Is your cat leaving tufts of fur all over your home? Are you finding cat hair woven into your clothes and furniture? Excessive shedding in cats can quickly become a nuisance. But it’s also a sign that something may be wrong with your feline friend.
In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore the common causes of increased shedding in cats. You’ll discover tips to reduce excessive cat hair loss and keep your home and clothes fur-free.
Understanding the Cat Shedding Cycle
Before diving into reasons for excessive shedding, it’s important to understand the natural shedding cycle for cats.
The Normal Cat Shedding Timeline
- Kittens – Kittens up to a year old shed very little. Their new, healthy fur is less prone to shedding.
- 1-2 years – Shedding increases slightly as cats mature. But hair loss is still minimal overall.
- 3-6 years – Middle age cats maintain a healthy coat with moderate shedding year-round.
- 7+ years – Senior cats tend to shed more as skin health declines with age. Disease risk also increases.
The Seasonal Impact on Cat Shedding
Cats shed moderately throughout the year. But two annual shedding cycles can drastically increase hair loss:
- Spring – In spring, sunlight increases which triggers cats to shed their thick, heavy winter coat. Without the insulation, they can better regulate body temperature. Spring shedding is often the heaviest of the year.
- Fall – As daylight decreases in the fall, cats shed their summer coat in preparation for winter. But fall shedding is less extreme than spring.
Tip: Expect your cat to shed more during the seasonal changes in spring and fall. Increase brushing during this time to keep up with excess hair loss.
Top Causes of Excessive Shedding in Cats
While shedding ebbs and flows seasonally, excessive hair loss can signal an underlying issue. Here are the most common reasons cats shed more than normal:
As cats get older, health and skin changes cause more shedding:
- Older cats groom less often. Dead hairs build up and are shed in clumps.
- Skin and coat oil production decreases leading to dry, damaged fur.
- Conditions like arthritis make grooming difficult for senior cats.
- Age-related diseases affect skin health and hair quality.
Tip: Support aging skin with omega fatty acid supplements to minimize coat damage. Increase brushing sessions for senior cats to remove loose hairs.
Just like their humans, cats can suffer from seasonal allergies in spring and fall:
- Airborne pollen is a common allergen trigger during seasonal transitions.
- Allergies cause itchy skin, excessive grooming, and hair loss from over-scratching.
- Haircoat quality declines from the skin irritation and trauma of allergies.
- Studies show up to 10% of cats have seasonal environmental allergies.
Tip: Keep cats indoors during peak pollen times. Speak to your vet about anti-itch medication or supplements to soothe allergies.
Skin parasites like fleas or mange can plague cats leading to inflamed, irritated skin:
- Flea allergy is the most common skin disease in cats. Just one bite can trigger intense itching and scratching.
- Mange mites directly damage the skin and fur leading to bald patches and shedding.
- Ringworm fungal infection can also create localized hair loss in cats.
- Skin parasites cause cats to obsessively scratch, lick, and overgroom.
Tip: Use monthly flea and tick prevention medication. Check for parasites if your cat is scratching or losing hair in patches.
Allergies to foods or ingredients cause some cats to excessively shed:
- Common food allergens for cats include beef, dairy, chicken, fish, corn, wheat, and soy.
- Food allergies lead to skin irritation, hair loss, excessive grooming, and secondary skin infections.
- Symptoms usually start at 1-2 years old after eating the same diet long-term.
Tip: Work with your vet to pinpoint and eliminate any food allergies. Switch to a hypoallergenic diet to relieve symptoms.
Stress & Anxiety
Stress in cats can arise from changes in environment, schedule, or home life:
- introducing new pets
- moving homes
- changes in owner’s work schedule
- remodeling or house guests
- new babies or children
Tip: Try calming aids like pheromone diffusers and catnip. Keep your cat’s routine consistent to minimize stress shedding.
Skin & Coat Conditions
Skin diseases and coat disorders often lead to accelerated shedding:
- Dermatitis or skin inflammation from infection, allergies, or autoimmune disease.
- Seborrhea or oily skin with thick, yellow crusting and scaling.
- Alopecia areata, an autoimmune disease causing bald patches and hair loss.
- Endocrine disorders like hyperthyroidism or Cushing’s disease.
- Wool sucking due to stress. Cats ingest hairballs and vomit easily.
Tip: Schedule veterinary skin checks for diagnosis and treatment if your cat has ongoing skin/coat issues.
Poor diet lacking key nutrients contributes to a dull, damaged coat:
- Protein deficiency – cats need high protein diets for skin integrity and fur growth.
- Fatty acid deficiency – supports coat shine and flexibility.
- Zinc and vitamin B deficiency – leads to skin lesions, scaling, and hair loss.
- Dehydration – contributes to dry, brittle fur.
Tip: Feed a high-quality diet rich in protein and omega fatty acids. Choose wet food to increase hydration.
Pregnancy & Nursing
Shedding and hair thinning often occurs during pregnancy and nursing due to hormonal shifts:
- Estrogen peaks at the end of pregnancy increasing shedding.
