Cat hair grows in cycles. Each
follicle has a period of rapid growth (the anagen phase), followed by slower
growth and then a resting phase (the catagen phase). During the resting phase,
mature hair remains in the follicles and eventually detaches at the base. When
the cat sheds her coat (the telogen phase), a young hair pushes out the old
hair and the cycle begins anew. Cat hair grows about one-third of an inch (8
mm) each month, on average.
There are hairless cat breeds, such as the Peterbald (who is born with some
hair and loses it by about age 2) and the Sphynx (whose body is covered by a
fine down and who may have hair on the nose, toes, and tail). Hairlessness in
these cats is due to a genetic mutation, not a health problem.
This table lists a group of skin conditions that affect the appearance of
the coat and hair. These diseases do not cause your cat much discomfort -- at least
not at first. Hair loss is the main sign. It
may appear as impaired growth of new hair, or you may notice a patchy loss of
hair from specific areas of the body. At times, the coat does not look or feel
right and may be greasy or coarse and brittle. Many of these conditions are
related to hormone production.
Too much female hormone in the system can slow the growth of hair. Too
little thyroid hormone often impairs the growth, texture, and luster of a cat’s
coat. Ill health, run-down condition, hormone imbalance, vitamin deficiency, or
parasites on the cat or within the cat’s system may cause the coat to be too
thin and brittle. If you suspect your cat’s coat is below par, you should see a
veterinarian. A poor haircoat often reflects a systemic health problem.
Some breeds of cats naturally have a more abundant coat. The environment
also has a definite influence on the thickness and abundance of the coat. Cats
living outdoors in cold weather grow a heavy coat for insulation and
protection. Some additional fat in the diet is desirable at this time, because
fat supplies a more concentrated source of energy for coat growth. Fat also
aids in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, provides essential fatty acids
for healthy skin and coat, and improves the palatability of food. Commercial
concentrated fatty acid supplements are available. When stools become soft, the
cat’s diet is too high in fat.
The average indoor cat will not need any fatty supplements. As a precaution,
do not add fat supplements to the diet of any cat with pancreatitis,
gallstones, or malabsorption syndrome. Excess fat supplements can interfere
with the metabolization of vitamin E. Before making long-term adjustments in
the diet’s fat content, discuss such adjustments with your veterinarian. Always
consult your veterinarian before adding any supplements. You do not want to
upset a well-balanced diet.
Some people believe seasonal temperature changes govern when a cat sheds. In
fact, shedding is influenced more by
changes in ambient light. The more exposure to natural light, the greater the
shedding. This applies to both neutered and intact cats.
For cats who spend all their time outdoors, the longer hours of sunlight in
late spring activate a shedding process that can last for weeks. Cats who go
outdoors part of the day normally shed and grow a new coat at the beginning of
summer. In fall, as the days grow shorter, the coat begins to thicken for
winter. Indoor cats exposed to constant light may shed lightly and grow new