Feline Shedding – Causes

Feline shedding, which occurs when a cat engages in excessive licking, scratching and biting, alerts the cat owner to the presence of a potential medical issue. Each instance of feline shedding usually appears with additional symptoms that are specific to the underlying cause.

Hair loss in cats, also referred to as alopecia, is a source of dismay for cat owners. In many instances, feline shedding occurs seasonally but in others, the causes could be more sinister. Some cases of feline shedding indicate the presence of a serious medical condition and can be difficult to diagnose.

Feline shedding frequently occurs as part of the larger cluster of allergic reactions that animals experience following exposure to an irritant. Chronic allergic and irritant contact dermatitis develops after multiple exposures to certain topical antibiotics or to certain metals (e.g., nickel), materials (e.g., rubber, wool and plastic) and chemicals (e.g., dyes and deodorizers) with which the animal comes into direct contact. Inflammation following contact with plant irritants like poison ivy triggers a similar reaction. Atophy, or allergic inhalant dermatitis, develops after a cat inhales airborne allergens (e.g., dust, mites, mold and pollen). It, too, leads to excessive itching and feline shedding. Flea allergy dermatitis (flea bite hypersensitivity), a severe reaction to flea saliva, and food allergies complete the list of allergy related conditions that can lead to hair loss.

Parasitical and fungal infections like lice, ringworm, cheyletiella (rabbit hair mite) and demodectic mange and related bacterial infections similarly irritate feline skin and trigger itching and hair loss in affected cats. Experts point to compromised immune systems as the reason why certain cats are more vulnerable to allergies and infections than others.

Many other reasons for feline shedding exist. Some of the more common ones include:

  • Facial (preauricular) alopecia, which is normal feline shedding in the region located between the eye and ear. This condition appears somewhere between the ages of 14 and 20 months old and most often in short-haired cats with dark colored fur. There is no cause for concern unless redness and/or scaling appear along with the hair loss.
  • Hair loss during pregnancy, nursing or other stressful condition. In this circumstance, feline shedding is widespread (sometimes referred to as “blowing the coat”) and ceases when the underlying condition is resolved.
  • Hyperthyroidism caused by excess production of the thyroid hormone.
  • Psychogenic (neurogenic) dermatitis, in which the cat manifests anxiety through excessive self-licking that causes symmetrical hair loss and ulcers on the groin, abdomen and back.

Other less common causes of feline shedding include the autoimmune disorder alopecia areata, which causes patches of hair loss, chemotherapy, which causes guard hairs to fall out, Cushing’s disease, and drug or injection site alopecia. Believe it or not, some cats, particularly those with white ears, can develop sunburn and hair loss from excessive sun exposure!