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Bald Spots on Cats: Vet-Approved Causes & Signs

Written by: Christian Adams

Last Updated on April 9, 2024 by Catster Editorial Team


Bald Spots on Cats: Vet-Approved Causes & Signs


Dr. Maja Platisa Photo


Dr. Maja Platisa

DVM MRCVS (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Have you noticed bald spots showing up on your cat with seemingly no explanation? Maybe you’ve noticed your cat licking certain spots more or they’re itchy or irritable. Maybe your kitty has even been hiding more and not acting like themselves. All of these can indicate stress or underlying medical problems.

There are quite a few reasons your cat may have developed bald spots, such as parasitic skin disease, allergies, fungal disease, infection, an abscess, over grooming, self-inflicted hair loss from excessive licking, and many more. 

If your cat has hair loss or skin changes, it’s important to consult with your vet before the issue worsens. They will be able to perform various tests and diagnose the problem, all while prescribing your cat adequate treatment. 

So, what causes bald spots on cats? Here are some of the most common causes, but this list is not exhaustive and is not a replacement for veterinary advice.

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Causes & Signs of Bald Spots on Cats

1. Cat Fleas

tick on cat's skin
Image Credit: thka, Shutterstock

Even the best cat owners may end up with fleas on their cat. Fleas are sneaky and can get into your home on your clothes or other pets. They can hide in carpets and under furniture for months on end. And fleas can be difficult to get rid of, too!

If you’ve noticed your cat chewing and seeming itchy, it can be related to fleas. Not only are fleas irritating to your cat, but some cats can develop a condition called flea bite dermatitis. This is a type of allergy to the saliva the fleas produce, which causes extreme irritation when fleas bite the cat.

Fleas tend to congregate around the base of the tail on cats, which is a sensitive area, so this creates even more irritation. You may notice your cat chewing around the base of the tail, leaving bald spots behind. Fleas may also hang out on the face, so your cat may scratch at their face frequently, leaving bald spots on the neck and chin.

Fleas can be hard to spot on cats and they are pros at hiding, but there are a few things to look for. Fleas and flea bite dermatitis can both leave behind red, irritated skin with lots of scabbing. Also, fleas defecate what is essentially dried blood. If you’ve noticed rust-colored spots on your kitty’s fur, then there are likely fleas. If you find these small brown or red flakes on your cat, called flea dirt, you can put them on a white piece of paper and put a drop of water on top. If it’s flea poop, the flake will melt back into liquid blood. Speak to your vet about appropriate treatment for existing skin irritation and the best products for ongoing flea prevention.

2. Cat Ringworm

a veterinarian treats a kitten for ringworm. with cotton swabs
Image Credit: Roman Akimov, Shutterstock

Contrary to popular belief, ringworm isn’t a worm at all. Ringworm is a fungal infection and is common in stray and outdoor cats. Ringworm has a distinctive circular, flaky rash that will appear as a bald spot. It may be red or irritated and may or may not seem to bother your cat.

It’s important to check with your vet to ensure your kitty actually has ringworm, and the vet can then prescribe appropriate treatment. Kittens and older cats may be at higher risk of contracting ringworm, particularly if they have a suppressed immune system, but it also depends on their lifestyle, if living with other cats, or if they’re roaming outdoors. By the way, ringworm is contagious to people and it’s common for people to pick ringworm up from domestic animals. Speak to your doctor if you are developing any skin lesions yourself.

3. Overgrooming Cat

cat grooming itself
Image Credit: Deedee86, Pixabay

When cats become stressed, they may begin to over groom to the point of losing hair. This stress can be caused by physical illness, pain, boredom, frustration, anxiety, or changes in the environment, including new pets, moving to a new home, and even changes of furniture.

Cats are very sensitive to change, so try to introduce changes slowly. Remember to always provide your kitty plenty of quiet places to hide, especially if you suspect the stress may be related to children or other pets.

Overgrooming can lead to hair loss and skin irritation anywhere on the body, but you may notice them grooming a particular spot over and over until there is a bald patch. Overgrooming is common on the belly, legs, and back, and you may notice your cat losing a significant amount of hair. Excessive licking will also lead to skin sores and infection if not treated in time. Pain can cause overgrooming in cats, especially joint or bone pain. Frequent licking of the genital area is also a concern, as it may indicate an underlying urinary issue that should be promptly checked out.

If your kitty has arthritis, you may notice hair loss with the development of irritated and thick skin created by your cat licking the same place over and over. Over time, these areas can turn into lick granulomas, which are thickened areas of skin that have been chronically traumatized by licking. Luckily, they are not as common in cats as they are in dogs and may be caused by pain, allergic skin disease, parasitic skin irritation, infection, stress, anxiety, or boredom.

If you suspect your cat is overgrooming, check with your vet first to ensure there is not an underlying medical issue, pain, or parasitic or allergic skin disease before assuming it may be stress related. Even if medical causes have been ruled out, many cats will require veterinary treatment in order to stop them from self-traumatizing further.

