Anybody who shares their home with cats is accustomed to clothing that is decorated with cat hair. In fact, cat lovers have affectionately coined the term ‘kitty glitter‘. Cat fur is shed continually throughout the year, however, cats will experience heavy shedding in spring as the cat loses their winter coat and in autumn (fall) goes through a second shed to make way for the winter coat.
Scientists have found that the growth of the winter coat is triggered by shortening daylight hours (photoperiod), and not a drop in temperature. Cats who live in the Southern Hemisphere experience longer winter hours than their Northern Hemisphere counterparts, and produce less melatonin, which results in coats more suited to their climate. They will still develop a winter coat, but it won’t be as thick as cats who live in the Northern Hemisphere.
Why do cats shed?
Hair growth cycles through four distinct phases;
- Anagen: The active growing phase of the hair
- Catagen: This phase signals the end of the active growing phase, hair growth slows down
- Telogen: The resting phase of the hair cycle and is neither growing or being shed
- Exogen: Release of the hair from the hair follicle (shedding)
Each phase lasts a different length of time and every hair is in a different stage. The majority of hairs are in the active anagen growth phase (in humans ~90% of follicles are in the anagen phase, 1% in the catagen phase and 9% in the telogen phase). At the end of the telogen phase, anchors that hold the hair in place become, and the hair falls out. Cats have between 60,000 and 120,000 hairs per square inch (2.5 cm), which is continually in a growth cycle, that’s a lot of hair shed into the environment on any given day. There is no data on how much hair cats lose per day, but humans lose between 50 – 100 hairs daily.
Longhaired cats don’t shed more than shorthaired cats. It may feel like there is more hair in the environment because its length makes it more visible.
When is shedding not normal?
Hair shedding is normal and is part of the hair renewal cycle. Hair loss is defined as abnormal hair loss and there is a number of possible causes including stress, parasites (fleas, mites), pyoderma (skin infection), fungal infections (ringworm, Malassezia), hyperadrenocorticism, hyperthyroidism and allergies (contact, food, inhalant). If you have noticed areas of hair loss or an excessive amount of hair in the home, it is important to see a veterinarian to determine if there is an underlying cause.
What can be done about shedding?
It is not possible to stop a cat from shedding, but there are ways to reduce its impact.
Daily brushing can greatly reduce the amount of hair in the home by removing loose hair from the coat. There is a huge range of grooming tools available including brushes, combs and grooming gloves. A pet groomer is will be able to recommend products to help remove loose hairs from the coat.
Despite their reputation for being standoffish, cats are sensitive animals and stress can manifest in a number of ways including hair loss due to abnormally pushing the hair follicles into the resting phase or overgrooming which can act as a self-soothing technique for some cats. Stress can occur for a number of reasons including inter-cat or territorial issues between cats, changes in routine, a new member in the home (baby, partner, pet), or even sickness.
- Maintain a routine
- Multi-cat households should ensure each cat has access to his or her own resources (food bowls, litter trays, beds)
- Schedule daily play therapy
- Provide a stimulating environment with cat trees, and interactive cat toys
- In some cases, it may be necessary to prescribe medications to reduce stress
A complete and balanced diet is essential for a healthy body, skin and coat. Look for brands fortified with omega 3 and 6 fatty acids. A 2018 study found fermented fish oil which contained both DHA and EPA helped stimulate follicle growth in rats which may help to reduce shedding. Always speak to your cat’s veterinarian before introducing nutraceuticals to a cat’s diet.
A quick vacuum daily can reduce the amount of cat hair in the home and on your clothes. Sweep hardwood floors with a microfibre sweeper which uses static to pick up cat hair.
If your cat sleeps on the sofa, buy blankets or sofa protectors. These won’t reduce hair but can be easily removed and washed regularly.
What about hairless cats?
There is no such breed as a truly hairless cat. The Sphynx, Elf, Don Sphynx and Peterbald all have a small amount of fuzzy hair, but it is considerably less than shorthaired and longhaired cats. The skin still produces sebum, which would normally coat the hair to form a protective coating. As ‘hairless cats’ only have a small amount of peachy fuzz, sebum can build up on the skin, necessitating a regular bath.
The shorthaired Devon Rex and Cornish Rex are frequently touted as hypoallergenic, however, no cat is truly hypoallergenic. The ultra-short rex coat is less obtrusive than other cats, but potential pet owners must be made aware that Rex cats still shed.
Things to avoid
Do not shave a cat
This is extremely stressful to cats, is potentially dangerous to the person shaving (unless they’re a trained groomer), and the fur acts as a barrier to the outside world. The only reason a cat should ever be shaved is to remove mats that cannot be brushed out.
Do not bathe the cat
It’s well-known that most (there are exceptions) cats dislike water. As with shaving, bathing is stressful for cats. The addition of soaps or shampoos dries out the skin and the added stress of a bath is likely to cause more shedding, not less.
Cat hair is normal, and part and parcel of sharing our homes with cats. There are ways to reduce it, but not eliminate it. On top of the advice above, I also recommend a good lint roller to remove hair from clothing.
If you are worried your cat is losing too much hair, speak to a veterinarian.