Cats spend a good portion of their day grooming, involving long periods of licking and fantastic body contortions. Sometimes this ritual can get a little out of hand, resulting in the cat losing hair in spots. The hair will typically grow back once the underlying cause is discovered and corrected.
Unlike humans, cats don't suffer from male pattern baldness and losing chunks of hair is not normal. Patches of hair loss accompanied by irritated or scaly skin could indicate an underlying medical condition, such as Cushing's disease or a thyroid problem. Or your cat could simply be suffering an allergic reaction to a new food or airborne allergens. The best way to put your mind at ease is to watch for additional signs of illness, such as appetite or behavior changes, and visit your veterinarian. She will run tests to determine what health issues may be at play and recommend the appropriate treatment.
If your cat acquires any unwanted guests on or in his skin, their presence would understandably send him into a grooming frenzy in an effort to get rid of them. Fleas feed on your cat's blood and their bites can cause itching or even an allergic reaction in some cats. Get enough of these tiny bloodsuckers on your pet and he'll scratch, lick and chew himself bald to get rid of the little buggers. Mites are tiny parasites that actually live in your cat's skin and cause irritation, hair loss and extreme itchiness. The freeloaders will need to be eliminated in either case to offer your cat relief. Flea-killing shampoos and powders are found in any retail or pet store, but a veterinarian will need to take a skin scraping to determine the presence and type of mite and prescribe the appropriate treatment.
The act of grooming is very relaxing to a cat, and helps to calm him in times of stress—which is why he'll immediately start licking when he falls off the couch and hears you laugh at him. It's his way of saying to himself “It's cool, I'm cool, I'm okay.” Cats are also creatures of habit, so if his normal routine is changed he may feel more stressed and anxious and will groom more often to calm himself. If you notice your cat lick, lick, licking more often and longer than normal, offer him more one-on-one time to help distract him. Synthetic calming pheromones such as Feliway also help to encourage a relaxing atmosphere and may stop the excessive grooming behavior.
When you get a papercut, most likely your first reaction is to put your finger in your mouth. A cat has the same instinct, and will lick a spot that hurts. He may lick the area obsessively, thereby scraping away the hair around it with his rough tongue. This could actually be a good thing, as it will prevent the hair from getting caught in a wound and allow it to heal properly. If your cat seems intently focused on a certain spot and is licking it raw, carefully examine the area for signs of injury. Depending on the injury and pain involved, your cat may not like you touching the area and will let you know with a growl, hiss or swipe of the claw, so be careful. Visit your veterinarian if the injury requires additional attention.
- cat image by Aleksander Nordaas from Fotolia.com