Hygiene

Why Do Cats Pull Their Hair Out? 8 Reasons

Why do cats pull out their hair? Owners often see this behavior and have concerns. We discuss why cats do this, and what owners should do about it.

Danielle DeGroot

Last Updated: November 13, 2023 | 9 min read

cat's body with slicked spots of receding hairline on the coat

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Why do cats pull out their fur? Felines shed regularly, so owners are used to seeing tufts of hair here and there, but sometimes, owners will notice extra fur loss on their kitties. In some cases, cats will start to pull on their fur or overgroom, leading to bald spots. Why would a cat pull out their own hair? There are a few reasons behind this behavior. Owners always want to pay attention to sudden or excessive fur loss on cats, as well as any signs they are pulling their hair.

Knowing what to look for and what may be causing this hair-pulling behavior helps owners understand how to take better care of their pets. Of course, any cats exhibiting very odd behavior or concerning symptoms should be taken to the vet.

Cats pull their own fur out for a few different reasons. It can be a reaction to stress or trauma. The coat pulling can also be related to allergies, food reactions, or an underlying medical condition. Sometimes, the cause of this behavior is clear to owners. Other times, it is more of a mystery. We discuss some common reasons felines might pull out their fur and what owners can do to treat and prevent this from happening.

Why Is My Cat Pulling His Hair Out?

There can be several triggers that will prompt a cat to pull and rip out their own hair. One of the most common is itchy skin. A variety of underlying causes can cause this. Along with itchy skin, stress, anxiety, or trauma are also common triggers for cats to rip out fur or overgroom. Along with that, underlying or undiagnosed medical conditions may also lead to a kitty pulling out their fur. They can start to pull out chunks of fur from different body areas. The belly, groin area, paws, limbs, and along their backs are common places to see a loss of hair.

Understanding the motivation or trigger behind a kitty pulling their own hair is crucial, as it is the first step to stopping the behavior and preventing it from getting worse. Identifying the trigger and removing it is helpful, as often, this action is the result of emotional or mental upset, as well as physical discomfort.

8 Reasons Cats Pull Their Hair Out

skin issues on a cat with black fur
We break down some of the reasons why cats pull out their fur.

Always observe your pet to see what is happening in the environment around them, as this often is part of the behavior.

1. Psychological Triggers

While it may seem that kitties have an easy life, felines are prone to developing stress and anxiety, among other psychological disturbances. As humans, we deal with stress and anxiety every day and have different coping mechanisms to help us work through it healthily. Our cats also experience psychological issues like anxiety, stress, depression, loneliness, and trauma. Even though a kitty may seem otherwise calm and content, they are particularly good at masking both emotional and physical ailments.

Cats get stressed out for many reasons, often due to changes in the home and environment. Anytime something changes, from the furniture being moved around, a new person moving in, an owner going out of town, a new pet coming into the home, visits to the vet, and other happenings, it can trigger stress reactions. It can be hard to understand when an environment suddenly changes or a new presence, whether human or animal, is in the home. The change makes a cat feel stressed and displaced. One way to exert this energy is to pull on their fur.

In cats, grooming is comforting, and when they feel stressed, that can get taken to the extreme. The grooming can become obsessive and turn into something called psychogenic alopecia, which is the loss of hair because of psychological issues. It is similar to the human hair-pulling condition trichotillomania, an obsessive-compulsive disorder. Like humans, it will require behavior modification and effort to stop the behavior.

This does not mean a kitty needs psychological treatment, but it does mean that owners need to pay attention to the environment and identify what the stress or anxiety triggers are. Psychogenic alopecia can also happen after trauma. For felines, trauma can be anything from being scared, accidentally stepped on, or mistreated. Even a loud dog that barks at them or loud, unexpected noises around the home can cause psychological trauma.

2. Itchy Skin

Itchy skin is one of the leading reasons cats will pull out hair. To them, this may be an attempt to get the itching and discomfort to stop. Several different things can cause itchy skin, including parasites, skin disease, or underlying medical conditions. Allergies to food and environmental factors like pollen, dust, or human products can also cause itchy skin and trigger the pulling of hair.

