It’s on your floors, your clothes, your furniture, your hands and in every nook and cranny… cat hair, not to mention hairballs! Picking up pet hair is annoying year-round, but especially in the spring and fall, when hair loss intensifies during seasonal shedding.
In this article, we’ll tell you all you need to know about your feline companion's fur and how, why and when cats shed. We’ll also give you pro tips for optimal hair care and ways to reduce seasonal shedding frustrations, in addition to making your cat's coat shinier and more healthy-looking than ever!
Why is my cat losing hair?
Your cat’s hair grows, falls out and grows back throughout the year, but the hair loss intensifies when the seasons change. This is called seasonal shedding. It's a perfectly natural—and unfortunately unavoidable—phenomenon.
The good news is that there are a few ways to reduce the amount of hair your cat loses, which we will get to later on. But first, let's take a closer look at the nature of cat hair and what spring and fall shedding involves.
The basics: the structure and functions of a cat’s fur
The functions of a cat's fur
Your cat's fur, or “coat,” contributes to their health and well-being in several ways, all equally important:
- It regulates body temperature.
- It provides physical protection from UV rays, humidity and bad weather.
- It helps the cat communicate non-verbally. For example, raising its hackles—the hair on its back and neck—to express dominance.
- It acts as camouflage in wild cat species.
Your companion's coat also reflects their state of health. A dense, shiny coat is a sign of good health.
The hair life
The hair life cycle differs according to breed and fur type. Hairs are renewed in a cycle that lasts from 21 days to several months and involves three stages:
- Anagen: hair growth stage, mainly determined by genetics;
- Catagen: growth arrest stage, lasts several weeks or months;
- Telogen: deterioration stage (hair dies and falls out), associated with shedding.
The anatomy of a cat's coat
Cat hair is not uniform like human hair. Cats are covered in different types of hair, which often coexist:
- The main hair, also called "primary hair " or "guard hair " is rigid, straight and coloured. It is abundant on the upper parts of the body. This hair provides physical protection.
- The secondary hair, also called the “undercoat,” is finer and slightly wavy. It also plays a protective role.
- Down or underfur: short, soft, very fine, very dense hair. It provides thermal insulation.
- Vibrissae (whiskers): These are your cat's sensory organs. They are found on the lips, cheeks, above the eyes and behind the front legs.
Did you know?
The different looks of a cat's coat (solid, striped, tortoiseshell, etc.) are called “patterns.” The combination of different colours and patterns make up all the possible fur variations.
What is shedding in cats?
The Cambridge Dictionary defines shedding as: "the process of losing a covering, such as leaves, hair, or skin, because it falls off naturally.”
Mammals shed hair while birds shed their feathers (in a process called moulting) and snakes shed their skin, for example. To better understand the phenomenon in other domestic animals, see our articles on dog shedding and bird moulting.
Cats lose their hair year-round. It is called shedding when this hair loss increases, usually twice a year, in spring and fall. The shorter days or nights give the body the signal that it is time to prepare the animal’s coat for the next season's weather conditions.
In spring, cats with an undercoat will often lose a considerable amount of hair as they shed their winter coat. After, their coat is lighter, more aerated and not as warm, to keep them cool in warmer weather. In the fall, they grow a longer, denser, more insulating coat in preparation for winter.
Factors that affect shedding in cats
In addition to the photoperiod we just mentioned (length of days and nights), several factors can trigger or affect shedding:
- Weather conditions, including temperature;
- Sunshine and exposure to natural light;
- Whether the animal spends most of its time indoors or outdoors;
- Their state of health;
- The food they eat;
- Their hormonal cycle (reproduction, gestation, lactation);
- Endocrine disorders;
- Even age and sex.
The cat's living environment also plays a role. A cat that lives indoors, in a heated space with artificial lighting, will shed year-round, but less noticeably. A cat that spends a great deal of time outdoors will shed more when the seasons change.
Finally, there are more than 70 cat breeds of all body types, sizes, and fur types. How, when and how much they will shed depends on all of these factors. For example, cats from more northern regions, such as the Bobtail, Norwegian Forest cat and Siberian cat will lose much more hair than short-haired cats, like the Siamese, Singapura and Burmese.
Hairball issues in cats
Cats spend hours grooming themselves each day, licking their fur to clean it and smooth it down. During shedding periods, they swallow more hair than usual. Hairballs can form in the digestive system and cause significant discomfort.
Hairballs are difficult to evacuate, and can cause vomiting, constipation or decreased appetite. Fortunately, this can be prevented or alleviated with the right care and products. For more information on this topic, read our article on hairballs.
Now let's look at what you can do to reduce hair loss and hairball problems in cats. These tips can be applied year-round, but are especially helpful during seasonal shedding.
So how do I keep my house from being covered in cat hair?
