Cats spend quite a bit of time grooming. Part of that normal grooming can involve pulling out tufts of hair. However, if the hair pulling results in bald spots\ and, sore and scabby and skin from licking there may be a problem. Typically cats who pull out clumps of hair have a medical problem more so than a behavioral problem. However either may be the cause.
Medically speaking pulling out tufts of hair can be due to extreme itchiness. As a result of the itch cats can pull out their hair, lick their skin raw and cause scabs and bleeding. The itching can be due to parasites like fleas, mites or lice. A cat who has an allergy to any of these parasites can feel extreme skin irritation leading to hair pulling. Keep in mind that a cat’s grooming behavior can eradicate all evidence of parasites. Just because you do not see these bugs, does not mean they are not there. Your veterinarian may suggest some type of parasite control product to see if this will stop the behavior.
Another cause of itchiness can be due to a bacterial or fungal infection in the skin. To confirm this diagnosis your veterinarian will do a skin scraping. If the scrapings come back positive your veterinarian will treat the infection as required by medical protocol.
Environmental allergies can be another cause of hair pulling. Your cat can be allergic to pollen, mold, dust mites, or food. Allergy testing is a way to determine what environmental stimulus your cat is sensitive to. To test for food allergies your cat will be put on a food trial with a limited protein diet or a hydrolyzed protein diet. In these diets the proteins are broken down into such small pieces they do not cause an allergic reaction.
If your cat is pulling out tufts of hair in a specific area it could be due to pain in that spot on his body. For example, a cat with arthritis and painful joints may pull their hair out around those joints. A cat with a cut on their front left paw that has become infected will pull out the hair in that area and probably lick until the skin is sore and bleeding. If your cat has a bladder infection the hair may be pulled out on the belly where the bladder lies under the skin.
On rare occasions the cause of hair pulling may be due to a compulsive behavioral problem called psychogenic alopecia. This is typically caused by anxiety or stress due to a change in your cat’s surroundings. Maybe you brought a new pet into the house, or have had a new baby, or you are remodeling your home. All these can be stress factors. The excessive grooming can be a means to cope with the new and stressful situation.
Keep in mind that the behavioral cause of hair loss only occurs in about 10% of cats with this issue. Therefore it is very important to consult with your veterinarian to eliminate and medical causes of the hair pulling. Once the root cause is identified is it usually quite simply to alleviate the problem.