Cats are born with soft, downy fur, and as they move out of the newborn phase their coat grows with them. In most breeds and types of cats, the “kitten coat” is shorter, softer and less glossy than the fur they will wear as an adult. Sometime between the age of 6 and 12 months, as the kitten reaches adolescence, he will begin to shed his baby fur and the lovely coat he will wear for his adult years develops. Before this time, cat owners will have noticed very little shedding. But during this time of transition, all that changes.
Like all mammals, cats have hair. That hair grows from follicles located in the skin. Cats have what are known as compound follicles, which means that as many as 20 hairs can grow from each follicle. By comparison, human follicles grow only one lonely hair each. As the kitten coat begins to pull away from the follicle to make room for the adult coat, suddenly you may find tumbleweeds of hair under the sofa and clumps on your best shirt.
Cats have four types of hair:
The whiskers that grace your cat’s face, (and also appear on the back of their front legs!) are actually sensory organs which help your cat navigate its surroundings.
The shorter, more dense coat that lies under the guard hairs. This is an insulating layer, helping the cat to regulate its body temperature.
These are uncommon in most mammals, but common in most breeds of cats. Finer than guard hairs, they make up part of the coat that is the cats first line of defense.
The longer, glossy, outer coat that most breeds sport is made up of primary or guard hairs. This type of hair helps to repel dirt and moisture, and protect the cat from its environment.
In all healthy cats, hair grows in set cycles. The time where it is actively growing from the follicle is called the anagen phase. Next is the catagen phase. This is where the hair moves from growing to resting. After that is the telogen phase. During this time the hair is inactive, but is still firmly rooted in the follicle. The last part of the growth cycle is called exogen, and this describes the phase where the hair falls from the follicle to grace your sofa. Short-haired cats go through this cycle more quickly, because short hair takes less time to go from anagen to exogen. Long-haired cats seem to shed more, not only because those longer hairs are more visible, but also because they tend to shed in clumps rather than releasing just one single hair at a time. But in fact, long-haired cats shed less often just because longer hairs take a longer time to grow.
Once your kitten has shed out his kitten coat and grown the adult coat, he will experience what is called “seasonal shedding.” Normally this happens twice a year, in spring and fall. The hours of daylight that your cat is exposed to are what triggers seasonal shedding. In the fall, as the days shorten, cats shed out their lighter summer coat to make way for the heavier coat they will grow to keep them cozy for winter. Then, in the spring, as the days lengthen, that heavy winter coat falls out in clouds. Keep in mind that cats should shed evenly all over, and if your cat has spots where the coat is very thin or bald, a trip to the veterinarian is in order.
Here are some ways to help make shedding of both kitten and adult coats more manageable:
- Talk to a professional groomer, like me, to find out what types of tools are most appropriate for your special kitten. Grooming gloves, rubber curry type brushes, combs and shedding tools work great on short to medium type coats. Longer haired kittens and cats may also benefit from these type tools, but a good comb that can reach all the way to the skin on longer haired pets is a great idea to help prevent matting. Matting can happen quite quickly during times of shedding.
- Use those grooming tools several times a week year round, and daily during the times of heaviest hair loss. That hair which you remove with a brush will not have to be vacuumed up later!
- Consider having your cat professionally groomed. A warm bath with a safe cat shampoo will help the shedding hair to come out faster. Some owners choose to bathe their kitten themselves when shedding is at its peak. After the bath, comb and brush your cat until he is dry; this will remove an astonishing amount of hair.
- Quick daily sessions with your friend the vacuum cleaner during times of heavy hair loss will keep your home looking presentable.
- Blankets, sheets or towels used to cover your cat’s favorite sleeping areas can be tossed into the washer and dryer once a week or so during times of heaviest shedding. Easy!
- Rubber tipped brooms and hand-held rubber brushes make short work of cat hair, not only on smooth floors, but also on upholstery and carpet.
- Invest in several lint brushes and tuck them around where they are easily accessible; in your car, in your place of work, and in several rooms of the house. These are great for quick pickups on clothes and furniture.
- A damp kitchen sponge is a handy tool to remove hair from sofas, chairs and cat trees.
- Make sure your pet is free of both internal and external parasites.
- Feed a premium quality, species-appropriate diet. This will help insure that your pet has the healthiest hair coat possible.
With regular grooming sessions and a little extra effort at keeping fallen fur cleaned up around the house, you and your pet will soon be through the change-of-coat phase. Enjoy your young cat’s beautiful new grown-up fur.
By: Daryl Conner
Featured Image: Via iStock/Thinkstock