As we've explained, shedding is a natural, normal, cyclical, and therefore unavoidable, phenomenon. However, there are several ways to considerably reduce the inconveniences.
And why not seize the opportunity to make your animal companion even more radiantly healthy, with a soft, strong, shiny coat?
Should I shave my cat?
We get it. You're sick and tired of endlessly picking up cat hair. And you think, “If I shave my cat, that will solve the problem.” It sounds like a great idea.
We strongly advise you NOT to do this.
Cats need their fur to regulate their body temperature. Deprived of their coat, they will be without protection from the cold, heat, UV rays, bad weather and humidity. This makes them more vulnerable and can weaken their immune system, which is very harmful to their overall health, especially if their body is already fighting a virus, a disease or a tumour.
And worst of all (for you), the body will respond to this shock to the system by growing twice as much undercoat, doubling your problem next shedding season. With repeated shavings, the problem grows exponentially! Try the following tips instead. You and your cat will be much better off!
Tip 1: Combing and brushing
The texture and length of your cat's hair will determine the maintenance and tools required. You wouldn't groom a Himalayan the same way you would a Bengal, for example.
Brush or comb your cat once or twice a day, if possible. Make it an enjoyable moment the two of you share. This way, you’ll be regularly dislodging and removing dead hair, preventing knots and mats from forming.
Always brush in the direction the hair grows, to keep it from getting tangled. Be gentle. Your cat's skin is very sensitive. Give your cat a gentle massage to get their blood circulating. They will love it and it will also keep parasites from getting a foothold.
There are several types of brushes and combs available according to your cat's breed and hair type. A currycomb (a comb with rows of metal teeth) generally does a good job of penetrating to the down layer. For Angora cats, a straight metal comb can be more convenient.
Make sure the brush is suitable for your cat's size and hair length. Some brushes should be avoided (bristles that are too long or too thin), as they make removing the dead hair more difficult and can make brushing painful.
The FURminator deShedding Tool is designed specifically for shedding. It is very effective at penetrating deep down and removing large amounts of hair. However, this stainless-steel comb with its tight row of teeth can irritate the skin, and should not be used more than once a week.
Did you know?
The colours and patterns on your cat's coat are also replicated on their skin.
Tip 2: Shampooing
To accentuate the results of the brushing, you can use a cat shampoo two to four times a year. You can also wash your cat as needed, when they’ve rolled in the dirt or something worse, but not more than once a week.
Cat hair detangling sprays exist. They are very convenient if you have a long-haired breed. Caution: Never use cleansing products made for humans on your cat. Even baby shampoo can irritate your cat's skin and increase their hair loss.
If washing your cat, make sure the water is not too hot (no more than 34 °C). Rinse your cat thoroughly and dry them away from air drafts, to keep them from catching cold. Since many cats have a natural aversion to water, it's a good idea to get your cat used to being washed from a young age.
Tip 3: Grooming
A good groomer will use specific methods during the shedding period and can advise you on the best approach for your cat's breed. Groomers work the hair deep-down, using professional-grade products, tools and accessories, such as a high-speed hair dryer. A trip to the groomer at each change of season can greatly reduce your hair problems at home and help relieve your companion of any discomfort for the season.
Tip 4: Diet
Growing new hair uses up more of your cat's inner resources than usual. This is why it's important to pay attention to their nutrition, and give them quality food rich in all the nutrients their metabolism requires. Also, a diet rich in fibre promotes intestinal transit and makes it easier for your cat to evacuate hairballs.
Intense shedding can be the sign of an inadequate diet. The more complete your cat's food is, the less hair they’ll lose and the shinier and more beautiful their new coat will be. Serve foods rich in good (polyunsaturated) fatty acids, protein, omega-3 and vitamins.
Tip 5: Supplements
If you're not sure whether your cat is getting a sufficient quantity of all the essential nutrients, you can add nutrient-rich feline-specific supplements to their food. They also have the added benefit of promoting healthy skin and a shiny coat.
Prebiotics and probiotics for cats are also helpful, as they will reinforce your furry companion's intestinal flora, stimulate the natural digestive enzymes and optimize nutrient absorption, in addition to strengthening their immune system.
Hairball treatments facilitate digestion and the natural evacuation of ingested hair. Avoid treatments that contain petroleum by-products. Made with cold-pressed linseed oil, our hairball treatment also promotes healthy skin and a shiny, silky coat.
These supplements are beneficial during shedding, but can be given year-round as prevention and to maintain good health.
Cat shedding tips to remember
Your loyal companion's coat reflects their health and requires regular care. A healthy diet, supplemented as needed, plays a key role in ensuring a smooth shedding process.
If you apply our five tips, your pet will feel more comfortable and you'll feel less like tearing your own hair out. Take advantage of the seasonal shedding periods to pamper your beloved pet while making your life easier.