4. Skin Irritants

vet checking a sphynx cat at the clinic
Image Credit: Irina Vasilevskaia, Shutterstock

Many household products and chemicals are caustic, meaning they can cause burns if they come in contact with the skin, mouth, paws, or eyes. If your cat gets into your garage or cleaning chemicals, you may notice hair loss that is accompanied by painful, raw areas of skin. If you believe your cat has gotten into dangerous chemicals, rinse their skin or mouth as best as possible with lukewarm water, making sure they don’t swallow any of the chemical, and get them to a vet urgently. The same applies if your cat is showing signs of oral discomfort with drooling, red gums, bad breath, and reduced appetite, or if they have any respiratory difficulties due to inhaling harmful substances.

Some cats are very sensitive to topical medications, like flea medications. If your cat begins losing hair in the specific location where you apply their flea medication, often at the back of the neck between shoulder blades, then they may be reacting to a topical medication. If this happens, talk to your vet about what your options for flea and tick control are. Your cat may do better with oral medication or a prescription collar. 

Always make sure you are purchasing legitimate, veterinary-grade flea and tick medications meant for cats only, and never use dog products, as they may be toxic to your feline. Some over-the-counter products may cause skin reactions as well, while not being effective against the fleas or ticks. Purchasing directly from your vet is your best bet for safety and efficacy. Some shampoos can also cause skin irritation. Make sure to always use a cat-only veterinary medicated shampoo according to your vet’s advice, as some may contain harmful or even toxic ingredients, particularly if formulated for dogs.

5. Cat Allergies

close up cat scratching ear
Image Credit: Lubo Ivanko, Shutterstock

Cats can be allergic to various proteins from the food or environmental allergens, such as pollen and dust mites, and this is referred to as atopic dermatitis. Allergic skin disease in cats usually leads to excessive itching and scratching that may cause hair loss, but some cats may also have gastrointestinal or respiratory signs.

Food allergies are usually related to a specific protein, such as beef, pork, or dairy. If you believe your cat has food allergies that are leading to hair loss, it’s important to speak to your vet and discuss a food trial with either a novel protein that your cat hasn’t been eating up to now, or with a hydrolyzed protein that has been prepared in a way that it doesn’t provoke the cat’s immune system. 

Switching to a different protein food according to your vet’s recommendation and trying it for a minimum of 8 weeks may help. So, if your cat has been on a chicken-based food, you may try a fish-based food. Make sure to read labels thoroughly because some products may sneak into places you wouldn’t expect. Your cat is not allowed any other food during the trial period, as even a treat with the suspected allergen may set off the signs again.

When it comes to investigating allergies, your vet will first rule out causes of non-allergic skin disease. The process may be lengthy, but it’s important to get it right in order to get down to the root of the problem. Diagnosis of environmental allergies and atopy is often a diagnosis of exclusion, and your vet may refer you to a veterinary dermatologist for further testing. Depending on the specific allergens, there are several treatment options available, such as corticosteroids and other immunosuppressants, as well as immunotherapy.

6. Cat Mange

Ringworm on cat's ear
Image Credit: Ameena Matcha, Shutterstock

There are several types of mange in cats, depending on the particular mite that causes it. The signs usually involve very itchy skin with crusts, scaling, scabs, and hair loss starting from the head and neck but spreading to the other parts of the body. Ear mites, on the other hand, affect the external ear canals.

Cat Mange Types
  • Canine Scabies or Sarcoptic Mange – most often occurs in dogs, but cats can get it as well when in contact with an affected dog
  • Feline Scabies or Notoedric Mange – rare but highly contagious
  • Ear Mites or Otodectic Mange – affects the ears and is quite common
  • Walking Dandruff or Cheyletiellosis – especially common in catteries or multi-cat households
  • Feline Demodicosis – some of these mites are normal skin residents and cause skin issues when the cat has an underlying illness

Mange is quite contagious for other pets and fortunately, most types of mange are not that common in cats. If you have recently taken in a stray cat, or if your cat was missing and is now back home, and you notice large patches of hair loss or skin changes, get them checked out by your vet, who can establish the reason behind this.

Any time you notice hair loss or skin irritation on your cat, it’s best to avoid touching that area, as it may be painful for your cat. Or wear gloves and wash your hands thoroughly anytime you handle your cat or their bedding, just in case their skin condition may be transferable to people, such as in case of mange and ringworm. Speak to your doctor or a dermatologist if you have any skin health concerns of your own.

7. More Serious Causes

hand holding a pile of cat hair in front of a cat
Image Credit: jajam_e, Shutterstock

Multiple medical conditions can lead to hair loss, including cancers, hyperthyroidism, infection, immune mediated disease, and pain. Your vet will identify the underlying cause of the hair loss and determine the course of treatment best suited for your cat. Cats that over groom around their genital or bottom area may do it as a sign of discomfort due to urinary or anal gland issues.

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Additional Notes

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In Conclusion: Bald Spots on Cat

Keep in mind that hair loss in cats is a sign and consequence of an underlying issue, not a problem itself. If your cat is developing bald patches, get them checked out by your vet as soon as possible in order to identify what has led to hair loss. Watch your cat closely for changes in behavior, like signs of stress and loss of appetite, as well as hiding more than normal. Having as much information as possible about your cat’s daily routine, their diet, regular flea treatments, and worming will give your vet a better understanding of the timeline and help them recommend the most appropriate diagnostic tests and treatment to help get your kitty back to normal.

See also:

Featured Image Credit: Nils Jacobi, Shutterstock

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