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Cats are well known for shedding and that’s no surprise to any cat owners. But why cats shed is a little more of a complicated question.
So why do cats shed so much? Just like with humans, shedding is a normal process that happens every day. But cats can shed even more as a result of season changes (even indoor cats), diet, stress, or even because of a medical condition.
Let’s dive a little deeper into what causes feline shedding and what you can do to prevent your cat from shedding so much!
Is Shedding Normal For Cats?
Shedding is completely normal not only for cats but for a lot of other species…including humans! Shedding old hair allows space for new growth and while different cats will have different shedding patterns, most cats shed (at least a little) all year round.
Reasons Why Cats Shed
Even though shedding is a normal process for all cats, there’s a long list of reasons why cats might shed a bit more than usual. We’ve 6 of the most common reasons listed below.
Seasonality is a big reason for increased shedding. While the change is a bit more dramatic in cats with access to the outdoors, many indoor cats will experience these changes too. That’s because a change in seasons does more than just change the temperature outside, it also changes the length of the day which your cat’s hardwired biological systems will certainly notice! Especially if they’re committed sunbathers like my cat.
There are typically two seasonal sheds for cats. First, in the spring they shed off their heavy winter coat including something called an undercoat. An undercoat is a fine layer of soft hair that provides an additional layer of insulation. You could think of the top layer of your cat’s winter coat as a kind of nylon windbreaker. It’s there to protect your cat from wind and snow while the undercoat provides a higher level of insulation.
But come spring, that undercoat (and a lot of other hair) has got to go!
The second great shed usually comes in the fall in order to make room for your cat’s winter coat.
Even though your cat can identify the seasons by more than just the temperature, indoor cats that are exposed to constant temperature control may not experience the same kind of shedding cycle or at least not to the same degree. There’s also often a big difference between short hair and long hair cats with long hair cats showing more significant seasonal changes.
Brushing will also help with managing shedding, even season shedding but you could also consider having your cat shaved during the fall and spring in order to get ahead of the big shed.
If your cat isn’t getting a healthy, balanced diet it could increase the overall amount that your cat sheds. As Dr. Coates of PetMD points out, “There’s no way to stop the natural shedding process of course, but changing a cat’s diet can go a long way towards reducing the amount of hair that ends up on your couch, in your bed, on your floor [or] in your food.”
The best diets for shedding are typically high in protein and high in fat (especially omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids). Dr. Coates recommends that you “Look for a food that contains at least 45% protein on a dry matter basis” and total fat content “between 25-35% on a dry matter basis” in order to manage shedding.
You could also consider supplementing with fish oil which can help improve the overall quality of your cat’s coat (and even prevent some hairballs). If you’re interested in adding fish oil to your cat’s diet (with your veterinarian’s approval, of course) I recommend Nordic Natural which you can find on Amazon.
But if you’d like to make a bigger change to your cat’s diet in order to get a handle on shedding, check out my complete guide on the best cat food for shedding.
Stress and Nervousness
Cats shed more when they’re stressed. Consider the last time your cat went to the veterinarian. There’s a good chance the exam table was covered in freshly shed hairs.
VetStreet.com actually gives a very detailed explanation of why this happens and I’ll let them explain:
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.
So how does the shedding actually happen? We think that the tiny arrector pili muscles — which are attached to hair follicles — are activated when a cat is stressed. When they contract, it causes the hair to stand on end. The telogen hairs, which are primed to be shed anyway, are released in the process.
But your cat doesn’t have to go to the veterinarian for this happen. Having a new guest over, a visiting dog or a big moves are all big changes for your cat and different cats will have different tolerances for stress.
Feline obesity is often not taken as seriously as it should be. Fat cats are thought of as cute and silly but according to the Cornell Feline Health Center feline obesity is “the most frequently observed nutritional disorder among domestic cats. Its clinical signs are clearly apparent and, when observed, should be taken seriously and addressed without delay.”
While this seems like common sense, one study found that 60% of cats in the US are obese, and not only is this unhealthy it can also increase how much your cat sheds.
