Cat being examined by a vet

Q. Every time we go to the veterinarian’s, my cat drops fur all over the exam table. Why does he do this, and should I be worried about it?

A. When cats are stressed or frightened, rapid shedding is a normal physiologic response. The hairs that come out are called telogen hairs: those in the resting phase of the growth cycle, just before they are shed. The anxiety that occurs from being plucked out of his nice, cozy home and taken to a strange place full of the smells of other pets is enough to make any self-respecting cat want to throw off his coat and run for the hills.

So how does the shedding actually happen? We think that the tiny arrector pili muscles — which are attached to hair follicles — are activated when a cat is stressed. When they contract, it causes the hair to stand on end. The telogen hairs, which are primed to be shed anyway, are released in the process.

There are ways to make veterinary visits easier, but they’re not likely to end the shedding. Fortunately, this sudden loss of hair isn’t harmful, and your cat’s hair will grow back normally. The only damage done is to your appearance — from all the cat hair clinging to your clothes. Bring a lint roller to clean up the evidence of your cat’s naked fear. Is it any wonder that every veterinary clinic has one?

More on Vetstreet: