1‑866‑ARF‑MEOW

Why Is My Cat Shedding So Much?

Written By
9 min read

Updated - May 10th, 2022

It’s an adage that any cat owner would probably agree with: “No outfit is complete without cat hair.” Cats can shed all year long; it’s the natural way they lose dead hair.

This, of course, means that no matter how hard you try to keep up with the cat hair in your house, you’re bound to end up with a few strands on your shirt or some loose hairs under the couch. It just comes with the cat owner territory.

If, however, you’re asking – Why is my cat shedding so much? – your cat might actually be trying to tell you something. Excessive shedding, or a sudden increase in shedding, can be a sign of a health issue or signal that something else may be going on with your feline friend.

Below, we’ll walk you through some of the reasons your cat may be shedding more than usual, plus offer grooming tips for dealing with excess hair and caring for your cat’s coat.

Why do cats shed?

Cats shed to remove dead hair, as well as disperse natural oils that improve the condition of their coat and skin. Although cats can spend anywhere between 30% to 50% of their day grooming themselves, shedding helps remove any additional loose hair, thereby preventing skin irritation.

How much do cats normally shed?

All cats shed – and every cat is different – but indoor cats tend to shed all year round, whereas outdoor cats can have more pronounced shedding cycles based on their time spent outside. These heavier shedding cycles usually occur once or twice a year, typically in the spring or fall.

A cat’s breed can also play a role in defining a “normal” amount of shedding.

Some of the long-haired cat breeds, like the Maine Coon and Persian, for example, are known for shedding much more than say, the Sphinx or the Cornish Rex, which are often considered hypoallergenic cat breeds. Then some short haired cat breeds, like the Scottish Fold or American Shorthair, may have shedding levels that fall somewhere in between the two former groups.

Common causes of excessive or increased shedding

If you think your cat is shedding more than normal, don’t worry. In most cases, excessive shedding shouldn’t be the cause for serious concern – and can be easily addressed with a lifestyle change or a trip to the veterinarian.

Here are some of the common causes of shedding, hair, and skin problems in cats:

Food

If your cat has a low-quality or unbalanced diet or has a intestinal condition that causes poor absorption of nutrients, this can lead to excessive shedding, as well as cause a dull, dry fur coat.

To keep your cat’s fur and skin healthy, you should feed them a balanced diet with high-quality protein, carbohydrates, fats, minerals, and vitamins. Your cat’s food should be suited to their age (kitten, adult, senior) and any existing health conditions they may have. 

In particular, food that’s rich with omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids can help your cat’s coat stay healthy, shiny, and strong.

If your cat has problems with chronic diarrhea or vomiting that interferes with absorption of nutrients from food, this can also affect the haircoat. If this is the case, talk to your veterinarian. 

On the other hand, if your cat eats too much, and becomes overweight or obese, and therefore can no longer groom properly, skin problems, such as dandruff or matting, can develop as a result.

In this case, regular brushing – in addition to a weight management diet – can help your cat’s health in the long run.

Age

Similar to obese cats, older cats may not be able to groom themselves as well as they did when they were younger. Less frequent and less thorough grooming can lead to increased shedding, as well as tangled or clumped hair, matting, or dandruff.

And if your senior cat has arthritis, grooming in hard-to-reach areas may be even more difficult, thereby exacerbating these types of coat and skin issues.

You can help your older cat by brushing them regularly to remove loose hair and prevent knots or mats. You might consider an occasional bath if needed as well. Your veterinarian may also be able to recommend supplements that can promote a healthy coat and skin.

Stress

When cats are particularly stressed or anxious, they tend to shed more frequently. You might see your cat shed excessively when visiting the vet’s office, for example.

Cats may also obsessively lick or scratch their coats as a result of stress, causing skin irritation or even bald patches. More drastic changes to your cat’s environment, like a new pet, or a move, may cause this stress that leads to overgrooming.

Other cat behavior problems like increased vocalization, not using the litter box, and a change in appetite, may also indicate that your feline is unusually anxious.

If you think your cat is stressed, you might try to offer them additional stimulation and exercise – you can also talk to your veterinarian about the best strategies for your individual situation.

Allergies

Cats may experience allergies to foods, insects, environmental triggers such as pollen, and even certain products. These allergies often lead to skin irritation and itchiness, causing cats to scratch at their fur, which can result in hair loss.

If the itching or scratching becomes excessive, your cat may create red, irritated patches or bald spots in their skin, which can develop into a secondary skin infection.

Luckily, if your cat suffers from a food allergy, it can usually be treated by identifying the source of the food allergy and avoiding that food. This can be accomplished by running a food elimination trial  with a hypoallergenic food or limited ingredient food under the supervision of your local veterinarian. 

