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Bayan Raji @BayanR

Cat Losing Hair: How Much Shedding Is Normal?

Worried that your cat may be losing too much hair? Here's everything you need to know about the difference between normal shedding and rapid hair loss.

At the end of the day, you just want to curl up next to your cat on the couch. But during these snuggle sessions, you might realize that your favorite black pants are suddenly covered in cat hair. This intensive hair loss may concern you, but a certain amount of shedding is totally normal. In fact, cats shed some every day and go through one to two large sheds and hair growth cycles per year, says Dr. Jennifer Lavallee, a fourth-generation veterinarian at Cat Specialist in Castle Rock, Colorado. Here's everything you need to know about a cat losing hair.

When Should You Be Concerned by a Cat Losing Hair?
Shed cycles vary with each cat, and your pet's cycles may or may not match up with the seasons. As a matter of fact, "every individual has different shedding patterns -- some very little, some a whole lot," says Dr. Lavallee. "If the hair coat became thin, that would be too much shedding, but this is quite rare."

If you do find that this is the case for your cat, you should take her to the vet, as this would constitute an abnormal amount of hair loss. You may also need to visit the vet if the skin under your cat's hair is red, bumpy or inflamed. In a healthy cat, this skin should be white.

Because cats groom themselves on a regular basis, another way to tell if your pet is suddenly losing an excessive amount of hair is to evaluate whether or not she is vomiting or producing hairballs more frequently. "Cats ingest so much hair that you almost never see clumps of it," says Dr. Gary Weitzman, a veterinarian who serves as the president and CEO of the San Diego Humane Society. As such, your cat may be suffering from rapid hair loss even if you don't see traces of her hair around your home.

Another way to determine whether or not you should be concerned by your cat's hair loss is to evaluate the quality of her coat, which goes through a series of growth cycles. In a normal, healthy cat, you won't notice texture changes, says Dr. Weitzman. A healthy coat looks uniform, soft and clean. However, cats that are under stress or suffer from a disease or parasites will have a sharpness in their coat -- as if they've chewed off the ends.

What Should You Do if You Notice a Rough Texture to Your Cat's Coat?
Did you know that your furry friend can get stressed out, just like you? In fact, as Dr. Weitzman points out, cats can be extremely sensitive, which may lead them to engage in nervous behavior. For instance, "cats bite their hair off or out by overgrooming," says Dr. Weitzman. "It's really quite devastating. People come in and are at their wit's end thinking it's fleas or dermatological reasons, but it's almost always due to stress and anxiety."

When cats pull out their own hair, their coat has a rough texture, and they may even have bald patches. If you find that this applies to your cat, you should try to play detective and figure out why your pet may be so stressed out. For example, if you recently introduced a new member to your family, whether that be a baby or a pet, this change may increase your cat's anxiety levels.

For more information on introducing your cat to a baby, check out Cats and Babies Together -- Is It Safe?

What Are Some Potential Causes of Rapid Hair Loss?
According to Dr. Lavallee, though rapid hair loss in cats is rare, there are several conditions that may cause this extreme form of shedding. Here are four potential causes that may play a role in your cat's hair loss:
 

  1. Inflamed or Irritated Areas
    Your cat might be scratching or licking inflamed or irritated areas, says Dr. Lavallee. For instance, if your cat has an ear infection, he may be prone to touch his ear frequently throughout the day.
     
  2. Allergies
    Cats sometimes suffer from food or environmental allergies, says Dr. Lavallee. If this is the case for your cat, he may feel the need to groom himself extensively, to the point where this process may lead to hair loss. In this scenario, switching to a hypoallergenic diet may help, says Dr. Lavallee.
     
  3. Ringworm
    According to Dr. Lavallee, ringworm can infect your cat's hairs and cause hair loss. If your cat has this type of infection, he will likely have crusted lesions.
     
  4. Fleas
    If your cat has bald patches, fleas may be the culprit, says Dr. Weitzman.


What Can You Do to Improve Your Cat's Coat?
If your cat is experiencing concerning, rapid hair loss, you should take her to the vet to be examined. However, if she is simply going through her regular shed cycle, there are things you can do at home to keep her coat in tiptop shape. First, it's important to groom your cat on a regular basis. Dr. Lavallee recommends that you find a high quality brush that you can use to get at your cat's dense undercoat.

According to Dr. Weitzman, a bath can also improve your pet's coat. "You don't want to overdo anything, but every cat can could use a bath now and then," he says. You can also make changes to your cat's diet. For instance, you can buy foods with added oils in them, which is much better than buying topical oils that go directly onto the coat, says Dr. Weitzman.

But if your cat's fur looks and feels healthy, don't let a little shedding get you down. "You can't be afraid of a little fur," says Dr. Weitzman. "It's part of having a normal pet."

Bayan Raji is a freelance writer.

* This article is for general informational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be providing medical advice and is not a substitute for such advice. The reader should always consult a health care provider concerning any medical condition or treatment plan. Neither Care.com nor the author assumes any responsibility or liability with respect to use of any information contained herein.

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