It can be surprising to see your cat’s fur looking separated, so you might be wondering what’s going on. Why can a cat’s fur separate? Is their fur unhealthy? How can you tell? And what can you do about your cat’s separated fur? Here are the answers to all of these questions and more.
So, why does my cat’s fur look separated? Cats’ fur can look separated when they stop grooming, and the tips of the fur start to stick together due to greasy buildup. The hair begins to separate into tiny clumps or rows, giving their fur a clumping and spiky look.
But why has your cat stopped grooming?
Well, there can be many reasons for this.
As we shall discover as we delve deeper and continue to explore below.
Then, we’ll get into what to do. So keep reading!
Why Can A Cat’s Fur Separate?
A cat’s fur can separate when they stop grooming, either from sickness, malnourishment, stress, pain, obesity, or age. Other times the culprit can be something as simple as the weather or bathing habits.
As your cat stops grooming themselves (for various reasons, see below), the ends of their fur will start to clump together due to grease buildup.
When the ends are stuck together, you’ll be able to see rows of their skin beneath, leaving a buildup of dead hair and easy access for parasites to latch onto or burrow into their tender skin.
Cats with separated fur often haveskin problems as a result.
Note: Separated fur is also called a ‘staring coat’, although no one knows why!
Cats Who Are Ill
Cats who are ill won’t be able to groom themselves as thoroughly as they normally would.
In fact, a poorly-groomed coat is one of the first (and easiest) signs that something is wrong with your cat’s health.
Some common illnesses that can cause your cat’s fur to separate include:
- Dental or mouth problems. If your cat’s having trouble with their mouth or their teeth, they won’t be able to groom as well as they should. Your cat’s tongue spreads the oils evenly across their fur while removing dead hairs and dander.
- Hormonal imbalances. Your cat’s hormones affect the appearance and condition of its coat. Older cats who have never been spayed are more at risk for hormonal problems.
- Diseases that increase oil production in their skin. Your cat’s skin produces the right amount of oils to keep its fur in top shape. However, if there’s too much oil, even the most enthusiastic cat tongue can’t do the job efficiently, and their fur will stick together.
- Skin infections. Skin infections can cause your cat to lose some of her fur, giving rise to separated fur and bald patches if left untreated.
- Parasites. Parasites can cause a cat’s fur to clump up and stick together as more and more of them take hold of your cat. Fleas, ticks, and worms can all cause problems for your feline.
- Allergies. Allergies are another cause of uneven fur and possible bald patches.
- Other infections. Cancer, gut diseases, and diarrhea are all possible causes of separated fur, not only because your cat’s overall health is impacted but because some of these can cause dehydration.
Cats Who Aren’t Getting The Right Nutrition
A common cause of separated fur in cats is poor nutrition.
Cats need a healthy diet with the right balance of minerals, vitamins, proteins, carbohydrates, and fats.
If your cat isn’t eating enough food, or isn’t eating the right food, their coat will separate because the hair follicles will either start falling out or sticking together.
Cats Who Are Stressed
Stressed cats may be so full of anxiety that they don’t want to spend their time on grooming behaviors, as they don’t feel comfortable.
Grooming to them might seem like a luxury they can’t afford, as they may be constantly on the lookout to stay safe from perceived danger, or trying to comfort themselves in other ways (meowing, following their people around, hiding, etc.)
A cat who is stressed can also start losing their fur, in which case you’ll see rows of skin as the hair follicles fall out.
Cats Who Are In Pain
If your cat is in pain, that’s another reason they won’t be able to groom themselves effectively.
The concentrated movements they need to make to stay clean might cost them effort that causes more pain.
One type of pain that’s particularly influential on a cat’s ability to groom is musculoskeletal pain: this is why separated fur is one of the most common signs of arthritis in cats.
Cats Who Are Obese
Any cat who is severely overweight runs a risk of many health problems – added to the fact that a lot of excess weight impairs their ability to look after themselves.
An obese cat won’t be able to bend down or lean over to reach those places they need to keep clean.
This is why many obese cats develop separated coats as well as dandruff.
Very Young (or Very Old) Cats
Some kittens need more time to develop effective grooming habits – there are kittens less than 6 months old who can be in excellent health and yet have separated fur, simply because they haven’t yet learned how to care for themselves properly.
If you have a young kitten with separated fur, it could be they just need time to develop good grooming habits.
However, check your kitten’s overall health, just in case. Sometimes kittens develop things like respiratory infections, which can interfere with their grooming abilities.
Very old cats may lose some of their mobility due to age issues. They may not groom themselves as much as they used to because they aren’t as flexible.
Other problems in the home can influence the condition of your cat’s fur, such as:
- The weather. Too much humidity or chilly winter air can affect your cat’s coat, causing its fur to lose its shine and become sticky or dull.
- Bathing problems. If you bathe your cat, you might be doing this too often – for instance, when trying to control a flea problem. Most cats don’t really need baths (unless they’re a hairless breed), but if you feel you must bathe your cat, most vets say don’t do this more than once every 4 to 6 weeks. And use the right products that are cat-friendly because you can damage your cat’s fur with the wrong shampoo or soap.
What Does Unhealthy Cat Fur Look Like?
An unhealthy fur coat for a cat looks scraggly, patchy, or oily. It may contain clumps and be matted, too. Dry, flaky skin or excess dander are also signs the coat is not in peak condition.
Your cat’s fur can be unhealthy for many reasons, each of which can give rise to different impacts on your cat’s coat.
Scraggly or Patchy Fur
If your cat’s fur is patchy or scraggly, malnutrition is often the culprit.
