Why do cats moult?
All cats moult and it’s perfectly normal for them to do so.
Have you ever noticed that, if your cat sits in your lap to be stroked, they leave behind a haze of shed hairs when they get up again? Or that you can tell where your cat likes to spend the day snoozing, because there’s often a little indentation on your duvet, lined with a shadow of dropped fur?
Why do cats shed?
All cats moult and it’s perfectly normal for them to do so.
Some cats have a double coat, which means that they have a soft undercoat of hair to insulate them, and longer hairs, known as guard hairs or a topcoat, that provide physical protection from the environment.
The undercoat has a relatively short lifecycle and is normally shed more noticeably during the spring and autumn, when changes in daylight hours trigger a chain of hormonal messages to the hair follicles. The topcoat has a much longer lifecycle and tends to be shed much more lightly all year round. Indoor cats often shed hair all year as they aren’t exposed to the effects of changes in natural daylight.
How to manage shedding in cats
Although you can’t prevent your cat from shedding, there are things you can do to minimize it and to help keep your cat’s coat in top condition at the same time.
The most effective way to reduce shedding in cats is to groom them as often as possible. Grooming your cat is a great opportunity to check them over for parasites, wounds or skin problems and it’s a chance to share some bonding time if you’ve been patient and have helped your cat to find grooming enjoyable. Teaching your cat to be comfortable with grooming while they’re a kitten is the ideal way to start, but if you’ve adopted an older cat, you can still teach them all about being groomed, using the same principles. Always keep grooming sessions short and stop before your cat tells you they’ve had enough.
Mats occur when hairs are moulted but become trapped within the coat. Even a shorthaired cat can develop mats. This is most likely to happen if they’re shedding a lot of hair, if their coat is dirty, or if they are unable to groom themselves effectively, which happens frequently in older cats when their back has become stiff. Longhaired cats need to be groomed daily as they’re very susceptible to developing matted coats and getting debris caught in their hair.
If you find a mat, never try to cut it with scissors or pull at it to remove it, as this will put your cat off being groomed. Instead, try to tease it out using your fingers or a comb. Cutting mats out using scissors is risky as the skin will tent up if hairs are being pulled, and it’s easy to cut your cat’s skin accidentally. Your vet team or groomer will be happy to remove mats from your cat’s coat if you’re finding this tricky.
Grooming brushes and equipment specially made for cats are available and some tools are better suited to certain coat types. A de-shedding tool can be a useful addition to your cat’s grooming kit, as these gently remove loose hairs before they fall out.
Your cat’s nutrition and general health affect moulting. From time to time, it’s good to have a review of your cat’s diet, as nutritional requirements vary during a cat’s life and a good diet promotes a healthy coat and skin. Your cat’s annual health check with their vet is a great opportunity to make sure they are in the best condition to be able to groom themselves properly but do keep an eye on them throughout the year, to make sure they are grooming effectively.
Cats who have pain and stiffness, especially in their spine, find it difficult to groom themselves and these cats often get mats around their back and tail base. If a cat has a sore mouth or dental disease, grooming can also be painful. Sometimes, a lack of self-grooming can be a clue that your cat has a medical condition. For instance, cats who have hyperthyroid disease (an over-active thyroid gland) can’t settle and feel too agitated to groom themselves and their clumpy coats and matted hair can be a clue that it’s time to ask your vet to take a look at them.
Why is my cat moulting so much?
There are a few reasons that your cat might be moulting more than usual...
Stress can cause excessive shedding in cats. You might have noticed that when you take them to see their vet, there are often clouds of hair on the table in the consulting room as your cat walks around on it, especially if they’re being fussed or handled. This is a normal reaction to short-term stress and isn’t anything to worry about. However, chronic stress can cause your cat to lose their coat and it can also lead to overgrooming. This is where a cat spends much more time than usual grooming themselves, leading to patches of thin or missing hair. If your cat develops areas that look as though some or all of the hair is missing, it’s time to make an appointment with your vet, as stress could be only one possible underlying reason of several that need to be identified and managed.
If your cat’s diet isn’t optimal for their life stage and lifestyle, changes to their coat could be one of the first things you notice. Always choose the best-quality diet you can afford and if you need advice about this, your vet team will be happy to help!
Sometimes, skin conditions can lead to excessive moulting in cats. When your cat is settled, have a good look at their skin and coat. Can you see any skin flakes, parasites or redness? How does the coat feel? It should be shiny and glossy when you stroke it. If it feels harsh, tacky or sticky, it may be a sign something isn’t quite right. If you spot bare patches (alopecia), or thinning hair (hypotrichosis) it’s time to ask your vet to take a look, because this could suggest that missing hairs are not being replaced normally. Bacterial infections and some external parasites may lead to excessive hair loss because they can damage the skin and its structures.
Sometimes, alopecia is caused by hair falling out, but hairs can also break off if your cat has been overgrooming or if they’ve caught a fungal infection called ringworm (dermatophytosis). Ringworm is an important zoonotic disease, meaning it can be passed between people and animals and requires veterinary attention.
Medical conditions that you might not naturally associate with the skin or coat can also lead to excessive moulting, either because they are causing general unwellness and physiological stress, or affecting the hair lifecycle (in the case of some hormonal disturbances), or because they’re leading to overgrooming. For instance, excessive shedding from the tummy can be associated with pain in the urinary tract, which makes the cat want to lick at the closest area they can get to their sore bladder; while shedding from along the back, sides or tail base could be associated with an allergy to fleas.
If your cat is moulting more than usual and you’re concerned, or if you’ve seen anything that makes you suspicious there could be a problem with their coat or skin, reach out to your vet, who will be able to investigate or put your mind at ease.
Can I clip my cat to reduce shedding?
Although it might seem like a good idea when your cat is shedding a lot, clipping cats is only recommended if cats have severe mats that can’t be removed by grooming. Vets will normally try grooming under sedation before they resort to clipping. This is because clipping removes hair indiscriminately, and the slow-shedding topcoat, or guard hairs, as well as the woolly undercoat (in double-coated cats) is cut off.
The undercoat will still need to be shed, but the lost hairs will be very short and will soon be replaced. Meanwhile, the topcoat, which is shed and replaced very gradually, may not grow back for many months. This leaves the cat unprotected from the harmful effects of the sun and from environmental hazards, such as scratches from the environment and from other cats.
The undercoat, while it can be annoying when it’s being shed, is an important layer of insulation for your cat and helps to keep them cool as well as warm, so it’s much better for your cat if you allow the hair to be lost over the course of a few weeks, by grooming, rather than in one go.
If you’re struggling with matted hair because your cat is difficult to groom, consider doing some more training with your cat to help them to become more comfortable with being groomed. Or ask your vet team for some help with getting the coat to a manageable state, so that it’s easier for you to carry on with on a regular basis. Never try to cut matted fur with scissors.