Other types of allergies can be treated by eliminating the source of the allergen, like a type of shampoo, for example, while more severe environmental allergies may require medication supplements, or allergy testing as prescribed by your veterinarian.

Pregnancy

Pregnant cats experience hormonal changes which can lead to an increase in shedding. Typically, these cats will shed a more than normal amount of hair around their bellies, as it makes it easier for their kittens to nurse.

Generally, once lactation ends, mother cats resume their normal shedding patterns.

Parasites

Even if you can’t see them, parasites like fleas, lice, and mites can cause a variety of skin problems for your cat. These pests can cause intense itching, hair loss, and red scabs and bumps.

If your cat scratches or bites at their skin obsessively, they can easily develop bald spots, sores, and wounds that may become infected.

Unfortunately, if you think your cat may have one of these parasites, you’ll need to ensure that you treat both your pet and your home to remove the pests for good. Your veterinarian can help you determine the effective treatment for your cat, as well as recommend prevention tips for the future.

Ringworm

Despite the name, ringworm is actually a fungal infection that can occur in cats, dogs, as well as in humans. The disease is passed through direct contact with an infected animal or items that the infected animal has been in contact with, such as brushes or bedding.

Cats infected with ringworm may have round, thickened, or scaly patches of skin with hair loss.

Ringworm can be treated with a combination of topical ointments and creams, shaving, medicated shampoos, and oral antifungal medication. Your veterinarian will be able to diagnose this type of fungal infection and recommend the best course of treatment.

Metabolic diseases

Metabolic diseases, or those that disrupt the normal metabolism, such as hyperthyroidism and kidney disease, can affect your cat’s coat and fur.

Hyperthyroidism occurs when the thyroid gland produces too much of the thyroid hormone and is often seen in middle-aged to older cats. Kidney disease, on the other hand, refers to a condition in which a cat’s kidneys are not functioning as they should, and causes increased drinking and urination.

Both of these diseases have similar symptoms, including hair loss, hair matting, or a coat that appears greasy or ungroomed. In addition, autoimmune disorders, like lupus can cause excessive shedding and dandruff. 

Hyperthyroidism and kidney disease can be treated with a specific diet, medication, and guidance from your veterinarian. Although these illnesses are not curable, they can be managed, especially when caught early.

How to tell if your cat shedding too much

If it’s typical for your cat to be shedding hair all year long, you may be wondering: What amount of shedding is too much shedding? In short, there’s no quick, scientific way to determine if your cat’s shedding has increased – and if it has – if it could be considered excessive or problematic.

However, as the person who probably knows your cat best, you should trust your instincts. If based on your cat’s normal behavior and shedding patterns, it seems like they might be losing more hair than usual, you should certainly consider possible causes.

Similarly, as we’ve discussed above, overgrooming, as well as hair loss, such as a thinning coat or bald spots or skin redness, can be more noticeable indications that your cat is experiencing a health problem or other issue that may need to be addressed.

When in doubt, you can call your veterinarian to discuss any skin problems or changes in the amount of shedding you’ve observed to determine if your cat needs to visit the office for an exam.

How to reduce shedding and keep your cat’s coat healthy

Although you can’t completely avoid your cat’s shedding, there are strategies you can employ to keep it under control, as well as help your cat’s skin and coat stay clean and healthy:

  • Feed your cat a balanced high-quality diet. You should also make sure your cat is well-hydrated and drinking enough water.
  • Use flea, tick, and other parasite prevention as recommended by your veterinarian. Even if you have an indoor cat, these preventative methods can help prevent pests that get inside your home or travel from pet to pet.
  • Brush your cat regularly to help them remove excess dead fur and hair. Use the right type of brush for your cat’s fur and make sure to check for any tangles, mats, or knots. Brush more often during shedding season, and use a grooming rake to effectively remove dead hair. 
  • Give your cat extra help if they need it. Once again, older or overweight cats may need additional help with grooming, which may mean a bath every now and then. Some cats with particularly difficult mats or thick fur may also benefit from visiting an expert groomer.
  • Try to clean up your cat’s hair as often as you can. Regularly vacuuming or sweeping up excess hair can help you and your pets avoid allergens. It can also help you prevent pests from sticking around, if they become a problem.
  • Bring your cat to the veterinarian for their annual or biannual check-up. By taking your cat to the vet regularly, you can work to prevent health issues before they develop. You can also consult your veterinarian about any questions or concerns you may have, whether regarding shedding, skin irritation, or other medical problems.
  • Consider pet insurance. Skin issues that require veterinary care can be expensive! Pet insurance can help you afford the best care when unexpected vet visits arise. See how Pumpkin Pet Insurance plans can help you pay for future covered vet bills.

Writer, Proud Dog & Cat Mom
Randa is a writer & former assoc. digital content editor at the American Kennel Club. She's also mom to 1 Corgi & 2 orange cats.