When Fur Flies

Making sure your cat’s shedding is not a health concern.


Cats in the wild do a lot of shedding all year round but with seasonal peaks — once during warmer weather and once when it’s cold. Indoor house cats shed year-round, too, but not necessarily more during the peaks — they don’t have all that direct exposure to the sun and changes in temperature, daylight, and humidity that would affect hair loss. Even if your cat does shed a little more at certain times of the year, it will probably seem like the same amount she loses all the time. In fact, if you do notice a significant increase in your pet’s shedding with concomitant hair thinning on her body, something may be wrong. Here’s what to consider.

Emotional stress. Could something be going on in your cat’s life that’s making her feel unnerved? Have you moved the furniture around, or are more people coming and going lately? Did you get a second pet, or is there construction going on right next door? Such changes could potentially make more hair fall out than usual because the stress might lead your cat to overgroom. Overgrooming can have different causes besides emotional stress, such as pain or itching. But stress should definitely be considered, especially if there are no sores or other signs of illness.

Hormonal fluctuations. The hormonal fluctuations that come with pregnancy may cause your cat to shed more; however, that’s not a sign that something is wrong (unless you don’t want kittens). But if your pet’s coat is looking unkempt, matted, or greasy and perhaps more sparse, she might be suffering from a hormonal disorder such as thyroid or Cushing’s disease, says Tufts veterinary dermatologist Ramón Almela, DVM. For instance, it could be hyperthyroidism — too much secretion of thyroid hormone that results in excess activity and meowing. And it could also be hypothyroidism, too little secretion of thyroid hormone that could make a cat lethargic and apt to gain weight. Cushing’s disease, which comes with a persistent elevated level of the hormone cortisol, can change the quality of hair and/or make less hair grow even though shedding remains the same. Whatever the cause, it is critical that you get your cat to the veterinarian for proper diagnosis and treatment. Unchecked hormonal diseases can cause serious heart problems and other issues that could eventually prove fatal.

Allergy. If your cat has been losing fur because she has been scratching a good deal and forming scabs, she may be having an allergic reaction to fleas (they can even make their way into homes that are kept clean, and are the most common feline allergen) or to food, pollen, or dust mites. Thinning fur without the scratching could be an indication of an allergy, too, Dr. Almela says. Your veterinarian can diagnose and then manage the allergy. If the culprit is a pest such as fleas or mites, treatment will usually include prescribing a medication that will kill the parasites. You will also need to make sure all areas where your pet likes to spend time are vacuumed, and washable items like slipcovers and sheets are laundered in hot water to keep the pests at bay. Other household pets will have to be on flea (and tick) medication, too, the doctor points out.

Poor nutrition. A dull and thinning coat could be a sign that your cat is not getting all the vitamins and minerals she needs. If you are feeding your pet a homemade or raw diet, speak to your veterinarian about what might be missing or out of balance. Such diets for cats can be very, very tricky to prepare.

A Little Grooming Can Make a Big Difference

Brushing time can be quality time for you and your pet, reducing stress levels (hers and yours) while removing loosened hair onto bristles instead of letting them fall willy nilly onto your couch and clothing. Giving your cat a bath once in a while — even with dry shampoo — is a good idea, too. There are guidelines for bathing your cat so it won’t be traumatic for her, which we will address in an upcoming issue.


  1. my cat is 16 years old and has been to the vet/tested three or more times this year!! no thyroid disorders!! i do not know what is wrong with him… all tests results were negative?


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here