Why Cats Shed & What You Can Do to Manage the Mess
Shedding is a normal, natural event in a cat's life—irrespective of hair length—because the feline fur growth cycle allows each hair to grow, rest, die, and then fall out. And yes, there is cat shedding season.
"Cats who have access to the outdoors typically shed twice a year: in spring to lose the heavy winter undercoat and in fall to prepare for the 'grow-in' of the next winter's undercoat," says Lynn Paolillo, certified feline master groomer and certifier with the National Cat Groomers Institute.
Cat shedding is largely influenced by the number of hours a cat is exposed to sunlight in a day, also known as a photo period. Felines who live indoors, especially when they're in homes with both heat and air-conditioning, can be in a constant state of shedding because their biological system becomes confused by temperature controls.
Cats are efficient self-groomers, but they need human help removing loose fur—the more the better. When cats groom themselves, they ingest loose hairs, which causes hairballs. These, in turn, can lead to a dangerous intestinal blockage. In addition, excess dead hair forms knotted clumps and huge mats.
"The rule is that the more hair a cat has, the more often maintenance is required," Paolillo says. In addition to length, more hair also refers to density and "fluffiness," she says. "Even short-hair cats can develop hard mats that ultimately require being shaved."
Paolillo suggests several brushing sessions a week for long-hair cats and weekly grooming for short-hair cats. "For long-hair cats, maintenance is particularly important in areas that tend to mat faster, such as armpits, chest, belly, rear legs, tail, and the base of the tail leading up the back."
Choosing the Right Grooming Tools
When it comes to de-shedding tools for cats, the National Cat Groomers Institute recommends a 6- to 8-inch-long metal comb with fine to medium teeth. This comb will remove the dead coat and catch all the tangles and mats that lie hidden underneath without irritating your cat's delicate skin. A rubber curry cat shedding brush is also great for lifting loose hair. And, like dogs, most felines enjoy the massage the brush offers.
"We don't recommend using a metal de-shedding tool or rake," Paolillo says. "They can damage hair, which makes mats form faster. They can also damage delicate skin."
Marty Becker, DVM, recommends using a grooming glove for shorthaired cats. The grooming will attract "a large amount" of hair that would otherwise be shed, he writes.
It's a myth that longhaired cats shed more than their shorthaired relatives, Becker says. You just see more of their hair on your floor and furniture. You'll see less of it, however, if you brush or comb your cat, no matter its hair length, daily, he says.
When Shedding Isn't Normal
If your cat suddenly begins shedding a lot, it could be an indication of a health problem and necessitate a trip to the vet, the American Society for the Protection of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) says.
The ASPCA says a variety of factors can cause cat's hair loss, including allergies, ringworm, fleas, a poor diet, stress, pregnancy, or sunburn. If your cat is shedding fur in clumps or scratches or bites it skin, you definitely need to go see the vet.
If the vet decides there's no underlying cause to your cat's frequent shedding, there are still some things you can do. Feed her a healthy diet and keep a close eye on on her skin and coat while grooming, the ASPCA writes. That way you can spot any irritation or fleas, ticks, or other parasites.
Be sure to keep up with the regular grooming, too. That will prevent your cat's hair from matting, which can hurt and cause skin problems.
Dietary Ways to Reduce Cat Shedding
Writing on PetMD, Jennifer Coates, DVM, says cat owners can engineer a diet that could reduce shedding that's not caused by some other underlying health problem. The two main components: protein and fat.
Because cats are carnivores and need more protein that lots of other animals, parents should find a food containing at least 45 percent protein "on a dry matter basis," she says. It should be animal-based protein, too. Without the protein, a cat's hair, which is made of a protein, and coat can suffer.
The write combination of fatty acids can help foster a healthy coat, too, Coates writes. Look for cat food labels that list omega-3 and omega-6 acids or cold water fish oils. The total fat content should fall between 25–35 percent, again on a dry matter basis. Coates recommends staying on the low end of that range if weight gain is a concern.
Lauren Brickman, another veterinarian, writes that you can add a fatty acid supplement to your cat's food, but "unfortunately there is no real magic to control shedding."
A version of this article first appeared in Happy Paws Spring/Summer 2020.