Just in time for National Hair Ball Awareness Day, our vet, Dr. Richard Goldstein addresses why some cats shed more than others and what to do about the dreaded ick factor of hair ball hack attacks.
Shedding the undercoat is a normal part of the hair cycle of the cat, and is a way for cats to rid their coats of dead hairs. Usually, cats will groom themselves enough to keep up with the loose hairs. But, if the amount of shedding exceeds the cat’s grooming behavior, you might find yourself with an extra carpet or two on your floor.
The amount of shedding can be affected by many factors:
stress (a big one!)
the weather (seasonal changes can affect hair growth) especially in spring.
allergies, poor nutrition
skin diseases especially ringworm, skin mites, fleas, infection
specific breeds shed more i.e. Persians, Himalayans,
internal medical conditions i.e. Irritable bowel disorder
It’s also important to distinguish between shedding, which involves losing the undercoat, and hair loss (alopecia), which involves shedding the primary coat. If you tug gently on the hair, and leave a bald spot (or if you see bald spots), that means there is hair loss, and a visit to the vet is in order.
Nutrition plays an important role in skin and hair health. Even though two cats are eating the same food, their bodies can react differently. Consider two individual people eating lots of pizza: one may stay skinny as a rail, the other may gain lots of weight. Foods affect individuals individually.
Here are a few suggestions for dealing with shedding:
- If the shedding is excessive, or there is hair loss, have your vet examine your kitty to make sure one of those medical conditions is not the source.
- Consider a diet with a higher nutritional value.
- If you are in a flea-endemic area, make sure you’re using a flea preventative.
- In some cats, omega fatty acid vitamin supplements can help keep the skin and coat in good shape so that there is less shedding.
- Long-haired cat breeds like Persians and Himalayans require regular grooming, ideally professionally. Breeds known to shed less include Siamese, Sphynx and the Rex.
- Some cats will allow you to assist them by brushing or combing out the undercoat. Some people (and cats) like gadgets such as The Furminator. Others like gentle curry combs, that look like oven mitts. There are also gentle brushes that you can stick to the wall that your cat can rub up against to brush himself! Most cats don’t like wire brushes. Some cats just hate being brushed. Sometimes you can trick those stubborn kitties with a soft brush that you can use for short periods while petting them. Give a treat after as a reward. Brush as often as you need to, and as often as he’ll let you, especially if your cat is prone to mats.
And, of course, with excessive shedding and grooming can come excessive hairballs. So, keep a good hairball remedy close by. It’s much nicer to remove the excess hair ahead of time than to wake up in the middle of the night and step in a hairball.
Editor’s note: We have used a Furminator with excellent results but also like using a flea comb to keep on top flea or tick issues.
Petromalt is a popular hairball/constipation remedy but it’s a petroleum by-product. There is a “natural” version with hydrogenated oils which isn’t much healthier. I consider it the fast food of over-the-counter remedies: tasty but not to be used often. We’re doing a combo diet of grain-free with raw with essential fatty acids found in fish oil and don’t usually have many hairballs. Our nightly grooming sessions are our cats’ treat of the day. And they get a treat after too!