What Triggers Cats to Yank Their Hair? (Furry Frustrations)

Updated: October 29, 2023


“Triggers Cats to Yank Their Hair” delves into a peculiar and concerning behavior exhibited by some feline companions. This phenomenon, known as feline psychogenic alopecia, is a compulsive disorder characterized by excessive grooming leading to hair loss. While the exact causes remain elusive, a combination of environmental stressors, underlying medical conditions, and genetic predispositions is believed to contribute to this distressing behavior. Cats affected by psychogenic alopecia often display signs of anxiety, manifesting in repeated, frenzied licking, biting, and chewing of their fur.

This condition not only affects a cat’s physical appearance but also raises questions about their overall well-being. This introductory exploration aims to shed light on the intricacies of psychogenic alopecia, offering insights into its potential origins and suggesting approaches to alleviate the distress experienced by our feline companions. By understanding the triggers and underlying factors driving this behavior, we can take proactive steps to provide the support and care needed to help cats lead happier, healthier lives.

Read also: Why Do Cats Pee and Poop on Things? (Litterbox Illiterate)

Reasons Cats Pull Out Their Hair:

Cats may pull out their hair, a behavior known as feline psychogenic alopecia, for several reasons:


Similar to humans, cats can experience significant stress from abrupt changes in their environment. Whether it’s a recent move, a family alteration, or even just a shift in furniture arrangement, cats may resort to excessive grooming as a coping mechanism. While this behavior might offer some relief, it can lead to hair loss and bald patches, potentially doing more harm than good.

Fortunately, this is the most common trigger for obsessive grooming in cats, and it’s relatively easy to address. Give your cats ample time to acclimate to their new surroundings and aim for a stable household environment. If a sudden change is unavoidable, consider using cat-calming products like Feliway to help them feel more at ease.

If, despite your efforts, your cats still exhibit signs of distress or anxiety, consult your veterinarian about the possibility of prescribing an anti-depressant. Much like humans, cats can experience neurological imbalances that hinder their ability to lead a content and healthy life. Providing them with the necessary chemical supplements can empower them to face daily routine changes with greater confidence, reducing the likelihood of stress-induced grooming.

If you’ve minimized potential stressors in your home but the grooming persists, don’t discount stress as a contributing factor. Often, unusual feline behavior stems from a combination of factors, and multiple issues may be at play as you strive to ensure your cats’ happiness and well-being.

Skin Conditions

The location of hair loss in your cat can provide clues to the cause of their persistent itching, irritation, and hair-pulling. Underlying skin conditions like acne and dermatitis are prevalent among felines, fortunately responding well to simple treatments and possibly a visit to the vet, ensuring your cat’s speedy recovery and improved well-being.


Living in a densely wooded area or having outdoor cats increases the likelihood of parasites like ticks and fleas, which can lead to your cats pulling out their own hair. Cats’ meticulous grooming habits can actually remove evidence of fleas, making them harder to detect.

To check for tick or flea bites, examine areas that your cat may struggle to reach, such as behind the ears, the lower back, or the base of the tail. Fleas often leave scabs on the neck and flaky skin on the back, so be vigilant.

Ringworm, another parasite, can be trickier to identify due to a cat’s dense fur and cleanliness. Look for bald patches in areas with thicker skin and sparse hair growth. Additionally, inspect for lesions on the chest, head, forelegs, along the spine, or any unusual skin growths.

Dealing with parasites can be daunting, but the good news is that common pet parasites are generally easy to treat. Anti-flea products are readily available at most pet stores, including shampoos, lotions, and combs. Gently comb your cat’s fur with a flea comb, then give them a warm water bath with anti-flea shampoo for immediate relief.

For ringworm, a combination of treatments is often the most effective. Anti-fungal shampoos from pet stores can help combat the parasitic fungus-causing ringworm. If your cat’s hair is still growing, consider shaving or trimming it and applying a cream or lotion directly to the affected skin. Consult your veterinarian for specific and effective treatment recommendations.

In addition to topical treatments, discuss incorporating anti-fungal or anti-parasitic medication into your cat’s food with your vet. This, especially when combined with periodic skin treatments, can significantly contribute to keeping your cat free from pests.

Cat Dermatitis

Feline dermatitis encompasses various skin conditions leading to red, itchy growths, particularly around the hair follicles. If you observe your cat habitually chewing, grooming, or scratching whenever they rest, it’s likely they’re dealing with dermatitis. Be vigilant for small, red bumps that provoke itching and discomfort.

Your veterinarian can recommend over-the-counter medications to mitigate these bumps, curbing the urge to itch and scratch. Additionally, most pet stores offer anti-inflammatory shampoos and lotions that can help alleviate itching. By relieving your cat’s constant itch, you significantly reduce the likelihood of them resorting to hair-pulling.

Feline Acne

Feline acne is a prevalent skin condition in cats, typically manifesting as a hairless, red, or irritated area beneath the chin. Although the exact cause remains uncertain, it often stems from hygiene-related factors. For instance, if your cat frequently rubs their chin on objects to mark territory, they may pick up bacteria from other animals.

