Cats: Dealing With Shedding Winter Coats

These useful tips will help you manage the flying furballs

The truth about cat shedding is that this is a normal, natural process in a cat’s life. Humans have periods of hair growth and shedding too. Shedding is how animals replenish their fur and keep it in good condition.

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Cats in the wild generally shed their coats twice yearly; in the spring to lose the heavy winter undercoat and in the fall in preparation for the "grow-in" of the next winters' undercoat. However, since we have domesticated cats and subjected them to air-conditioning in summer and artificial heat in winter, their systems have become confused enough to put them into a constant shedding state. This is normal.

Cats shed in order to remove dead fur from their bodies. Dead fur can cause skin irritation so it needs to be removed. If the dead fur is not removed via combing and grooming, the cat’s body will remove it by shedding it.

Shedding is considered a sign of health in a cat, because sick cats do not shed their fur. Shedding occurs for different reasons, but depends largely on the amount of time your cat spends outdoors or whether your cat is purely an indoor cat. The shedding is largely influenced by daylight, and this is called the “photoperiod”. The number of hours a cat is exposed to sunlight in a day (photoperiod) triggers the shedding process. In addition, shedding varies considerably among the different breeds. Indoor cats shed at any time of the year and the amount of shedding hair is less than outdoor cats due to the artificial light inside the house, and from the controlled temperature in your home.

Outdoor cats shed in the spring when the days start to lengthen and they spend more time outside. You will not see much if any shedding of your outdoor cat during the winter months, because they naturally will hold on to all their fur to use as thermal protection from the cold conditions.

There are two breeds whose shedding is minimal - the Cornish Rex, which has short, curly fur that lies close to the body, and the Devon Rex which has similar coat of thin curly fur across its body. Because of their very short and fine fur, the shedding from these two breeds is barely noticeable. There is one breed that does not shed and that is the purebred hairless Sphynx. This cat is not completely hairless because it has a fine down all over its body. This breed is rare and it needs a special kind of care, but is a good choice for people with allergies.

Shedding in cats can be controlled with frequent brushing and combing. Daily brushing and combing removes loose and dead hair and helps keep a cat’s skin and coat healthy. Cats with healthy fur coats who are groomed regularly do tend to shed a bit less.

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Tips for Grooming:

1. Start brushing your cat slowly, keeping the sessions short and positive and stopping before your cat protests.

2. Using food treats can help make the experience easier for you and more pleasant for your cat. This may also help your cat learn to enjoy grooming.

3. As your cat learns to enjoy the grooming sessions, you can gradually make them last longer. Eventually the grooming sessions will be long enough to thoroughly remove dead fur and skin, which will ultimately result in fewer sessions. Frequent grooming will also help reduce the amount of fur your cat sheds around the home.

4. When you comb your cat, comb her carefully in the direction of hair growth to smooth the coat and remove any minor knots or tangles. If the coat has a particularly stubborn knot or tangle, you may have to trim it off with scissors.

5. For longhaired cats, begin with a wide-toothed comb and follow up with a fine-toothed comb. To avoid injury, if your cat's coat has severe matting, you might want to consult a veterinarian before attempting to groom the cat yourself.

Whether purebred or mixed breed, a key to good brushing lies in the length of a cat’s coat. A cat with a very short, single coat similar to the Siamese, Burmese and Cornish Rex needs very little brushing. The dense-coated shorthaired cats like American shorthairs; British shorthairs and Scottish folds require a monthly brushing session. Semi-longhaired cats resembling Maine coons should be combed and bathed even more regularly. Cats with long, flowing coats resembling the Persian should be combed and have their faces cleaned at least every other day, and they should be bathed weekly or bi-weekly.

Benefits of Regular Combing and Grooming:

  • Removes dead and loose hair and reduces the amount shed
  • Reduces the occurrence of hairballs, especially in the long-haired breeds
  • Keeps cat's coat smooth and free of knots and mats - little clumps of fur that sometimes form
  • This is a great way to further bond with your cat
  • Allows you to keep an eye on your cat's coat and skin for potential problems, such as parasites and skin conditions before they become serious.

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