Cat Bald Patches: The Top Causes and Best Solutions

Author: K. Marie Altoby K Marie Alto Updated 8 min read

Cat Bald Patches: The Top Causes and Best Solutions

When you think of a cat, what comes to mind? Their fuzzy cheeks and long whiskers twitching when they're curious? Their bright eyes shining in the dark, with pupils adjusting to hunt their prey, whether it's a stray toe or a toy? Their claws sticking out and retracting as they make rhythmic biscuits on your lap?

For me, one of the best things about our little furry feline friends is their sleek, fluffy fur coats. Whether they're a coarse, wiry domestic shorthair or a majestic, fluffy long-hair with a grooming to-do list a mile long, that fur is iconic.

It's understandably distressing if your fur baby is, well, having trouble being a fur baby.

Bald patches in any animal are generally not a great sign, though they can have a lot of different causes, some worse than others.

Are Cat Bald Patches Dangerous?

Before digging into specific causes and their treatments, you probably want to know right off the bad how worried you should be. If your fur baby has a bald patch, should you rush them to the emergency vet, should you insist on an appointment as soon as possible, or should you just keep an eye on it until your next scheduled appointment?

The answer is right around the middle, but it does depend on the cause of the issue.

Are Cat Bald Patches Dangerous Image by Toe Beans

In general, you're going to want to call your vet and explain the situation. You don't need to rush them to the vet unless there are other signs of problems of a more serious variety, which I'll go through as we get to them. Usually, though, a bald patch is a sign of something you can adjust or treat at home, and you only need a vet to look at it to verify that it's not something worse. An urgent but not emergency appointment – sometime in the next week or so – is probably all you need.

That said, if left untreated, bald patches can turn into skin lesions and sores, and those can be the source of infections or other dangers, and that's much more urgent. You need to have your vet take a look at your furry friend, regardless of whether or not you think it's immediately dangerous, just in case there's an underlying issue.

What Causes Cat Bald Patches?

There are a variety of different problems that can cause bald patches, so let's go through them and evaluate their symptoms, prognosis, and treatment options.

Parasites

The first and one of the most common reasons why a cat can end up with bald patches is because of some kind of parasite. Most of the time, this is fleas, but it can also be caused by mites and other external parasites.

Fleas and mites don't actually cause bald patches; instead, it's an allergic reaction, a kind of topical dermatitis caused by flea bites or mite bites. The allergic reaction, the inflammation, and your fur baby grooming the area and trying to alleviate it all lead to hair loss in the area.

In extreme cases, mange – which is a mite infection – can also lead to hair loss. Mange is characteristic in appearance and tends to come with crustiness and other skin problems as well, so it's a lot more noticeable than just hair loss and bald patches, though.

Bald patches caused by fleas and other parasites are generally not a huge cause for concern beyond the obvious: you have fleas or mites that you need to address. Cat flea treatments are medications that prevent fleas from reproducing and work great for months at a time. You'll generally need to give your cat an anti-parasitic treatment.

A Cat Receiving an Anti-Parasitic Medication Image by Toe Beans

If your fur baby is constantly licking at the bald patches, it means they're either itchy or painful, and they're trying to soothe it. In these cases, it won't heal well without help, so your vet may give them an antihistamine or a steroid shot, which can reduce the inflammation and irritation, allowing the area to heal and the fur to regrow.

The only way this is dangerous is if you don't treat the parasites or if the skin irritation is so advanced that it's leaving open sores that get infected. Otherwise, it's irritating and painful for your fur baby but not life-threatening.

Skin Infections

Along the same lines as parasites are various sorts of skin infections. The most common to affect cats is ringworm. Despite its name, ringworm isn't actually a worm. It's actually a kind of fungal infection, usually presenting itself as a round lesion on the skin. It's irritating, dry, itchy, painful, and prone to cracking and spreading, all of which means your cat will try to soothe it with grooming. Skin irritation and fungal infections combined with grooming can result in rapid, localized hair loss and spread.

Ringworm is a little more dangerous for two reasons. The first is that it needs a lab test to appropriately diagnose, and in that time, it can spread, especially to other animals. More than that, though, it can even spread to humans. You'll need to be careful when handling your fur baby, keep anything they come into contact with washed or cleaned and make sure to treat it aggressively to keep it from spreading to you or other cats in the house.

A Skin Infection Bald Patch Image by Toe Beans

There are other skin infections besides ringworm that can crop up, but they tend to be a bit less common. All of them generally need a vet to look at them, a lab test to diagnose them, and a treatment to take care of them. Which ones, specifically, depend on the cause of the infection.

Other Allergies

Allergies come in more than just reactions to parasites like fleas. Just like we people can be allergic to all kinds of things, so can our kitties. I've heard of everything from pollen allergies to dust allergies to protein allergies in cats! Some of them are a lot harder to handle than others, but some just require periodic allergic shots or pills.

When your fur baby has bald patches, it can be an allergic reaction, and that reaction can be to either something they came into contact with or something they ate.

