The Fur is Flying! Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow!

Oct 14, 2012 by     No Comments    Posted under: Tips & Advice

Does your cat go into a shedding frenzy whenever he gets into his carrier or arrives at the vet’s office? Ever wonder what was creating that tidal wave of loose hair?

We joke at my practice that by the end of a day’s appointments we could literally create another cat just by using all that discarded hair! Sometimes so much fur comes off these cats that their owners worry that there might be a problem, especially if they don’t normally see a lot of shedding at home.

Who’d ever think that this reaction is related to cutting-edge science? That massive, all-at-once hair shed is based on the same reaction that creates sweaty foot pads in our nervous felines. This is similar to when our own hands get clammy in response to scary or stressful events like speaking in public or opening a letter from the IRS.

Adrenaline is what makes this particular reaction happen, and this nervous system hormone, which is responsible for the body’s pronounced response to fear and danger, has been in the news recently (and not just in use during the Presidential debates!).

The Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded this year to two scientists who did groundbreaking work on how receptor cells receive and transmit information about compounds like adrenaline and histamine. This has enormous impact on the development of medications, but it also can give us some insight into why those compounds cause the reactions that they do.

One of the reactions that adrenaline can produce is the release of hair from follicles that are in the resting or dormant stage of their cycle. These are generally the older hairs that are in the process of being replaced through shedding. Shedding is usually a gradual and ongoing process but during an adrenaline-fueled reaction, these dormant hairs get suddenly released, resulting in our cats looking like they are at risk of becoming bald.

Adrenaline has many strange effects on hair follicles. In fact, one of the more curious occurrences we see can happen during tornados. Chickens exposed to the winds and atmospheric changes associated with those storms can literally be plucked clean. The strong winds are thought to scare the chickens and result in a classic “fight or flight” response. All feathers, which are the bird equivalent of hair, loosen and come off, leaving a completely naked bird.

Happily, nothing on this level occurs when our cats get stressed or fearful. But the amount of hair that comes off can still be pretty impressive!

Dr Cathy Lund

Cathy Lund, DVM, owns and operates City Kitty Veterinary Care for Cats, a cat practice located in Providence, RI. She is also the board president and founder of the Companion Animal Foundation, a statewide, veterinary-based nonprofit organization that helps low-income pet owners afford essential veterinary care. She lives in Providence, and serves on several architectural and preservation commissions in the city, and is on the board of directors of WRNI, RI’s own NPR station. But her favorite activity is to promote the countless virtues of the “purr-fect” pet, the cat!

City Kitty
18 Imperial Pl # 1B
Providence, RI 02903-4642

Phone: (401) 831-6369

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