Your cat's losing a few hairs is nothing to pull your own hair out over, but it might be time for a trip to the vet if the shedding gets out of hand. Localized balding on or near your cat's tail is a symptom of several common feline disorders.
If your cat's hair loss is accompanied by the development of a waxy, moist patch near the base of his tail, then he may be suffering from a condition called stud tail. This disorder, technically called feline tail gland hyperplasia, is the result of a dysfunction in the sebaceous gland. The secretions from the gland can build up due to high activity, usually in castrated male cats, or poor hygiene. The area may encourage the growth of bacteria, but it is mostly a cosmetic issue rather than a health problem, according to Hillsboro Veterinary Clinic. Keeping your pet groomed and bathed regularly can stop the buildup of secretions from getting out of hand.
Fleas, ticks and mites aren't too discriminating about where they set up shop, so it's unlikely that they will infest only your cat's tail. However, they may congregate there by chance, or because your pet is wearing a flea collar that discourages them from traveling onto his torso. If your cat's tail has longer hair than the rest of his body, fleas may see it as a safer home than exposed skin. As these tiny bugs bite their way across your pet, they cause minor rashes, dry skin and itchiness. As your cat scratches away, his sharp nails dig into his skin and rip out his hair.
Ringworm is a fairly common fungal infection of the skin, not a worm at all. Some pet owners are surprised to learn that people can catch ringworm from animals, and can spread it to their pets and other humans. Symptoms of infection include hair loss, dry skin and rashes from frequent scratching. While the idea of a contagious fungus is a bit icky, it is not the end of the world. Ringworm can be effectively treated in both humans and animals with topical or oral treatments, some of which are available over the counter. You should consult your veterinarian before giving medicine to your pet, even if you are sure that he has ringworm.
The problem may not be an infection or infestation at all. Some cats, just like some people, are allergic to certain substances in their environment or diet. If your cat goes outside or spends a lot of time in the "unknown" parts of the house, like the deep dark basement, he may be losing his tail hair from an allergic reaction. You can eliminate some basic allergens by keeping your pet indoors and only in clean rooms. You should also restrict his access to cabinets that contain chemicals, particularly cleaning solutions.
When it comes down to it, you should take your cat to a veterinarian if you notice localized hair loss on his tail. A professional may notice things that you do not, and understands the risks of certain treatments and conditions. A viral or bacterial illness may be causing internal discomfort in addition to hair loss, so it is important to have your pet properly diagnosed. Before taking your cat to the vet, take note of the ingredients in any shampoo you use on your pet and any unusual activity you have observed.
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.
Quentin Coleman has written for various publications, including All Pet News and Safe to Work Australia. He spent more tan 10 years nursing kittens, treating sick animals and domesticating semi-feral cats for a local animal shelter. He graduated from the University of Delaware with a bachelor's degree in journalism.