Cats are beloved pets renowned for their soft, lush coats. But do cats have hair or fur? What’s the difference, anyway? As it turns out, there’s more to feline coats than meets the eye.
Understanding the unique structure and growth cycles of cat hair versus fur is important for keeping your feline looking and feeling their best. Proper grooming and nutrition can ensure a healthy, beautiful coat.
In this extensive guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about cat hair and fur. You’ll learn:
- The key differences between hair and fur
- What type of coat cats have
- The anatomy of feline hair follicles and skin
- Growth cycles and shedding in cats
- Grooming tips for healthy hair and fur
- Nutrition for optimal coat health
- Common skin and coat problems in cats
Let’s start by demystifying the question of hair versus fur on cats.
The Difference Between Hair and Fur
Many people use the terms “hair” and “fur” interchangeably when referring to the coats of cats and other mammals. However, there are some distinct differences between hair and fur:
- Composed of a single, relatively long shaft with little to no tapered narrowing at the tip.
- Minimal variation or padding between shafts. Hairs grow independently.
- Found on humans, cats, rabbits, pigs, goats, etc.
- Composed of multiple short shafts tapering to a fine point.
- Dense, warm undercoat covered by a protective topcoat.
- Shafts pack closely together.
- Found on dogs, bears, sheep, ferrets, chinchillas, etc.
In essence:Hair grows as single shafts while fur consists of two layers—a dense undercoat and longer guard hairs.
Now that we know the primary differences between mammalian hair and fur, let’s take a closer look at the unique structure and growth cycle of cat hair in particular.
Do Cats Have Hair or Fur?
Cats have a coat of hair, not fur. Let’s discuss why:
- Cat hair consists mostly of a single shaft without tapering or narrowing at the tips.
- The hairs have minimal padding between them and grow independently in contrast to the dense packing of fur coats.
- There is very little variation in hair length over the body. No thick double coat is present.
- Cats lack the harsh guard hairs that comprise the topcoat of fur.
So while cat coats may appear furry, each hair shaft has characteristics consistent with human scalp hair as opposed to body fur. Now, some purebreds like the Norwegian Forest Cat have developed a more protective top layer of guard hairs over their soft undercoat. But most domestic cats possess simple, single hair shafts all over their body.
Feline Skin and Hair Follicle Anatomy
Let’s look closer at the anatomy behind cat hair:
- The epidermis is the outermost layer made of epithelial tissue. This protects against infections, parasites, allergens, and toxins.
- Below that lies the dermis, which contains connective tissues, blood vessels, oil and sweat glands, follicles, and nerves.
- Underneath is the subcutaneous tissue (hypodermis) composed of fat and collagen fibers securing the skin to muscle and bone.
- Feline hair follicles are evenly distributed across the skin’s surface apart from the nose, paw pads, and claws.
- The upper portion of the follicle (infundibulum) connects to the skin surface.
- The lower portion (inferior segment) contains the hair root and dermal papilla which supplies nutrients for hair growth.
- Sebaceous or oil glands provide lubrication to each follicle and coat.
As new cells are produced by the hair bulb, keratin proteins harden into hair shafts that push upwards through the skin:
- The medulla forms the central core of the hair shaft. This is absent in finer body hair.
- Surrounding this is the cortex, which contains pigment granules that determine coat color.
- The cuticle is a thin outer layer of overlapping scales that protect the inner hair and give it a smooth texture.
Now that we understand the skin structures involved in hair growth, let’s look at the feline hair cycle.
The Feline Hair Growth Cycle
Like humans, cats experience cyclical hair growth phases mostly tied to exposure to daylight. Let’s overview the three main stages:
Anagen – Growth Phase
This phase allows rapid hair regrowth and lasts several weeks in cats.
- Activated hair follicles push upward as new keratinized cells form the growing hair shaft.
- During this growth spurt, fur appears thick, lush, and bright.
Catagen – Transitional Phase
Signals tell the follicle to stop producing hair as resources shift:
- The hair shaft detaches from the dermal papilla and follicle shrinks.
- No more growth occurs; hair prepares to be shed.
- The transitional phase lasts 1-2 weeks.
Telogen – Resting Phase
The follicle remains dormant for around 2-3 months.
- The non-growing club hair anchors loosely until forced out by a new hair.
- Normal shedding of dead hairs occurs.
- 10-15% of hairs are in this phase at a given time.
After this resting period, the follicle returns to anagen and starts regenerating. This cycle repeats throughout the cat’s life.
Now let’s look closer at shedding.
Shedding and Hair Loss in Cats
Shedding is a normal part of the feline hair growth cycle. But excessive shedding or hair loss can indicate an underlying issue.
- As telogen hairs reach their lifespan limit, they are shed to make room for new growth.
- Most shedding occurs during seasonal coat blows in spring and fall.
- Up to 37% of hairs can be shed daily in peak seasons.
- Indoor cats often only have light seasonal shedding since they receive artificial lighting.
This may result from:
- Age, as cats shed more as they get older.
- Health issues like allergies, infections, or parasites disrupting the cycle.
- Pregnancy and lactation altering hormones.
- Poor nutrition lacking vitamins and minerals.
