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by K Marie Alto December 25, 2022 12 min read 1 Comment
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.
Let's talk about it.
The purpose of shedding in cats is to remove dead hair and release natural oils in the skin.
The skin is the largest organ in any animal, and shedding serves as a normal self-preservation body process in all animals with hair.
On the one hand, dead hair that is not removed can cause skin irritation.
And on the other, natural oils secretion helps with waterproofing the hairs while maintaining the suppleness of the skin.
Before we go into the main reasons why cats shed, I thought it would be helpful to learn how hair works.
Did you know that hair has a four-phase life cycle? And, that certain hairs within the coat will be in a different part of the cycle at the same time?
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?
No one is quite sure what triggers these phases to change. It's one of life's many mysteries.
And yes, this four-phase lifecycle applies just as much to cats and dogs as it does to people, with one added quirk.
Cats, being wild-ish animals, don't wear clothing. Us humans on the other hand add extra layers during the cold months and peel them off when the weather gets warm.
Since animals don't have that luxury they have to rely on their fur coat to keep them warm and protected from the elements.
That means in addition to the hair phase, which is constantly active with every hair at a different stage of the process, there's a seasonality to it as well!
You already know what I'm about to mention: the winter and summer coats.
A winter coat is thicker, plusher, and better at trapping air and warmth against the body. Whether your kitty is indoor only or not, their body still prepares for the cold.
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.
Aside from cyclical changes, cats can also shed when they are stressed. Have you ever noticed when you pet your cat at the vet’s office an unusually large amount of fur collects in your hand?
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!
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.
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.
There are also a few breeds, like the Devon Rex and Cornish Rex, that shed less than other breeds.
They're sort of like the cat equivalent of poodles; they have shorter, curlier coats that don't shed as much because the evolved purpose of the fur is different.
They do still shed though, just not as much as a domestic short-hair or longhair cat.
Conversely, there are some cats that shed more than others. Some of the long-haired breeds, like Maine Coons, have thick double coats.
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.
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:
“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
“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
“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
“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
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?
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.
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.
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.
Hairballs happen when your cat swallows hair during grooming. It's natural, and it builds up over time until they need to get rid of it.
A healthy cat should only produce 1-2 hairballs a year, so if they're hocking them up more often, you may need to step up your grooming game.
While hairballs can gross out some cat parents, they aren't fun for your cat either. Hair in the digestive tract can cause all kinds of problems and even bowel obstructions in extreme cases.
It's better to give them some extra time with the brush than to have to deal with that!
Cats with long fur and especially older cats with long fur that are no longer regularly grooming will inevitably get matted areas if not brushed regularly.
If your fur baby has matted fur, you'll need a de-matting brush and a lot of care. If your kitty is excessively matted or hates to be brushed, you’ll likely need to visit your vet or a groomer for some professional help.
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 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 40K followers (@furrytoebeans) and counting :-).
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This article provides an in-depth explanation of the shedding patterns in cats. Cats shed all the time, but they have specific shedding seasons that are influenced by the length of daylight hours and the temperature. Cats have a photoperiodic response, meaning they shed more in the summer when there is more sunlight, and grow a thicker winter coat when there is less sunlight. The transitional periods between winter and summer and summer and winter are when cats tend to shed the most. There are also other factors that can cause excessive shedding in cats, such as hormonal imbalances, stress, and poor nutrition. The article provides tips on how to manage shedding in cats, including identifying the causes of excess shedding, brushing your cat’s hair, watching for hairballs, checking for matted fur, and giving your cat a bath. Overall, it is important to pay attention to your cat’s shedding patterns and address any excessive shedding to ensure their health and well-being.