Likewise, if your cat’s food or water bowls are not regularly cleaned, or if your cat needs to submerge their chin in water to drink, the bacteria in the dish can lead to feline acne. As the inflammation in your cat’s chin worsens, they may engage in excessive grooming as a self-soothing measure, potentially resulting in hair loss and bald spots.

If you notice what appears to be residue beneath your cat’s chin that won’t easily wipe away, consider using a warm compress to cleanse the affected area. Alternatively, using an old toothbrush to regularly brush beneath your cat’s chin can help maintain cleanliness. This not only hinders bacterial growth but also provides your cat with an enjoyable extra brushing session!

Other Factors

While the mentioned causes are common triggers for obsessive grooming, it’s important to consider specific factors in your unique situation. Typically, behavior issues arise from a combination of multiple elements, including variables like weather, allergies, and everyday injuries.

In winter, when the air turns cold and dry, your cat’s skin can become as susceptible to dryness and itchiness as your own. This discomfort may lead to excessive grooming as your cat attempts to alleviate the itch. Ensuring your cats stay well-hydrated during dry seasons by providing a higher-fat diet and access to ample fresh water can make a significant difference.

Just like humans, cats can develop allergies to various allergens, prompting relentless itching and irritation that drives them to lick and groom sensitive skin. Utilizing antihistamine products can greatly alleviate your cat’s discomfort and deter them from pulling out hair in affected areas.

Lastly, if you observe your cat persistently grooming a specific area of their skin without cessation, it’s crucial to check for any signs of injury. Often, a minor scrape from activities around the house can become inflamed and irritated, compelling your cat to groom the area in an effort to cleanse or soothe the wound.

Compulsive Behavior

Less frequently, cats suffering from a condition known as psychogenic alopecia may engage in excessive grooming and hair-pulling due to behavioral issues. This behavior is typically triggered by stress or anxiety stemming from changes in the cat’s environment, such as the introduction of a new baby, presence of workers in the house, other cats exploring the yard, or even boredom. Grooming serves as a soothing mechanism for these cats, offering a way to alleviate their stress. However, it’s important to note that behavioral factors rarely serve as the primary cause for hair-pulling.

In fact, a study scrutinized 21 cats tentatively diagnosed with psychogenic alopecia. Surprisingly, the vast majority—76 percent—were found to have an underlying medical condition causing itchiness. Only two cats, or 9.5 percent, were conclusively identified as having a behavioral issue. As Dr. Fadok emphasizes, “Because compulsive behavior is less common, a medical workup is critical.” This underscores the significance of conducting a thorough medical evaluation when addressing hair-pulling in cats.

What is feline psychogenic alopecia?

Feline psychogenic alopecia is a compulsive behavior in cats characterized by excessive grooming, leading to hair loss. It is considered a psychological disorder rather than a physical ailment.

What are common signs of psychogenic alopecia in cats?

Signs include bald patches, thinning fur, and sometimes even skin lesions. Cats may obsessively lick, bite, or chew at specific areas of their body.

What triggers psychogenic alopecia in cats?

Triggers can vary widely and may include stressors like changes in the environment, anxiety, boredom, or even underlying medical conditions. Identifying the specific trigger can be challenging.

Can psychogenic alopecia be mistaken for a medical issue?

Yes, because the symptoms can resemble those of certain skin conditions or allergies, it’s crucial to have a veterinarian assess the cat to rule out any underlying medical problems.

How can I help my cat if it has psychogenic alopecia?

Providing a stimulating environment, reducing stressors, and engaging in interactive play can help alleviate the behavior. In severe cases, behavioral therapy or medication may be recommended.

Are certain cat breeds more prone to psychogenic alopecia?

While any cat can develop psychogenic alopecia, some breeds, such as Siamese and Abyssinians, may be more predisposed due to their high-strung nature.

Can psychogenic alopecia lead to more serious health issues?

In extreme cases, excessive grooming can lead to skin infections or more severe dermatological problems. Early intervention and proper care are crucial to prevent complications.

Is psychogenic alopecia curable or manageable?

While it may not be entirely curable, with appropriate interventions and care, many cats can experience significant improvement, leading to a better quality of life.


Witnessing our beloved feline companions struggling with psychogenic alopecia can indeed be distressing. Those angry-looking patches of skin and tufts of pulled-out hair may evoke concern, but it’s important to remember that there’s often a manageable explanation behind this behavior. With the right interventions and care, most of these issues can be swiftly addressed, allowing our cats to return to their delightful, charming selves in no time.

Consulting with a knowledgeable veterinarian, implementing environmental enrichments, and providing a nurturing, stress-free atmosphere can go a long way in helping our furry friends overcome this compulsive behavior. By taking proactive steps and showing unwavering support, we can ensure our cats lead happier, healthier lives, free from the grip of psychogenic alopecia.

Michael R

Michael R

I'm a publisher and editor at Cat Guide 101. I imagine that since you’re here, you likely own a cat — or two! — so helping you better understand them is my aim. I'd like to invite you to check out our about page to learn more about the Cat Guide 101 story.

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