Question from Margaret Duke:

Have taken our cat to the vet at least 4 times regarding the fact that she has lost the hair on inside of back legs. Vet thought it maybe an allergy and we stopped allowing her milk. Vet gave her tablets which made her eat [she is a very fuzzy eater] This has gone on for months and she is just the same.

Answer from Shanika Winters:

Hi Margaret, sorry to hear that your cat has been suffering with ongoing hair loss on the inside of her back legs.  I will discuss possible causes for the hair loss and some treatment options.

Why has my cat lost hair on the inside of her back legs?

It is really important to have a full clinical examination of any pet suffering from hair loss by your vet to make sure that your pet is in good health, hair loss can be associated with conditions such as hormone imbalances, parasites and allergies .  It is also worth being aware that hair loss can be self- inflicted as a result of stress this is often referred to as ‘over grooming’.

Could my cat have an allergy?

Yes it is possible that the hair loss could be due to an allergy causing your cat’s skin to feel uncomfortable and then it licking and chewing away the hair on the inside of its legs.  Allergies can be to substances that your cat eats/drinks, breathes in or is in contact with.  Most cats are fed a commercially prepared diet with few treats, but if trying to rule out a food allergy a low allergy or specific protein diet (a protein your cat has not eaten before) can be tried. Diet trials need to be carried out for 8 weeks or longer to give meaningful results.  If the allergy is a contact allergy then you need to avoid your cat coming into contact with the suspected substance. Inhaled allergy or ‘Atopy’ is sometimes more challenging to avoid as it may be to for example house dust mite which would be difficult to avoid other than keeping your cat 100% outdoors.

What tablets did the vet give my cat?

From the side effect of the tablets your cat was put on it sounds likely that your cat was given a steroid treatment to try and treat the suspected allergy.  Steroids come in tablet and injectable forms and treat allergies by suppressing your cat’s immune system so as to stop it feeling uncomfortable in the first place.  Steroids also can stimulate the appetite which would explain why your cat was eating more when previously its appetite had not been so great.  Cats on the whole tend to tolerate steroid treatment well and your vet will try and reduce the dose to the smallest amount that works.

Why did the tablets not work?

There are a few possible reasons as to why the tablets did not work, the condition causing your cat to lose hair might not be allergic, and your cat might have needed a different dose of tablets or even treatment for a longer period of time.

The next step would be to return to your vet and discuss how your cat’s condition has not improved and take further steps to find out the cause and then the correct treatments plan.

How can a diagnosis be made for the hair loss?

As much as examining the cat, the details you give to your vet about your cat’s behaviour, home environment and general activities will help to make a diagnosis.  Physical examination plus or minus skin/blood tests may be performed to look for hormone imbalances, parasites and signs of allergy.  Which tests are carried out on your cat should be a joint decision between you and your vet.

Could the hair loss be due to stress?

I always keep in mind with hair loss and cats the possibility of stress being the cause. Stress can cause some cats to lick and chew at their fur most commonly on the inside of their hind legs, on their tummy and on their front legs.  Some cats may lick excessively in between their feet pads making them, wet, red and sticky/infected.

It is not often easy to tell if a cat is stressed as they tend to become quieter, hide away or simply over groom.  The smallest change to your household from new work hours through to a big change like a new pet or baby arriving can impact on your cat’s well-being.

Hopefully a chat with your vet will help to work out if your cat could be suffering from stress leading to over grooming.

Treatments for hair loss

If an allergy is suspected the avoidance, medications to supress reactions to allergy or specific vaccines may be an option.

Antiparasite treatment for your pet, the home and any other pets you have may be needed if parasites are detected.

If a hormone imbalance is detected on a blood test then correcting this may then allow the hair to regrow.

If there is infection present then your cat may need a course of antibiotics to help clear this.

If stress is suspected then treatment may involve medications to help your cat feel more at ease such as antidepressants or hormones.  There are also pheromone products in plug in or spray form which can help to reduce stress levels in cats.  The obvious thing not to forget is to make changes at home to minimise stress to your cat such as giving it a space of its own to retreat to where no one else can bother it.

I hope that my answer has helped you to understand some possible causes and treatment option for your cat’s hair loss and that she is soon feeling a lot more comfortable and that her hair regrows.

Shanika Winters MRCVS (online vet)

If you have any worries about your pet, please make an appointment to see your vet – or try our online Symptom Guide.