Devon Rex Cat - Reduced Shedding Cat Breed - Photo copyright Helmi Flick
Non shedding cat breeds don't exist full stop, period. It is natural for a cat to shed its fur. But some cat breeds shed less than others because of the nature of their coat (see below). Apparently shedding of hair is influenced more by changes in the ambient light than seasonal temperature changes (book 1). A cat sheds more hair when exposed to more light. Of course increased ambient light outdoors (and to a lesser extent indoors through window light) increases with increased temperature as the days are longer from spring through to autumn (fall). So the two (heat & light) are linked.
Outdoor cats will, it is said, shed their coat in spring over a period of time. For cats who go out less the process of shedding starts later, in the summer. For indoor cats, with a low level of constant ambient light shedding may take place throughout the year but modified by the generally lighter conditions indoors during the summer months. Certainly in England the ambient levels of light indoors in winter are considerably lower than during the summer.
Does this mean that if we keep our cats in low light level there will be reduced shedding? Please don't try it. That said, in theory, if there are any cats high up in the northern hemisphere (say the north of Norway) the shedding might be less. Perhaps the Norwegian Forest Cats of Norway shed less despite having double coats.
This brings me nicely onto the type of coat cats have. Cats normally have three layers to their coats. A top layer that is made up of guard hairs, a middle layer called awn hair and the undercoat which is down hair. Some cats have less layers. The Turkish Angora has no undercoat, for example.
My girl cat (a NFC mix) has a thick double coat with a very dense and fine undercoat, which is hard to comb and deflea as it catches and mats easily. My three legged cat Charlie has a single coat (Cat Hair discusses cat hair).
As all cats shed their fur, the greatest influence in searching for Non Shedding Cat Breeds is the type of hair the cat breed has. Single coats produce less hair in my view and a cat breed that has very little hair and which is fine and a single coat are the Rex cats (note: but see the comment of Jerri Wolfe below - not all Rex cats have single coats). These cats shed considerably less hair. Here is a list of the best known Rex cats:
These cats will need less or very little grooming as well.
Cats with double coats shed their unevenly. This is normal and is not a cause for concern.
Clearly one thing we can do to minimise hair being deposited anywhere and everywhere (which we should and indeed must get used to if we are too keep a cat successfully) is to spend some time combing our cat. Devices like the well known Furminator come to mind. I talk about this product here: How to Minimise Cat Hair.
I have a Furminator and my double coated cat doesn't like it because it it too strong for her. It removes hair extremely efficiently but I think it is uncomfortable for her. This is not to say that many other cats will not find it acceptable. A more lightweight tool may, in fact, be better for many cats.
There is a well known cat breed that has no hair, the Sphynx (and the Russian equivalent, the Don Sphynx). These cats do have some very fine fur and of naturally shedding problems are greatly reduced!
A rarer cat that has little hair is the Peterbald. The name gives the clue. A cat that comes from St. Petersberg and which is bald. This is a cat that is between the Sphynx and a normally covered cat. Although I have not seen it being talked about as a non shedding cat breed it should shed less than usual for the obvious reasons - less hair.
A little potential bonus in living with a low shedding cat breed such as the Devon Rex (perhaps the favorite of the Rex cats) is that there should be a reduced potential for an allergic reaction as the Fel d1 allergen from the cat's saliva rests on the fur. If there is less fur in the house there should be less potential for a reaction. Incidentally allergic reactions to cats seem to diminish over time in my experience but this could be personal to me.