin (1,2). In general grooming for a cat is an activity that takes up a lot of their time (often 30-50% of their time) (3) and is a basic way to calm themselves (1). Over-grooming involves obsessive licking of the fur resulting in inflammation, open wounds and/or hair loss. This act is often triggered by stress or anxiety (1) as well as primary illness or disease.


Sources of stress can be far and many and often coincide with similar stressors that bring on inappropriate urination habits. Stress could be something big and traumatic or seemingly small to us humans. Stressors can include but is not limited to:

  • Changes in litter or litter box (scent, texture, location)

  • New perfume or cologne you or your family wears

  • New furniture or move of furniture

  • Change in work or school schedule

  • New cat, baby, other pet, girl/boyfriend

  • Wandering animals outside

  • Another pet or child beating up or ganging up on them

  • A move to a new house


Other causes of feline alopecia often result from illness and/or disease.


ALLERGIES


Food Allergies

Food Allergies are typically abnormal immune responses to an antigen found in food (4) and in direct relation to hair loss is often characterized by head and facial hair loss (1) but can also be seen on the belly, groin, legs and paws (4) however other signs include fluid-filled lumps, skin lesions and poor coat. A food allergy often does not appear out of the blue, it is typically developing over time (2) and is not related to the seasons (4).

To determine food allergies a novel diet must be fed for 8-10 weeks (4) and then challenged to determine and eliminate the offending allergen in your companion’s (2) Conventional Options: Prescription Diets Commercial dry or canned food *Note these diets often are what are actually causing the allergy in the first place

Natural Options: Species appropriate raw diet

Contact Dermatitis

Contact dermatitis occurs when a cat typically under the age of two is exposed to an external irritant. This substance can cause an allergic reaction (sensitivity or allergy) or an irritation (due to a harsh chemical or irritant in the cats’ environment.) Contact Dermatitis can occur from (but is not limited too):

  • Shampoos

  • Flea products (collars, sprays, dips, topicals)

  • Plants

  • Fertilizers and other garden products

  • Household products (soaps, cleaning products, solvents etc.)

  • Carpets

  • Plastics

  • Metals

  • Dyes (2)

The most common conventional treatments include:

  • Bathing the animal

  • Eliminating the allergen

  • Allergy shots

  • Immunotherapy

  • Topical medications

  • Antihistamines

Natural Eliminate chemical

  • Cleaners

  • Flea and tick products

  • Air fresheners

Bath with natural shampoos and soak like oatmeal and baking soda Wipe the fur with a cloth to remove allergens Eliminate plastic food and water bowls

Natural antihistamines like pollinosan tablets

Invest in an air purifier

Boost the immune system with Vitamin C Herbals

  • Dandelion root

  • Cats Claw

(5)

Environmental

Allergies can also come from triggers found in your companion’s environment including dust and pollen but it can be to anything that causes the immune system to cause a reaction such as inflammation and itching. This can include fragrances such as perfumes or colognes human use or in their litter as well as dust from litter.


Keep in mind that immune system malfunction can be a genetic trait!

While there are not true cures for allergies, treatment often includes:

  • Eliminating exposure to the allergen

  • Anti-Inflammatories

  • Antihistamines

  • Medicated shampoos

Similar natural treatments can be applied as those seen for contact dermatitis as well as omega 3 supplements like krill (6) and fish oil (7) as well as green lipped mussels (8).


Quercetin is a great natural antihistamine and anti-inflammatory (9).

FLEAS (1) Many cats are allergic to the saliva of fleas due to proteins and antigens found in the saliva. This causes itchiness and can lead to secondary skin infections. Cats that have this allergy do not have to have a flea infestation, it could come from just one flea bite. A good indicator that fleas are the offender is over-grooming around the base of the tail, neck and head.


To formally diagnose a flea allergy, a skin test and/or IgE blood test can be performed. Should your companion have a flea allergy, your veterinarian may prescribe a corticosteroid to provide relief from itching and prevent an allergic reaction from occurring (10)


Check our out Ultimate Guide to Fleas for Cats for detailed information about fleas and their treatment. MITES OR MANGE (1) There are several types of fairly contagious manges that cats can acquire including various species of scabies, ear mites and cheyletiellosis (or walking dandruff). This is often characterized by dandruff, thickening of the skin, crustiness and sores. If severe enough and untreated our feline friends can die from mange. After a skin scraping is performed by your veterinarian, if your companion is diagnosed with mites/mange you veterinarian may suggest medicated shampoo or a dip to remove the pest (11,12, 13). Natural options include: Apple Cider Vinegar bath Garlic Power (2 tablespoons) (14), Goldenseal Powder (two tablespoons) (15) and olive oil (¼ cup) paste

Fresh, raw papaya (topically) (16)

Oxycat from Two Crazy Cat Ladies

RINGWORM (1) Ringworm is actually a fungus not a worm and does not always present as a ring like often seen in humans.