Medical conditions that cause itching include parasite infections that include fleas and mites. Fleas are a prevalent skin parasite that affects felines. They will feed on the animal’s blood, and their saliva contains chemicals that can cause intense itching to the skin. The condition is referred to as flea allergy dermatitis. The condition can become quite painful as a kitty licks and scratches their skin raw. Some kitties will even chew on their bodies to stop the ever-present itching.

Though less likely in indoor cats, those who spend time outdoors are also prone to picking up ticks. Ticks can get inside the home and latch on to indoor kitties as well. They are bloodsuckers who will attach to the animal and then drop off when they are engorged with blood. Felines can develop an incredibly unpleasant tick infestation. These will require medical treatment to remove the infestation and restore your pet to a healthy state.

Along with ticks, lice and mites can also infest cats and cause itchy skin. These include ear mites, sarcoptic mites (feline scabies), and mange mites. Mites are essential to deal with, as they are very contagious and can affect other animals and even people.

3. Hypersensitivity

Some felines develop hypersensitivity to specific triggers like fleas, which can increase the irritation and discomfort they feel. The irritation can lead to even more concentrated overgrooming or pulling out of their fur.

4. Infections

Cats are prone to developing many different kinds of infections. These include bacterial infections as well as fungal infections. Infections can cause the skin to itch, as well as develop rashes, smells, discharge, bumps, and fluid-filled pustules. However, it can be hard to identify a feline with a skin infection, as the skin may look normal. felines can also develop yeast infections, leading to itching and coat loss. Infections often require the treatment of antibiotics or antifungal medications.

  • Ringworm is a common fungal infection affecting skin, hair, and nails. Ringworm is a fungus, not an actual worm. This infection is caused by dermatophytes, which are fungal organisms. The most common fungal organisms that cause ringworm in felines include:
  • Microsporum canis, which often happens after contact with another kitty who is infected.
  • Trichophyton mentagrophytes exposure happens after contact with infected rodents.

A common symptom of ringworm is areas of hair loss, scabbed over, crusty skin patches, scaly skin, inflammation, and itchiness. If ringworm is suspected, take your kitty to the vet to be tested. If they are positive, they will need treatment, usually including topical and oral medications. Additionally, ringworm is very contagious, as well as humans, so owners will need to take significant measures to clean the environment to prevent a re-occurrence.

5. Allergies

Felines suffer from allergies just like humans. These allergies can be environmental or related to food. Environmental allergies are a condition referred to as atopic dermatitis. This can happen when a kitty encounters a substance that triggers an allergic reaction, often accompanied by itchy skin. Some felines can be allergic to pork, lamb, chicken, beef, fish, turkey, eggs, and dairy. Other foods can trigger allergies, but these are the most common. Some food intolerances can also cause discomfort. Allergy tests for felines are available to help determine what these triggers are.

6. Pain & Disease

Older felines may start pulling at their coats due to pain. Arthritis, hip dysplasia, and old age can cause aches and pains. Hair pulling is a way to try and stop that pain. In older females, hormone-induced alopecia can also trigger them to pull out fur. Sometimes, diseases like cancer and diabetes may trigger fur pulling and loss.

7. Hypothyroidism

Hypothyroidism occurs when the thyroid gland works too slowly and does not produce enough growth hormone. It can cause patchy spots on the coat and, in some cases, drive a kitty to pull out more fur. Felines with hypothyroidism will need thyroid medication. Levothyroxine is commonly prescribed.

8. Poor Nutrition

While not as common, felines not getting proper nutrition may start to pull out fur. They can do this due to stress or may pull it out and eat it, a condition called pica. A top-notch diet, including fresh and human-grade meals, can offer pets more nutrients than over-processed kibbles. Discuss any dietary concerns with your vet before making significant changes.

A Vet’s Expert Opinion On Why Cats Pull Their Hair Out

When I see cats who are pulling their out, the most common reasons are stress or fleas. It’s usually quite straightforward to spot fleas or the signs of flea-allergic dermatitis. If I can see live fleas or flea dirt, I prescribe a flea treatment and give advice about treating the home and other pets. If a cat shows signs of a flea allergy, I’ll also give an anti-inflammatory injection to reduce the itch and prevent self-trauma.