- Progesterone spikes during nursing causing more hair loss.
- Nutritional needs also increase during nursing sometimes perpetuating shedding.
- Coat typically returns to normal after weaning kittens.
Tip: Feed nursing mothers a high-calorie kitten food diet to meet the demand. Brush more frequently to catch shed fur.
When cats spend too much time self-grooming, hair loss results:
- Anxiety, stress, pain, or skin irritation can trigger obsessive grooming.
- Cats ingest large amounts of fur from over-grooming and vomit hairballs.
- Damaged hairs from too much licking/scratching fall out easily.
- Bald patches or thinning hair develops over groomed areas.
Tip: Identify and address the underlying cause of excessive grooming. Use an Elizabethan collar to prevent licking and chewing.
Normal Cat Shedding by Breed
While all cats shed moderately, some breeds tend to lose substantially more hair. Heavy shedding breeds include:
- Maine Coon – This large, long-haired breed has a thick double coat that sheds heavily, especially in spring and summer. Require daily brushing and combing.
- Persian – The Persian’s long, silky coat needs daily grooming to remove loose hairs and prevent matting. Tear staining from eye discharge can stain the face.
- Ragdoll – The Ragdoll’s semi-long silky fur sheds heavily year-round. Their coat is dense during winter months.
- Siberian – This breed has a triple coat primed for cold weather. Shedding is most intense during seasonal coat changes.
- Norwegian Forest Cat – The water-resistant double coat sheds heavily in spring and summer, creating copious loose fur.
Tip: Opt for weekly professional grooming for heavy shedding breeds. Invest in a heavy-duty vacuum to manage all the fur!
Grooming Tips to Reduce Cat Shedding
While you can’t completely eliminate shedding in cats, you can reduce amount through diligent grooming.
How Often to Groom Your Cat
Grooming frequency depends on your cat’s hair length and thickness:
- Short-haired – Brush weekly.
- Medium-haired – Brush twice weekly.
- Long-haired – Brush daily. Professional grooming every 4-6 weeks removes dead undercoat.
Best Cat Brushes for Shedding
- Slicker brush – Removes tangles, loose hair. Use weekly for short/medium coats.
- Deshedding tool – Extracts loose undercoat with stainless steel edges. Use weekly to monthly.
- Comb – Detangles long hair, removes dead hair near skin. Use daily to weekly.
- Bristle brush – For short coats to distribute oils and buff hairs. Use weekly.
Tip: Always brush in direction of hair growth to avoid pulling fur. Start at head, move down body. 5-10 minutes is sufficient for most coats.
Bathing Cats to Reduce Shedding
While cats are fastidiously clean creatures, the occasional bath helps:
- Shampooing – Use a moisturizing shampoo for cats monthly. Massage skin to loosen dead hairs. Rinse thoroughly.
- Conditioner – Conditions fur and skin. Reduces friction and breakage that leads to shedding.
- Waterless shampoo – In between baths, use dry waterless shampoo to absorb oils and dander trapped next to skin.
Tip: Avoid washing too often, as this strips oils leading to increased shedding. Limit to once monthly max.
Additional Grooming Tips
- Trim mats/tangles carefully to avoid damaging skin. Don’t shave cats.
- Check for fleas, ticks during grooming. Apply preventative medication.
- Switch out wet hair-covered blankets, beds frequently.
- Vacuum twice weekly to catch loose fur on floors, furniture.
- Use lint rollers on clothing and upholstery.
- Give omega-3 & fatty acid supplements to improve skin & coat health.
When to See the Vet for Cat Shedding & Hair Loss
While some shedding is normal, excessive hair loss and bald spots could signal a medical issue requiring veterinary attention.
Schedule an appointment if your cat has:
- Sudden, excessive shedding with bald patches
- Chewing, licking, or scratching focused in one area
- Irritated, red, flaky or scabbed skin
- Hair loss associated with lethargy or appetite changes
- Age 7+ with heavy shedding and coat changes
- Shedding along with vomiting or diarrhea
- No improvement in shedding after changing food or using supplements
Diagnostic tests vets may recommend:
- Skin scrapings to check for parasitic infection
- Skin cytology to analyze cells and identify infection
- Blood work to check for hormonal or metabolic disorders
- Biopsy of affected skin for microscopic examination
- Culture to identify bacterial or fungal infection
Treatment options for pathological shedding:
- Antibiotics, antifungals, antiparasitics (oral medication or dips)
- Allergy desensitization shots
- Medicated shampoos
- Omega-3 fatty acids & vitamins
- Anti-itch medication
- Parasite prevention and treatment
- Hypoallergenic diet trial
The Takeaway: Shedding as a Health Barometer
While daily cat hair on your clothes can be annoying and unsightly, it serves an important purpose – to alert you to potential health issues. By paying attention to shedding patterns and getting veterinary help when needed, you can minimize unnecessary hair loss in your cat.
Implementing the grooming tips and your veterinarian’s treatment plan allows you to get shedding under control. With some diligence, your house and wardrobe can be fur-free and your beloved cat healthy and happy.