By Jennifer Copley (Last Updated 6 December 2011)
Reasons Why Cats Stop Grooming Their Fur
Healthy cats are usually fastidious about their grooming. Failure to groom (which leads to a dull, greasy, stained, or foul-smelling coat) can signify a medical problem. The following are some common causes of failure to groom:
- A cat that is in pain due to injury, arthritis, or illness may have difficulty manoeuvering into the positions required to conduct a thorough self-cleaning.
- Ill or elderly cats may be too weak or tired to do the job.
- Obese cats have trouble grooming because they can’t reach many spots that need cleaning.
- Severe dental disease or missing teeth can make it difficult for a cat to groom himself.
- A cat that is suffering from depression due to loss of a loved one or some other problem may stop grooming.
Other Causes of Dull Coat in Cats
Dull coats don’t always result from lack of grooming. Poor nutrition (often the result of feeding bargain-brand cat food) can cause a cat’s fur to become dull. This happens because cheap cat foods tend to provide a lot of grains (an unnatural diet for cats) and not enough meat. To make matters worse, the meats in cheap foods are often meat by-products, which may contain undigestable items such as beaks, feathers, or hooves.
Cats, as obligate carnivores, need more protein and fat in their diets than omnivorous dogs and humans, so cats on low-fat weight-loss diets are particularly likely to have dull, dandruff-ridden coats and suffer dry skin or other skin problems (low-carb diets are better for helping cats lose weight while meeting their nutritional needs).
Dietary deficiencies are not the only trigger for dull coat or skin problems. Parasites; infections; serious illnesses affecting the kidneys, liver, adrenal glands, or thyroid gland; autoimmune diseases; diabetes; allergies, bathing a cat too often, or even dry winter air can all have an adverse effect on the coat. Because there are so many possible causes, you should always consult a veterinarian before using home remedies that may just mask an underlying health problem.
Treatments for Cats with Dull Coats and/or Dry Skin
To remedy the problem, you need to identify the cause. Many illnesses are treatable, and once the underlying issue is cleared up or at least managed, the cat should begin grooming again on his own or the quality of his coat will improve in response to dietary modifications or other treatments.
An elderly, arthritic, toothless, or obese cat may require help grooming. There are combs for cats specially designed to deal with greasy, matted undercoats (you may have to avoid the belly area unless there are tangles, because most cats hate having their bellies combed). Any staining on the fur can be dealt with using a damp pet wipe or tissue. Most cats appreciate the effort and enjoy the quality time spent with their owners, and an added benefit of grooming your cat is that removing loose hair reduces the likelihood that the cat will suffer from hairballs (or that you’ll suffer from having to clean up vomited hairballs).
Longhaired cats are particularly likely to suffer from matted fur in old age, but regular grooming can keep their coats looking good. Many owners also trim the fur under the tail of longhaired cats that can’t groom properly to prevent feces or cat litter from sticking to the area. See Grooming Cats for more detailed instructions.
Bathing a cat too often can cause the coat to become dull. However, there are situations in which a cat requires bathing, for example, when an owner needs to remove greasy or sticky substances from the cat’s fur. Instructions for bathing cats can be found here. You can finish with a conditioning rinse designed specifically for cats to preserve coat’s shine (don’t use products formulated for humans or dogs).
To increase the shininess of a cat’s coat, in addition to regular grooming:
- Feed a high-protein diet (premium wet foods should provide this – check the label to make sure the first ingredient – and preferably the second as well – are animal proteins, not by-products, wheat, or corn).
- Supplement your cat’s diet with Omega-3 fatty acids/fish oil (check with a veterinarian before supplementing, and use a product designed specifically for cats).
For more cat articles, see the main Cats page.
This article is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for veterinary consultation and care.
- Bloomenstock, K. (2011). “Why Is Your Cat Not Grooming Himself?” Animal Planet, AnimalDiscovery.com.
- Fries, W.C., Reviewed by Scott, K., DVM, DACVIM. (2010). “Cat Nutrition for a Healthy Coat.” Pets.WebMD.com.
- Hartwell, S. (2000). “Growing Old Gracefully.” MessyBeast.com.
- Plotnick, A., DVM. (2011). “How Do I Cure My Cat’s Dry Skin?” CatChannel.com.