  • Long-term, low-level reactions to something in their food can cause chronic inflammation, which, building up over time, can manifest as skin irritation and bald patches or general hair thinning and hair loss.
  • Rubbing up against something they're allergic to, like a plant with an irritating sap along the lines of poison ivy or poison oak or a plant with pollen they're allergic to, can lead to the same sort of topical irritation and allergic reaction as above. It's less likely to result in bald patches right away, but if your fur baby over-grooms the area, it can lead to a loss of fur.
  • Some insect stings and bites can cause the same kinds of irritations. Many insects can't make it through a fur coat, but some can; a wasp sting or bee sting, in particular, can lead to a longer-lasting irritation that they groom until the skin is bald.

If you want to learn more about cat allergies, VCA has a great resource here. It can get you started in knowing what to look for and when there may be an emergency involved.

Other Allergies Image by Toe Beans

Usually, allergies like this aren't going to be a huge health emergency. It's only if your cat starts having trouble breathing or other issues that you need to rush them to the vet. Chronic, long-term allergies to food are more likely to just cause low-level unpleasantness on an ongoing basis. It sucks, but it's not immediately life-threatening.

How do you solve this problem? It depends on the allergy. You may need to identify an environmental allergen and remove it, give them allergy shots to combat it, or change foods or grooming supplies to remove an allergy-inducing ingredient from their lives. It all depends on what caused it.

Stress and Anxiety

Have you ever met someone who has anxiety? There's a good chance that they have some kind of nervous tic. Some people tap their feet or hands constantly. Some fidget or pace. Some even pick at their hair.

Well, cats can react the same way. When they're anxious and stressed, they need to alleviate it somehow, but they have very few options available to them. After all, they don't have hands! Now, think about what a mama cat does to soothe her kittens when they're young and scared; she grooms them. Comfort licks can soothe and relieve anxiety and stress in kittens, and older cats maintain that habit.

What this means is that cats under stress or suffering from anxiety are likely to spend more time grooming themselves than they otherwise would. Often, they'll end up focusing on the same few spots, like their flanks, which end up with bald spots because of the over-grooming. Of course, this leads to more stress and more grooming and becomes an ongoing problem.

A Stressed and Anxious Cat Image by Toe Beans

There are a few ways to address this. The first is to figure out why they're stressed or anxious and alleviate the issue. There are a lot of possible causes for cat anxiety, ranging from rearranging the house or moving food/litter/bedding from where they're used to, to illness, pain, or injury, to separation anxiety. Figuring out the cause allows you to alleviate it.

You may also need to use an anti-anxiety medication. These medications can include things like gabapentin, fluoxetine, alprazolam, and even CBD. Make sure you talk to your vet before administering any kind of medication, of course.

Thyroid Problems

One of the more common problems domestic cats develop over time is thyroid issues. The thyroid is an important part of the hormonal system, and any imbalance in hormones can cause all kinds of problems. A thyroid issue can lead to a bunch of different issues with your kitty's fur coat, including a loss of luster, greasy fur, matted fur, and a lack of grooming. Hair loss, of course, is also common.

Thyroid issues also cause other symptoms, including increased thirst, changes in weight, hunger or loss of appetite, and lethargy or hyperactivity. If it sounds like that's basically every possible extreme, it's because an over-active and an under-active thyroid are both problems in opposite ways.

A Cat With Thyroid Problems Image by Toe Beans

While thyroid issues are dangerous, they are also common enough that we know very well how to treat them. You may need to give your cat pills for the rest of their life, or you may give them a kind of radiation treatment that kills the thyroid to prevent it from flooding their system with hormones, or there may be other treatments.

It's also possible that a tumor or cancer of the thyroid or another hormone-producing organ is causing the problem as well. These need to be treated on a case-by-case basis, obviously.

Other Issues

There are a few other reasons why your fur baby might be getting bald spots.

One of the more common with outdoor cats is an injury, particularly an injury when fighting with another cat or another animal. These other critters aren't exactly washing their hands, and even a minor scrape from a claw can lead to an infected wound. Of course, if an infected wound has caused a bald patch, it should be pretty obvious what it is and that it requires some fast treatment.

An Injured Cat Being Treated Image by Toe Beans

There are also various sorts of cancers that can cause hair loss. Leukemia is a common one; either the cancer causes hair loss or the treatment does. In these cases, though, the bald patches are probably the least of your worries.

Some cats also have a genetic cognitive condition where they over-groom, as a sort of feline obsessive-compulsive disorder. This can be mitigated with regular shots, but it's something you need to keep an eye on for their whole lives and can get worse as they get older.

Regardless of the core issue, a few things are generally true:

  • Hair loss and bald patches in a cat are signs of something underlying wrong, whether it's a health issue, a hormone issue, an injury, or an allergy.
  • Hair will grow back once the underlying issue is handled, as long as it doesn't cause scarring on the skin that prevents fur from growing.
  • You will almost always need a vet to examine and determine the cause of the issue, though it's usually not an emergency situation.

Have you had a cat that struggles with hair loss? Let me know about it and what you did!

K Marie Alto
K Marie Alto

K. Marie is an animal lover, wife, kitty mom, dog auntie, writer, and co-founder of Toe Beans, a proud American family-owned online boutique pet supplies store focused on the improvement of the life of furry family members via pet parent education, better products, and advocacy. She has over 20 years of experience as a pet momma. She loves sharing her personal journey and experience as a pet parent via her blog and Facebook page where she currently has more than 50K followers (@furrytoebeans) and counting :-). Read more

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