Feline hair loss, also known as alopecia, is either inherited or acquired. In the case of hereditary hair loss, there is no underlying cause except for a transfer of genetics, so bald patches do not exhibit any irritation and don’t seem to bother an affected cat.
There is no course of treatment to stop the loss or encourage hair to grow again once it has been lost.
According to ProVet Health Care, some cat breeds prone to hereditary hair loss include:
- Devon Rex
Acquired hair loss is typically a sign of other conditions that are causing itching. Affected cats will scratch chew, lick, or rub the itchy patches until the hair is literally rubbed away. Take a closer look at some of the most common causes of acquired hair loss on the head and ears.
Hair loss tends to show up around the face and ears. If hereditary factors are ruled out, this leaves a host of other possible causes, and some are contagious. Take note that the info presented is not meant to replace a professional diagnosis from a veterinarian.
• Ear Mites
Ear mites, scientifically known as Otodectes cynotes, can cause severe itching which leads to a loss of hair on the ears and head. These mites easily spread amongst cats, and will occasionally transfer onto people although they cannot survive on humans.
Signs of an infestation include:
- Head rubbing
- Ear Shaking
- Hair loss
- Brown, waxy build-up in ears
- Foul odor
Ear mites are easily diagnosed using an otoscope. Treatments usually consist of a thorough gentle cleaning of the ears and application of medication into the canals prescribes by a vet. It is necessary to repeat this for seven to ten days to kill any new hatchlings.
The saliva left behind after a flea bites can cause an itchy reaction in cats. Although hair loss can occur on all parts of the body, the head and ears are especially vulnerable to hair loss when felines rub themselves against furniture and carpets trying to find relief.
Fleas are easily detected by their physical presence or by small droppings left behind in your cat’s fur. Infestations can be treated using a number of insecticidal products such as sprays, shampoos, dips and spot-on medications like Frontline for cats.
Contrary to its name, ringworm is not a worm. It’s an itchy fungal infection that resides in hair follicles and feeds on dead cells.
As the fungus populates in the hair shafts, breaking off at skin level and leaving bald spots. Crusty patches may develop around the ears and other affected areas. Ringworm is contagious and can be diagnosed by culturing the hair.
A number of possible treatments to eliminate the infection include:
- Application of a course of lime sulphur dips
- Administering Griseofulvin tablets as recommended by a vet
- Application of tropical ointment such as Itraconazole
- Repeated showers with antifungal shampoos
- Completely shaving the cat
Mange is another type of contagious mite infestation that causes intense itching, especially around the face, ears and neck. Skin in the affected areas suffers from a fair loss of fur, and a greyish yellow crust similar to a bad case of eczema begins to cover the skin.
Feline mange is dived into two types: notoedric and demodectic. Both types are diagnosed by taking a skin scraping from affected areas, viewing it under magnification for the presence of mites. To treat mites, it is necessary to clip away long fur and apply a dip of lime sulphur once a week until subsequent skin scrapings show no signs of mites.
Treatments may be repeated up to eight times to cure the infestation.
• Food Allergies
Food allergies can be a cause of itching and oozing sores, especially around the head, face, ears and neck. Affected cats begin to lose hair quickly and chronic ear infections contribute to the problem.
Diagnosis of food allergies requires a series of food trials where the vet prescribes a restricted diet that will slowly reintroduce foods one at a time until an allergic reaction is triggered by a particular item.
• Chronic Stress
A less obvious cause, chronic stress can contribute to hair loss. Cats comfort themselves by grooming, and a stressed cat cleans itself more often. Constant licking and paw washing eventually affect areas with short fur like the head and ears. This particular condition is known as psychogenic alopecia.
Alopecia areata is not fully understood, but researchers suspect the condition is auto-immune related and may also be complicated by a cat’s diet. It appears to cause the highest amount of hair loss around the head, neck and back due to excessive scratching.
Vets treat it by testing for food allergies and eliminate allergens from the feline’s meals.
Atopy refers to allergies caused by inhaling environmental irritants, such as moulds, pollens, dust mites, etc. The allergic reaction produces intense itching that results in excessive scratching around the head and ears.
Treatment includes removing as much allergen as possible from the feline’s environment or limiting the cat’s exposure to them. Antihistamines are sometimes given help relieve the animal’s itch.
• Facial Alopecia
Facial Alopecia is a regular loss of hair occurring on the head between the eyes and ears. This appears more prominent in dark, short-haired cats. There is no treatment for this condition as it is considered normal unless other signs of hair loss arise.
• Sebaceous Adenitis
Sebaceous adenitis is an inflammatory disease of the sebaceous glands. It’s fairly rare in cats, but it does cause hair loss around the face, head and ears.
The disease is incurable, so treatments consist of managing the symptoms by giving anti-inflammatory medications and using anti-scaling shampoo to clean crusty lesions that form around hair follicles.
• Solar Dermatitis
Also known as sunburn, solar dermatitis causes a painful burn followed by flaking and hair loss. The condition is usually notable around the ears, but the nose and eyelids are susceptible since they have little to no hair for protection.
Treatment includes keeping the cat out of the sun and application of antibiotic ointment to promote healing.
If you discover hair loss on your cat’s ears, don’t hesitate to bring it to your vet. The sooner the cause is diagnosed, the easier it can be treated, preventing the problem from getting completely out of control. In many cases, the hair on the feline’s ears will eventually grow back.
* This article was updated on 15 July 2020. It first appeared in Pets Magazine, 24 May 2012.