This is why you’ll often see this type of fur in feral cats. Even with the best self-grooming, a cat can’t avoid fur problems with poor nutrition.
Once your cat’s diet improves (one that’s rich in proteins and omega-3 fatty acids), you should see a difference. If there’s no improvement, a vet visit will be the next step.
Oily Fur (With or Without Lumps or Tumors)
If your cat has oily fur, check with your vet to rule out an infection.
Some quite serious infections, such as Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV), feline leukemia (FeLV), and pneumonia, can first manifest as dermatological issues.
If you can feel any lumps or tumors underneath your cat’s fur, this is an obvious reason to visit your vet right away.
Greasy and Matted Fur (with Additional Symptoms)
Cats with greasy and matted fur can suffer from an overactive (hyper) or underactive (hypo) thyroid condition.
Your cat could have an overactive thyroid if you notice additional symptoms, such as:
- Increased appetite
- Weight loss
- Rapid heart rate
- Drinking more than usual
It could be an underactive thyroid is at fault if you spot any of these symptoms in addition to your cat’s greasy, matted fur:
- Weight gain
- Mental dullness
The sooner you get your cat to the vet, the better the possibilities of effective treatment with minimum long-term problems (see below).
Other Common Signs of Unhealthy Fur
In addition to the above, here are some other signs to look for that signal your cat’s fur is unhealthy:
- Flaky, dry skin
- Too much dander (dandruff)
- Thinning or bald patches
Changes in mood, appetite, or behavior are also signs that there’s a problem, even if you don’t see it reflected in your cat’s fur.
What To Do About Your Cat’s Separated Fur
The most important thing to do about your cat’s separated fur is to get them to the vet to determine the cause. Separated fur means something is wrong – sometimes, the problem can be quite serious. Issues like arthritis, obesity and other problems can be sorted, provided you have your vet’s help.
If There’s A Medical Issue
If your cat has severe anxiety, you may need to seek help from a cat behaviorist to help soothe your cat.
You can also do the following to help an anxious cat feel more comfortable to groom:
- Try keeping change at home to a minimum
- Give your cat a safe space to be with minimum distractions (like noise)
- Provide a window seat for your cat to safely watch the outside world
If there is a medical issue, such as hormonal problems, dental or mouth issues, allergies, parasites, a disease, or an infection, your vet will provide the appropriate treatment.
Your vet will usually do any of the following to arrive at a diagnosis:
- Blood tests
- Skin samples
- Checks for parasites
- Breathing checks
- Physical examination (including checking for possible lumps and looking at your cat’s mouth and teeth)
If There Isn’t a Medical Issue
If the problem isn’t medical, you can usually sort this out yourself with the right actions. For example:
- Make your home as cat-friendly as possible. If your cat has very dry skin due to weather conditions, for example, consider getting a humidifier for your home. If you know your cat is allergic to certain things, do your best to minimize their exposure (where possible).
- Know when bathing your cat is appropriate. Most cats groom themselves effectively and don’t need baths unless they’ve gotten into something very dirty or something they shouldn’t lick off (like oil). Cats who are arthritic or who have other conditions making it difficult for them to groom themselves may require periodic baths to help them remove loose hair. Cats with skin allergies may need baths with a therapeutic shampoo – check with your vet if you are unsure whether to bathe your cat or not.
Maintaining Healthy Fur In Your Cat
Once you’re home from the vet and you’ve given your cat the appropriate treatment, make sure you do the following to prevent future problems with your cat’s fur:
- Brush your cat daily. Brushing your cat each day cuts down on the amount of hair they swallow while self-grooming. In addition, you’ll have less dander and loose hair floating around your home. You’ll help your cat’s fur stay nice and smooth with daily attention.
- Check your cat’s fur often. Inspect your cat’s fur (perhaps while brushing them) to make sure there are no tangles, clumps, lumps, or bumps.
- Use coconut or olive oil after a bath. If your cat is prone to dry skin, you can use a coin-sized amount of coconut or olive oil. Rub the oil in your hands first, and then gently massage your cat’s skin after their bath. The oil will help trap the moisture and lessen the amount of dandruff, as well as soothe dry skin.
Some cats are happier to be brushed than others, so if your cat is reluctant, here’s how best to groom them:
- Wear heavy-duty gloves (especially if your cat’s fur is matted). Your cat may become a bit aggressive – and if your cat has a skin or parasitic infection, it’s best not to touch their skin directly.
- Approach your cat when they’re relaxed. Some cats have had bad experiences when being groomed in the past – if this is your cat, arm yourself with patience (and perhaps some treats!)
- Ask a friend for help if you need to. It can be more effective to have a friend hold your cat gently while you slowly try and remove tangles from their coat.
- Go to a groomer if everything goes south. If your cat becomes too aggressive, a professional groomer can make the process faster and less invasive (and less painful if there are knots).
Note: Short-haired cats usually only need to be brushed about once a week to maintain a healthy coat. Long-haired cats, however, require daily brushing to avoid matting.
Seeing your cat’s fur separate is naturally concerning.
And while this is often the result of a cat that has stopped grooming itself, why they have done this does vary from cat to cat, context to context.
Perhaps (having reviewed the list), it’s obvious to you. You may even need to investigate. Or you may need to enlist the support of a vet.
Either way, there are things you can (and should do) to get your cat coat back in optimal condition.
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I am an experienced pet owner with decades of experience owning a number of different pets, from traditional pets like dogs and cats, to the more exotic like reptiles and rodents. I currently own a Cockapoo (pictured) called Bailey. I am also the main writer and chief editor here at Pet Educate; a site dedicated to sharing evidence-based insights and guidance, based on my vast pet ownership knowledge, experience, and extensive research.