Because obese cats can’t as easily groom themselves. When your cat grooms themselves, they remove dead hair from all around and keep their coat looking healthy. While that hair might come out a hairball, much of it gets digested and comes in your cat’s stool.
But when cats are obese, they have a harder time reaching all areas of their body. Sadly, I saw this many times when I worked in a shelter. Obese cats would come in with a distinct patch of dry and irritated fur towards the base of their tail, a spot they simply couldn’t reach. This dry and brittle hair also fell out easily.
So not only is a fat cat less healthy, but they’re also more likely to shed as grooming becomes less and less of a priority…or possibility!
Pregnancy is hard on any species but as West Vet Animal Hospital explains “pregnancy and lactation can deplete animals of the calcium and minerals they need for a healthy coat.” This nutritional depletion can lead to excessive shedding, regardless of the season.
Cat moms will also shed more around their bellies in order to make room for kittens to nurse. But if you’ve got a pregnant cat you’re about to have a much bigger shedding problem with a whole litter or amateur shedders coming into the world!
The best way to prevent pregnancy-related shedding and save feline lives in the process is to spay your cat. You can usually get your cat spayed for free or very close to free and PetSmart Charities has a great clinic locater to help you find a spay/neuter clinic in your area.
There are quite a few medical issues that could lead to your cat shedding more than usual. If you suspect that medical problems are at play, you should consult your veterinarian as soon as possible.
There are many conditions that could lead to increased shedding so this by no means a comprehensive list (or veterinary advice). But let’s look at a few of the possible medical issues that could lead to increased shedding.
Hyperthyroidism typically affects middle-aged or older cats and according to Cornell Veterinary one of the most common symptoms is a cat that “appear[s] unkempt, matted, or greasy.” Hyperthyroidism is a complicated (by typically treatable) condition that progressives overtime. Other symptoms include “weight loss, increased appetite, and increased thirst and urination.” As
While it might not lead to more shedding in the way we usually think of, allergies could cause your cat to pull out extra hair increase the fur they leave behind. Allergies come in many different forms and it could be anything from the chicken in your cat’s food to a strong reaction to a flea bite.
While ringworm is most kittens or young cats, felines with a weakened immune system could be susceptible as well. As Dr. Adam Peterson points out, “Clinical signs of ringworm may include excessive shedding, broken hairs, patchy or circular areas of hair loss, dander, scabs, red bumps, and occasionally deep-seated nodules.”
How Much Shedding Is Too Much For A Cat?
While having your favorite sweater completely covered in a thick layer of cat hair might seem like the clear answer to “how much shedding is too much” we’re not talking about that!
If cats shed year-round and some seasonal big sheds are normal, how do we know how much shedding is too much? Dr. Jennifer Lavallee, a feline specialist in Colorado, gives the simplest rule of thumb by explaining “If the hair coat became thin, that would be too much shedding, but this is quite rare.”
Still, different cats will shed different amounts and if you’re worried about excessive shedding it’s always a good idea to consult your veterinarian.
Frequently Asked Questions
Wondering why your cat sheds so much is usually just the tip of the iceberg! There’s a lot of questions about shedding and we’ve done the research to get you the answer!
How much hair does a cat shed in a day?
Unfortunately, this question is impossible to answer simply because there are too many variables at play. The biggest variable is seasonality as even indoor cats shed in cycles throughout the year but diet, age, and grooming habits are all also important factors.
What months do cats shed the most?
While the exact months will vary by your locations, cats shed the most in the spring and the fall. In the spring, they’re removing their winter coat to get ready for the warmer summer, and in fall they’re making room for their upcoming winter coat.
Why do house cats shed in the spring?
Cats will shed a bit more in the spring in order to get rid of the extra fur from their winter coat. In particular, many cats will develop an undercoat which is a fine layer of fur that provides extra insulation during the colder months.
Do all cats shed a lot?
While all cats shed, cats with short hair or very little hair will shed less. Just because there’s less hair to shed! Cats like the very short-haired Devox Rex or the completely hairless Sphynx cat are great options if you’re looking for cats that don’t shed much.
Now you know why your cat is shedding so much…but what to do about it?
Check out this related article on 8 proven methods for reducing how much your cat sheds!
See you there!