Cats shed all the time, but just like with dogs, they have particular shedding seasons.
One of the most fun aspects of raising a kitty 🐈 is with no doubt: shed management. I’m sure you can sense my touch of sarcasm here 😊
Does it seem to you like no matter how much you sweep, vacuum, and dust, cat hair never goes away? I know, I feel the same. It’s exhausting 😫. Especially when other family members in the household have allergies.
While shedding is normal in cats, excessive shedding is not.
Excessive shedding can be a sign of potential medical 😷 problems. This is why it’s critical for pet parents to learn to discern how much shedding is too much shedding.
In today’s post, I go deep into the reasons why cats 🐱 shed, when they shed the most and how to manage shedding.
Oftentimes excessive shedding also comes along with additional hairballs. As usual I’m adding a short and great educational video 📽️ on causes, prevention, and treatment for hairballs by Dr. Marcia Martin from Safe Harbor Animal Rescue.
BTW, did you know there is a national hairball awareness day? And yes, that’s a thing and it’s in April every year.
The first phase is called the anagen phase, and it's the growth phase of hair. This is when a hair follicle activates and grows hair, either growing a new hair in place or growing more of an existing strand of hair.
Here’s a fun fact about this stage, for certain animals, there is a genetically determined length, which is why they never need a haircut! How cool is that?
The second phase is the catagen phase, and it's when the hair follicle transitions from active to dormant. This transitional phase involves tiny physiological changes to the hair follicle itself, and it's happening pretty much constantly to some set of hair follicles.
The third phase is the telogen phase, and it's when the hair follicle is dormant. It's not growing new hair or changing in any way. You can think of this as a resting phase.
The fourth and final phase is the exogen phase. You may have guessed it; this is the shedding phase. Many people group this stage in with the telogen phase, but a study actually showed this is a distinct phase. It’s worth noting that shedding can occur at any stage of the cycle.
Unfortunately for us cat parents, the new plusher winter coat doesn’t just grow in. In order for the winter coat to grow, the summer coat has to get out of the way.
Of course, during spring and summer, that's the opposite of what you would want; the excess heat could cause heat stroke. So, the fur thins out, they lose their winter coat, and they return to a thinner summer coat.
While the summer coat protects their skin from UV rays and damage from stray sticks and thorns, the winter coat helps with trapping heat while repelling moisture.
How does a cat's coat know when to grow the winter coat and when to shed it? Now, that's a cool question.
The answer is, cats have something called a photoperiodic response. Most living things do! It's all about sunlight and cycles.
The earth, as you likely know, has a tilt to it, and that tilt gives us the seasons. One of those side effects is shorter or longer days, so more or less sunlight on average.
More sunlight means more likely summer conditions, which means more shedding for a thinner summer coat. Conversely, less sunlight means it's likely winter conditions, which leads to less shedding and the growth of a thicker coat.
Cats, of course, have a very strong association with this because they love nothing more than to spend hours upon hours basking in a sunbeam and soaking up those rays.
When we go to the vet, we always leave behind tumble weeds of fur! Sorry about that!
Certain health issues can also cause hair loss. Skin infections, allergies, parasites, and diseases like hyperthyroidism can all cause an excessive amount of shedding hair. We’ll dig into how much shedding is too much in a bit.
Fun Fact: In addition to shedding fur, cats also shed their whiskers and the outer sheath of their claws!
When Do Cats Shed the Most?
Cats will shed the most during coat transition periods. Specifically, cats will shed the most when they're changing from one type of coat to the next.
After all, it doesn't do them any good to wait until winter to start growing in their winter coat, right?
They'll start growing it in the fall, shedding their summer coat along the way. Likewise, they'll start growing their summer coat for warmer weather in the spring, so it's ready to go in summer.
Since this is regulated by sunlight, there are two major factors that can influence it.
The first is how much time your fur baby spends outside in the sun. If they're only spending a short amount of time in the sunlight every day, they'll be more prone to getting and keeping their winter coats.
This can happen if you have a home with relatively few windows and natural sunlight and you don't frequently take your cat for journeys outside.
The second is your geographic region. The geographic region will influence the photoperiodic response discussed earlier.
For example, cats that live in Seattle or London, where it tends to be drearier and rainier than other locations, may have different shedding patterns than cats in areas where they get a lot more sunlight on average.
Many indoor cats actually keep something closer to their winter coats all year 'round, shedding steadily at a higher level than the peak season for outdoor cats but lower than a full shed season for those same cats
Either way, shedding is a constant fact of life for your feline friend, no matter what.
Do Any Cats Not Shed?
Unfortunately, the answer is no, all cats shed to some extent. You might tend to think that hairless cats, like the Sphynx, don't shed. After all, how can they shed if they don't have a fur coat?
The truth is, they still shed; it's just a very fine, almost invisible kind of hair (sort of like what we people have on the barer patches of our bodies) rather than not shedding at all.
These coats are higher maintenance, and while their hair cycle is longer, they shed a lot, and the length of the fur means it's even more visible everywhere.
If you have a cat with longer fur and they stop shedding, that can also be a sign of something going wrong. Cats with thicker fur coats that stop shedding should be checked out.
How Much Shedding is Too Much?
Sometimes shedding can seem excessive, but even if you're getting enough fur to make a whole other cat (organs not included), it's not likely to be excessive.
That said, there are some elements that can increase shedding, so if your fur baby has lost their winter coat in mid-winter or they're ending up with thin and patchy hair, it’s time for a vet visit.
But before you rush your cat to the vet, make sure to check on some factors that can increase shedding in cats.