-Dr. Hannah Godfrey, BVetMed MRCVS

Godfrey also adds, “I usually ask the owner about changes in the household, like new babies, building work, moving home, or new pets in the neighborhood. Often, I find there is an identifiable stress trigger, and I advise the owner on how they can help to support their stressed cat. For instance, I might suggest using a plug-in diffuser that contains calming or anti-anxiety compounds and creating a safe space for the cat to hide at times of stress to feel safe. Of course, if the problem appears to be behavioral or stress-related, but things aren’t improving, I would suggest an appointment with a qualified feline behaviorist.”

What To Do When Cats Pull Their Hair Out

Working to resolve a cat pulling out their own hair will require teamwork with your veterinarian. It is imperative to rule out any underlying medical issues. Your veterinarian will need to do tests to rule out infection or disease. If a medical condition is found, your vet will create a treatment plan. Treatment can include medication like antidepressants, antibiotics, and antifungals.

Many owners will want to discourage this behavior, but this is more complex than one may think. In many cases, the more attention an owner pays to the behavior, the more the kitty will do it, especially if they are attention-seeking or not feeling well. Attention may cause the behavior to get worse.

Along with not hovering or paying too much attention to the behavior, owners should not punish cats for their behavior. Punishment can drive them to become more stressed and anxious, which can make the behavior amp up even more.

8 Tips To Do At Home For Feline Self-Inflicted Hair Loss

a yellow cat with fur fall out at its neck
There are a few steps owners can take to help with this problem.

Be sure to rule out fleas and inspect your home for signs of fleas. If food allergies or other allergies are suspected, kitties may need to be on a special diet.

  1. Kitties who are pulling out fur from anxiety or stress will need their environment to be calm and reset, free from triggers. Make sure they have plenty of places to curl up and feel safe. Pheromones and diffusers may be helpful to add a calming aroma.
  2. If a kitty is overly aggressive about pulling out fur, a recovery onesie, Elizabethan collar, cone, or inflatable e-collar may be necessary to deter the behavior.
  3. The best treatment for psychogenic alopecia and overgrooming due to stress is to reduce the amount of stress your pet experiences. Spend more time with your cat and offer plenty of toys and mental stimulation.
  4. Try to reset the routine and not change things around the home.
  5. Behavior modification is important to train your pet not to keep overgrooming. Distract them with a new game, toy, or activity.
  6. Flea treatment is often advisable, even if there are no visible signs of fleas.
  7. Some felines may benefit from Gabapentin, a medication used for anxiety relief, among other things. The medication can help them calm down and reduce the amount of stress and anxiety they feel.
  8. Make sure your cat has plenty of clean water and top-quality food. Be sure they get plenty of rest and provide the healthiest, cleanest environment.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is my cat pulling out their hair dangerous?

While not necessarily an emergency, a cat pulling out their fur is not something to ignore. In many cases, it is a behavior spawned by itchiness or other triggers. It may be because they like the feeling or due to psychological stress. Owners should work to find the cause to determine if the behavior is harmful or not.

What is fur mowing?

Fur mowing is similar to pulling out the hair, except it occurs because of excessive licking. Cats lick so much along the back and spine that they have a big bald stripe. Sometimes, the fur grows back in the middle of the stripe, causing a mohawk-like appearance.

Why is my cat pulling out their hair from the rear area?

Self-inflicted hair loss in felines can happen for a variety of reasons. If one area is being focused on, like the rear end or tail area, there is something there that is causing pain, itchiness, or irritation. Your cat may have an injury, allergies, fleas, an infection, or any other issues discussed above. It is best to seek the guidance of your veterinarian. While it is not an emergency, it is best to have your pet examined sooner rather than later.

Final Thoughts

Cats pull out their hair for a few different reasons. Most common are behavioral issues, psychological upset, stress, itchiness, or underlying medical conditions. Never ignore any unusual or extra fur loss in your cat. If your cat is pulling out their own hair, they need some help to figure out what is bothering them. Work closely with your veterinarian to identify what is causing this behavior and then treat and remedy it. This process will take time and patience, and owners must be careful not to pay too much attention to the hair-pulling behavior, as it can actually make it worse.

Owners should regularly inspect their cat’s coats and bodies for signs of infection, injury, or disease. Regular, consistent brushing helps keep their coats as healthy as possible and allows owners to watch for bald patches or other unusual signs.

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