- Stress and anxiety causing more follicles to enter telogen.
- Change of seasons or decreasing daylight hours.
- Lack of grooming to remove loose hairs.
Hair Loss or Alopecia
Partial or complete hair loss indicates:
- Skin conditions like fungal infections, wounds, or ringworm.
- Allergic reactions and autoimmune diseases.
- Endocrine disorders affecting hormone levels.
- Pregnancy, nursing kittens, or post-partum.
- Cancer or hereditary conditions.
- Self-trauma from excessive grooming, scratching, or biting at the skin.
If your cat is experiencing sudden, excessive shedding or bald patches, contact your veterinarian. Let’s look at proper grooming and nutrition next.
Grooming Tips for Healthy Cat Hair
Regular grooming maintains skin and coat health in cats. Follow these best practices:
- Brush daily during heavy shedding seasons using a stainless steel comb. Remove dead hairs before they can be ingested.
- Bathe monthly or as needed using cat-safe shampoo to control oils and dander. Avoid over-bathing which strips natural oils.
- Trim nails every 2-3 weeks so they don’t damage the skin or catch on fabrics.
- Clean ears weekly using a gentle cleanser to prevent infections. Avoid Q tips which can injure the ear canal. Check for any odor or discharge.
- Brush teeth weekly to reduce plaque and tartar buildup which can enter the bloodstream. Use cat toothpaste only.
- Check for parasites like fleas during grooming and treat as needed. Consult your vet about preventatives.
- Visit the vet annually for professional dental cleanings and to check for any abnormalities or growths on the skin.
Proper grooming removes dead hair, distributes oils, massages the skin, and allows you to inspect for any abnormalities on your cat’s body routinely. Now let’s discuss nutrition.
Nutrition for Healthy Feline Skin and Coats
A complete, balanced diet ensures your cat gets all the nutrients they need for a soft, shiny coat from the inside out.
Cats need high levels of quality protein from meat, fish, and eggs to build healthy skin cells and hair keratin. Look for real meat as the first ingredient, not by-products.
Essential fatty acids like omega-3s and omega-6s contribute to skin elasticity and moisture. They also support the lipid barriers that prevent water loss. Fish oil and chicken fat provide healthy fats.
- Vitamin A promotes skin cell turnover and hair follicle growth. Find it in organ meats, carrots, and sweet potatoes.
- B-vitamins aid protein metabolism for hair proteins. Eggs, meat, and dairy contain ample B vitamins.
- Vitamin E functions as an antioxidant for skin health. Nuts, seeds, fish, and leafy greens provide this vitamin.
The main minerals involved in coat health include:
- Zinc: Supports protein synthesis, DNA and RNA production, and skin cell regeneration. Oysters and meat offer high zinc content.
- Copper: Helps produce melanin which gives hair and skin color. Organ meats like liver are rich in copper.
- Iron: Needed for circulation and nutrient absorption for growing hair follicles. Iron is abundant in clams, shrimp, pumpkin seeds, and spirulina.
Staying hydrated also keeps the skin flexible and coats glossy. Provide unlimited access to fresh water. Add more bowls around your home if needed.
Now let’s look at some common skin and coat issues for cats.
Common Feline Skin and Coat Problems
Some health conditions can lead to hair loss or skin irritation in cats:
Flea Allergy Dermatitis
Cats with flea allergies develop incredibly itchy rashes when bitten by fleas. Vigilant flea prevention and treatment is crucial.
Allergies to ingredients like beef, dairy, or fish can cause skin inflammation, hives, and hair loss in cats. Elimination diet trials and novel protein diets can help identify triggers.
This highly contagious fungal infection creates round, crusty bald patches along the cat’s body. Oral and topical anti-fungal medications treat ringworm.
Overactive oil glands along the tail cause greasy, wax-like clumps. Regular tail bathing helps resolve the crusty debris.
Mites that bury into the skin cause painful lesions and hair loss. Veterinarians can prescribe anti-parasitic dips, pills, or injections to kill mange mites.
Cats with thin coats, white ears, or who sit in windows can develop sunburn. Keep your cat indoors during peak sun hours and apply pet-safe sunscreen to vulnerable areas when outside.
Stress or Anxiety
Over-grooming due to a stressful change or anxiety disorder can lead to bald spots. Identifying and treating the underlying cause is key to reducing this behavior.
With prompt veterinary care and a healthy diet and lifestyle at home, your cat can maintain a beautiful, flowing coat for years to come.
While cats may look furry at first glance, they actually have a coat of hair made of independent shafts with minimal tapering. The hair growth cycle follows stages of active production, transition, and rest. Normal shedding helps refresh the coat, but excessive shedding or bald spots need veterinary attention.
Provide excellent nutrition with ample protein, fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals to support skin and coat health from the inside out. Groom your cat frequently to distribute oils and remove dead hairs. Keep up with flea and parasite prevention as well.
With this comprehensive understanding of the differences between hair and fur, feline skin structure, the hair growth cycle, normal shedding patterns, nutrition, grooming, and common skin diseases, cat owners can maximize their kitty’s coat health. Your cat will look and feel their absolute best sporting a shiny, flowing coat.