Some of these factors include:
Diet. Hair needs particular nutrients to grow, and that includes your fur baby's coat. They need plenty of protein, some carbohydrates, and healthy fats. There is also a range of micronutrients they'll need. If they're lacking in the right nutrition, their hair cycle will spin out of kilter.
“In all cases, quality and balance are the keys to good nutrition. A cat whose diet is inadequate to meet her dietary needs will have a dull, dry hair coat and will often shed excessively.” - VCA Hospitals
Grooming. Cats love to groom themselves as a soothing behavior, a hobby, and a career. If they aren't sleeping or eating, chances are they're grooming. However, if your cat isn't grooming as much as they should be, they'll be more likely to shed everywhere.
Brushing frequency. Many cats love being brushed – it's like you're grooming them – so it never hurts to run that brush through their fur. Keep in mind that the less you brush them, the more they'll shed everywhere since you aren't helping to remove and capture that excess fur. If you don't have a deshedding brush yet, you can grab one from our store!
Stress. The idea of pulling your hair out when you're stressed is a bit of a myth, but stress does cause hair to shed unexpectedly. It's because, during times of stress, the body produces cortisol, the stress hormone. This disrupts many bodily cycles, including the hair cycle. But, due to the length of the hair cycle, it might not even show up for weeks or months! Generally, reducing stress across the board is a good thing for both your health and the health of your furry friend.
“When cats are stressed or frightened, rapid shedding is a normal physiologic response. The hairs that come out are called telogen hairs: those in the resting phase of the growth cycle, just before they are shed.” – Vetstreet.com
Medical conditions. Hormone imbalances, cancers, age, and infections can all lead to excessive shedding. Not only are they causes of stress, but they also may directly impact the health of your fur baby's coat.
“An increase in shedding can be a symptom of hyperthyroidism or other common cat diseases. It could also be the result of a skin allergy.” - ASPCA Pet Health Insurance
Allergies. Cats can have seasonal allergies just like we do, including springtime allergies like pollen or household allergies like dust. And with cats, sneezing isn’t the only typical allergy symptom like it is for us. It’s not uncommon to see runny eyes and irritated itchy skin.
Skin issues. Ringworm, skin infections, and other skin problems can all damage or disrupt the hair follicles that grow fur, leading to excessive shedding.
“Ectoparasites are small insects that live on the surface of the cat, feeding off of skin, hair, and blood. Fleas and mites are two common types of ectoparasites that can infest cats, causing hair loss, irritation, and other health problems” – Kingsdale Animal Hospital
If your cat is shedding a lot, the first thing to take into consideration is the time of year and the conditions that might have led to it. If nothing seems out of the ordinary, chat with your vet to help identify the cause.
“Pets experiencing unusual hair loss should be evaluated by their primary care veterinarian or a veterinary dermatologist to help determine the reason for hair loss. They may conduct diagnostic tests and/or suggest a treatment plan tailored to your pet’s specific case.” – Texas A&M University | School of Veterinary Medicine
Also, watch out for excessive grooming. Cats can develop various neurological tics and other issues that may lead to excessive licking, nibbling, and pulling on the hair, which can even lead to bald spots! This is often treatable, but you need to stay on top of it.
“Psychogenic alopecia is also known as self-trauma, compulsive hair pulling, or overgrooming. It is typically seen in cats that are experiencing stress or anxiety.”- Kingsdale Animal Hospital
How to Manage Shedding in Cats
Since shedding is a natural fact of life, you can’t really do anything to stop it, but you can make changes to better manage it.
What does that mean?
1. Identify Causes of Excess Shedding
First, identify if there are any causes of excessive shedding, like allergens or stressors around, and remove them if possible.
The less you have causing stress-shedding, the easier it will be to handle.
2. Brush Your Cat's Hair
Next, keep up with the brushing. A common question many pet parents have regarding brushing their cats is do I need to brush my cat? Well the short answer is yes.
Your cat is going to groom themselves with their comb-like tongue, but you should help them out by brushing them regularly. We recommend a good natural bristle brush.
As I have covered in several posts, when it comes to brushing your cat, natural bristle brushes will always do a much better job to spread natural oils than synthetic ones.
Brush lightly, and don't yank on tangles, mats, or hair that hasn't worked itself loose yet.
3. Watch For Excessive Hairballs
A note on hairballs, for a moment. Hairballs are a stereotypical thing cats get, which we all know about because of cartoons, but the reality is always less glamorous; it's basically hair-thickened vomit.
I also like to always advise against the use of slicker brushes. As I like to say, before you brush your cat with a slicker brush, you should try it on your hair first. I promise you; you will never do that to your cat again. Slicker brushes are better left for professional groomers.
It's pretty rare that a cat needs to be shaved, so don't jump to that option unless you've tried everything else.
To wrap things up, the biggest thing you can do to keep all that shedding fur off your sofa is to brush your kitty regularly.
Make it a special bonding time when they are on your lap. Having that hair trapped in the brush is much nicer than having it trapped in fabric.
Pro Tip: I like to use a damp cloth to remove fur from furniture. It does a great job at pulling the hairs out of woven fabric. Give it a try!
Do you know of any additional effective strategies for managing a shedding cat? If so, I'd love to hear them, and I'm sure other readers would, too! Be sure to leave a comment down below with your preferred strategies or any memorable stories you may have!
K Marie Alto
K. Marie is an animal lover, wife, kitty mom, dog auntie, writer, and co-founder of Toe Beans, a proud American family-owned online boutique pet supplies store focused on the improvement of the life of furry family members via pet parent education, better products, and advocacy. She has over 20 years of experience as a pet momma. She loves sharing her personal journey and experience as a pet parent via her blog and Facebook page where she currently has more than 50K followers (@furrytoebeans) and counting :-). Read more