What Causes a Cat to Pull Out Its Fur & What You Can Do to Stop It?

Some cats take grooming too far and pull their own hair out due to stress.
i Martin Poole/Digital Vision/Getty Images

Fastidiously clean, cats spend a good portion of their time awake licking and grooming themselves. This innate behavior can cross the line from cleanliness to obsession, though, in which case you might start to notice bald spots on your kitty. Stopping the behavior requires uncovering its underlying cause.

Psychogenic Alopecia

Contrary to how it may seem, your cat hasn't suddenly decided he would rather be a member of the hairless sphynx breed. Compulsive hair-pulling is called psychogenic alopecia, which essentially means your cat is yanking out his hair by the mouthful because something is bothering him psychologically. This could include life changes such as moving to new quarters or gaining a new family member or pet, or other changes in his routine.

Grooming is a means cats use to calm themselves in times of stress and anxiety, but some cats take this relaxation technique too far. The behavior eventually evolves from a way to relieve anxiety to a totally compulsive action that is performed more and more frequently. The cat simply cannot help himself.

Medical Causes

The fact that your cat seems to be grooming more often doesn't necessarily mean he needs a kitty psychiatrist. In some cases, hair-pulling occurs due to medical factors, such as allergies, skin infections or parasite infestation. Your cat could be experiencing an itchy or irritating feeling in his skin, causing him to lick, chew and yank out the hair in the area in a futile attempt to alleviate the maddening itch.


While your cat may look a little odd with various bald spots about his body, his life is not necessarily in danger just because he has taken to pulling out his hair. He may, however, open himself up to possible skin problems, as the constant licking from his prickly tongue can open sores on his bare skin, leaving him vulnerable to infections. Without his protective coat of hair, he may be more likely to get a sunburn or catch a chill in cooler weather.


Don't assume your kitty has a mental problem just because you see bald patches. Visit your vet and have her run tests to rule out other, easily corrected medical issues. If nothing medical is causing your kitty's urge to yank, try to identify when the problem started to narrow down the origin of his stress. Remove it or limit your cat's exposure to it if possible. Offer him some new toys to help distract him from his anxiety, and spend some time playing with him to tire him out. Feliway, an artificial calming pheromone for cats, can help encourage relaxation, and your vet can prescribe medication in extreme cases.

Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.

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