Did you know that cats spend between 30-50% of their day just grooming themselves?
This probably won’t be a surprise for most owners as they frequently catch their felines licking fur off their bodies.
But things can take a turn for the worse when your cat grooms so excessively that bald patches start to show up.
To find out what causes cats to pull out their hair, we did a ton of research on this behavior, and here’s what we found out:
Why do cats pull out their hair?
Grooming is a natural part of every cat’s routine. It helps maintain their coat’s appearance and removes any ticks or parasites that might be hiding under their fur. But when this is overdone, it can damage the skin and make your cat look scruffy with uneven patches of hair.
In most cases, this behavior is either caused by a disease or psychological condition. Here are some common reasons why cats try to pull their hair:
1. Feline Alopecia and underlying diseases
In simple words, Feline alopecia means hair loss or lack of hair growth in cats. It can occur naturally with no underlying causes but could also be a symptom of other health issues. Both hormonal imbalance and respiratory infections can cause alopecia in cats, although the former causes a symmetrical loss of hair.
Apart from that, alopecia can also be caused due to an allergic reaction to fleas, also known as flea dermatitis. Cats that are suffering from bacterial or fungal infections can also experience this type of hair loss. Nervous disorders also lead to obsessive hair plucking in cats.
In any case, you should get your cat checked by a vet regularly and be familiar with their medical history. This will help you identify whether the shedding is caused by a disease or your cat is pulling out hair intentionally.
2. Fleas or parasites
Flea or mite infestation can cause cats to pull out their hair for multiple reasons. Firstly, they can trigger an allergic reaction known as flea dermatitis that naturally results in hair loss and skin irritation. When your cat tries to relieve themselves by scratching aggressively, it can cause them to pull out their hair in the process.
Apart from that, the irritation and discomfort also promote stress, which further aggravates hair pulling. Some parasites also weaken the hair root and lead to faster hair loss.
Studies have shown that stress causes behavioral changes in cats. Most commonly, they start to adopt obsessive and compulsive habits due to triggers in their environment. So if you suddenly notice that your cat is compulsively meowing or excessively picking on their skin, it’s a sign that they are experiencing high-stress levels.
4. Food and environmental allergies
Pollen, fungi, dust, and cigarette smoke are known to trigger allergic reactions in cats. Some felines are also sensitive to proteins that can make their skin itchy and inflamed. When this happens, your cat will groom itself excessively and pull out its hair in the process.
Ways to stop a cat from pulling out hair
Getting your cat to stop pulling out its hair can be tough. But with time, patience, and consistency, it can be done. Use the following methods to put an end to the hair-pulling situation for good:
1. Get them checked by a vet
Taking your cat to the vet’s clinic should be the first thing on your list. A vet will perform necessary tests to rule out alopecia by diagnosing any hormonal problems or other underlying diseases. Furthermore, they will help identify any potential food allergies and suggest alternative cat foods that are free from those allergens.
Another benefit of visiting the vet is that they will recognize any psychological problem. Most owners are completely unaware that their cat is grooming excessively due to stress or anxiety. Luckily, professionals can catch onto behavior cues that signal any mental problem.
Once a diagnosis is established, you can move on to the treatment. Whatever medicines your vet recommends, try to give them to your cat regularly for the prescribed period.
2. Search them for fleas or mites
Fleas and mites leave quite obvious signs when they infest a cat. To search yours, look for scratch marks, dried blood, or any injuries on their body. These tiny insects also love hiding spots. Therefore, run your hand or a brush across their underbelly and underarms.
Luckily, removing fleas is easy and can be done at home. All you need to do is brush your cat with a fine-toothed comb once or twice a day to get rid of most of the adult fleas. For quicker results, you can also try spot-on solutions, flea collars, or even medicines like nitenpyram and Spinosad.
3. Try changing their diet
Since stress/anxiety and allergies are a major reason why cats engage in overgrooming, it’s important to avoid foods that could trigger either of the two. Anything that contains lots of sugar or caffeine is a big no if you want your cat to stop pulling their hair. This includes treats and their daily cat food.
Apart from that, always make sure that your cat food is allergen-free and full of whole proteins. Any formula that contains corn, dairy, artificial colors, or preservatives could trigger an allergic reaction in your cat.
4. Use anti-inflammatory medication
Cats that overgroom due to allergies are usually prescribed anti-inflammatory medication to ease symptoms. The dosage and formulation will be decided by your vet when you take your cat for a checkup. Since anti-inflammatories carry side effects such as increased appetite, you will need to keep in check with a vet and take breaks between courses.
Luckily, the benefits will far outweigh the harms for cats that suffer from extreme allergic reactions. Your cat’s skin will become healthier and less irritated, the bald patches will disappear, and your kitty will be happier overall.
5. Help your cat adjust to their environment
A change in environment can put loads of mental stress on your cat and cause them to groom excessively. Thus, if you have moved in with someone or shifted houses, it will take time for your cat to acclimatize. To reduce your cat’s stress level, try spending more time with them. Play a fun game together or rearrange their furniture like in the previous home to make the environment more familiar for your feline friend.
Cats that frequently travel with their owners also show signs of chronic anxiety and elevated stress. In that case, you can use cat relaxant medicines as per your vet’s advice.
6. Use pheromone diffusers or collars to reduce stress
Pheromones are a type of scent released by the mother of kittens that has a natural calming effect on the brain of felines. When used in the form of diffusers and collars, these synthetic pheromones can relieve stress in cats to a great extent.
Feliway is probably the most well-known pheromone brand for cats. Besides reducing stress levels, the scent also inhibits scratching, fighting, and urine spraying behaviors in cats. While sprays are inhaled through the air, the pheromones from collars are absorbed through the skin. Both of them work equally well when it comes to combating anxiety and excessive grooming.
When to stop treatment for hair pulling
Depending on what’s causing your cat to pull its hair, the treatment plan can last anywhere from a couple of days to years. Flea infestation or acclimatization can be treated in a short time span by giving your cat more attention and a few combing sessions.
If the hair pulling is caused by any disease or temporary anxiety, the medication course can take a few weeks before you see any positive effects. But for severe allergies and chronically stressed cats, the treatment will have to continue for life.
It’s important to keep in touch with your vet and implement their advice religiously during the entire process. When your cat shows signs of improvement, the veterinarian might even reduce the dosage of medicines.
How long does cat fur take to grow back?
Bald patches and scruffy hair can make your cat look highly ungroomed. Fortunately, most cats will grow back their full hair length in 3 to 6 months. For short-haired cats, the duration is usually on the lower end, while long-haired cats can take up to 6 months to grow hair from baldness.
To make sure your cat grows healthy hair even quicker, feed them a quality diet and supplements that support hair health. Omega fatty acids and vitamin E are two of the best micronutrients for this purpose. You can purchase them in supplement form or buy cat food that’s rich in both of them.
Why do cats pull their owner’s hair?
Cats will lick or pull their owner’s hair as a part of their grooming instinct. Just like a mother licks her kittens, the same way your cat likes to groom you. It means that they consider you a part of their family and is a gesture of affection.
How to prevent flea infestation in cats?
To prevent your cat from catching fleas, regularly bathe them and limit the time they spend outdoors. You should also trim their fur so the fleas don’t have space to hide. If you suspect that a neighboring pet is infested with fleas, keep your cat away until they have been treated.
Should you consult a vet for hair pulling?
Not always. You definitely should visit the vet if your cat is also suffering from hair loss and displaying unusual symptoms. But if the hair-pulling is caused due to stress or fleas, you can treat it on your own. For allergies, it’s best to take the prescription and dosage advice from a professional as self-medicating is not an option.