Signs of ringworm include over grooming of the face, feet and ears. The skin can also turn gray and flakey. In severe cases the animal may look like it has been badly sunburnt. With some ringworm species, a black light can detect its presence however this is not a fool proof method. A skin scraping and fungal culture is the best way to diagnose ringworm, While it is a self-limiting fungus, it can take 3-5 month to resolve. Treatment involving medicated creams, ointments or shampoos as well as oral anti-fungal drugs are typically part of resolving ringworm (17). Natural Options Shaving (this prevents the spread of spores) Regular bathing

Fresh, raw papaya (topically) (18)

Aloe Vera gel (topically) (19)

Turmeric paste (oral or topical) (20)

Oxycat

HORMONE DISEASES


Hyperthyroidism

Hyperthyroidism is a common disorder in cats where the thyroid is over working. In about a third of those cats have hair loss. In addition the coat looks poorly kept and oily. This often is caused by chemicals in the diet or the environment around them. It is also characterized by increased urination and drinking, increased weight loss despite increased appetite (21).


If you suspect your feline friend has a hyperthyroid a blood test, urinalysis and biochemistry often will be performed to diagnose this condition. Should they be diagnosed with a hyper thyroid medication is the most common prescription to maintain the disease. Surgery and/or radioactive iodine may also be recommended.


Natural Diet- Raw species appropriate diet, avoiding soy and fish (22)

Avoid sources of BPA including most plastics, canned foods (canned food linings contain BPA) (23)

Foods or natural supplements rich in carnitine (125 to 250 mg twice a day) (24) (25).

Herbs such as Bugleweed and Lemon Balm (26).

Use only natural chemical free flea, tick, dewormers etc. (27, 28, 29)

Catalyst from The Two Crazy Cat Ladies *Note there is not as much success with natural treatments but the above natural suggestions can help and in most cases PREVENT the development of hyperthyroidism.

Cushing's Disease

Although not commonly seen in cats (1) and often primarily in older cats, Cushing’s disease is a result of hyper production of steroids from the adrenal gland (1). This disease is characterized by increased food, water intake and urination, enlarged liver and other similar symptoms to other illnesses like diabetes which can occur concurrently alongside regular urinary tract infections. You may see non uniform hair loss due to this condition (1). For this reason it is important to properly diagnose this condition with blood tests, urinalysis as well as ultrasound or x-ray.


If your feline friend is diagnosed with Cushing’s it can be managed with medication and/or surgery especially if the cause is an adrenal tumor (30)


Natural options

Diet- Raw species appropriate diet, avoiding carbohydrates (fruits, veggies and grains is essential) Reduce and eliminate toxins used on, in and around your companion Reduce and eliminate stress


IMMUNE MEDIATED


Sebaceous adenitis is characterized by patchy hair loss, easy removed hair from pulling, red patchy and itchy skin caused by an inflammation structure infiltrating the glands in the skin. This condition is diagnosed with a skin biopsy. Treatment includes pharmaceutical immunosuppressive drugs such as prednisolone.


Alopecia areata (AA) and pseudopelade While a rare disease, AA is the opposite of Sebaceous adenitis in that the skin is not inflamed or itchy. This disease is caused by white blood cells or lymphocytes infiltrating the bulbus and space between the skin ducts and the follicle. In order to diagnose AA examination of the hair, skin and tissues under a microscope is required. Often this disease can return a more dormant state primarily because immunosuppressive drugs are typically not effective (34). Natural options Species appropriate raw diet Full extract cannabis oil Reduce inflammation with Krill Oil Fish Oil Green lipped mussels Turmeric paste Catalyst from The Two Crazy Cat Ladies Oxycat from The Two Crazy Cat Ladies


Mural lymphocytic folliculitis

Mural lymphocytic folliculitis presents as mild hair loss to severe including peeling of the skin, skin redness and varying amount of itchiness. This disease can be also mistaken for “initial epitheliotropic lymphoma, drug reaction, sebaceous adenitis, dermatophytosis, demodicosis, pseudopelade, FIV infection and even food allergy” (31). Treatment often includes steroids and/or retinoids with prognosis depending on the severity of the disease.

Natural options Species appropriate raw diet Full extract cannabis oil Reduce inflammation with Krill Oil Fish Oil Green lipped mussels Turmeric paste White Vinegar Aloe Vera Manuka honey (32)