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 maneuvering 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 indigestible 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. For example, if obesity is the problem, there are ways to help fat cats lose weight.
An elderly, arthritic, or toothless cat may require help grooming. There are combs for cats specially designed to deal with greasy, matted undercoats. Any staining on the fur can be dealt with using a damp pet wipe or cloth. 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.
To increase the shininess of your cat’s coat, in addition to regular grooming:
- Take your cat in for a veterinary checkup to identify any health issues that may be contributing to the problem.
- 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).
- Ask your veterinarian about nutritional supplements if you suspect a nutrient deficiency.
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.