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Fleas can cause pet hair loss

Pet hair loss is a potential sign of fleas. Dr. Lee discusses hair loss and flea detection with a concerned cat parent.

Fleas can cause pet hair loss

Q: My 4-year-old cat pulls out the fur on her lower back, directly above her tail. What’s causing this?

A: In cats and dogs, the most common cause of hair loss in that area is fleas. Their bites itch, so pets lick and chew there.

It's unlikely you'll see fleas on your cat, but you can determine if any have been biting by combing her with an inexpensive fine-toothed flea comb from the pet supply store.

After you comb her, examine the fur and debris tangled in the closely-spaced tines. If you see tiny black granules that resemble finely ground pepper, transfer them to a wet paper towel and smear them. If a red-brown streak appears, your cat has fleas.

The granules are flea feces, euphemistically called flea dirt. They contain digested blood, which dissolves into a red-brown streak when smeared with water.

If you don't detect flea dirt with your flea comb, ask your veterinarian to examine your cat to rule out impacted anal sacs and pain in the low back or hips that would cause her to lick the area and pull out her hair.

Editor’s Note: Detecting health problems in cats can be difficult, and the quality of their fur could be key to assessing their wellness. Here is a list of fur conditions that may signal health problems in cats.

Lee Pickett, V.M.D. practices companion animal medicine. Contact her at

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