A stray or feral cat has patchy/missing fur. What is it, and what should I do?

by Lou on May 13, 2012

Stray and feral cats often present with small patches or entire areas of missing fur. There are quite a few possible causes, including ringworm (a curable fungal infection), flea dermatitis (an allergy to fleas), or a healed-over injury such as a wound or burn. The only way to diagnosis the problem is to visit a veterinarian, but here is some basic information on common causes:

Ringworm typically presents as a small, circular or oval patch of missing fur. The skin beneath may be scaly or scabby. It is especially common on cats’ ears, face, and legs but can appear anywhere on the body. Ringworm spores can spread to other animals and humans, and it can be annoying to treat, but it is not serious except in severe cases when an animal’s immune system is compromised. Ringworm is usually diagnosed with a fungal culture. The vet will scrape the area and pluck a few hairs from the animal, place it in the culture, and wait for it to develop, which can take several weeks. In humans, ringworm clears up in a few days with use of over-the-counter anti-fungal cream. In pets with fur, it can take longer to go away. Depending on the severity of the fungal infection and the cat’s immune response, ringworm could away on its own or it might require veterinary treatment. We have had success in eradicating minor ringworm infections in foster cats using a prescription anti-fungal topical lotion applied once per week. Some cats may require stronger medicated baths or oral medications.

Flea dermatitis (allergic reaction to fleas) often affects larger areas of the cat’s body, giving the cat a patchy, scraggly appearance. The fur may be thin or missing along the back, sides, or stomach. A few minutes with a flea comb can tell you if your stray cat has a flea infestation. There is one simple solution: get rid of the fleas and the allergy will go away! City Kitties recommends using a prescription product such as Revolution or Advantage Multi, not an over-the-counter medication or bath like Hartz — those don’t work well and can actually harm cats.

Old scarred-over injuries such as abscesses sometimes result in areas where fur simply does not regrow. Usually these patches are smooth, as opposed to the scaly or scabby appearance of skin on a ringworm fungal infection.

These are just a few possible causes or fur loss. You will need to get the cat to a vet for diagnosis and treatment. Find low-cost veterinary resources in Philadelphia here.

Posted in: Veterinary Information and Resources

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