The cat’s coat is truly its crowning glory. It serves to protect and insulate the body against cold, and in the wild the colours and patterns provide camouflage. For us, the owners of domestic cats, the appearance of the coat is one of the animals’ main charms, and over many centuries spontaneous colour mutations and, in more recent times, selective breeding have produced the wide variety of coats ‘worn’ by pedigree cats.
The domestic cat, like the wild cat, is basically tabby in marking, and it is the artificial selection by breeds that has produced the wide array of self or solid colours as well as new patterns – from black, lilac and blue to tortoiseshell, smoke and many more.
Types of coat
The types of coat, like the colour, developed naturally in wild cats to suit the habitat. Desert-living types have shorter coats, while those dwelling in places with more severe climate have much thicker ones.
The manul (Felis manul), for instance, has a coat that is longer and denser than that of any other wild cat. It inhabits rocky mountainsides at heights up to 4,000 metres (13,000 feets) in Russian Asia, Tibet and Mongolia. This cat may possibly be the ancestor of longhaired domestic types, such as Angoras and blue, black, white and red longhairs (Persians).
There are three types of hair in a cat’s coat:
- Guard hairs or top coat
- Bristly awn hairs
- Soft and curly down hairs
Hairs that are coloured are said to be tipped. The tipping may be light, or it may extend down the hair almost to the root. A ticked coat is one where the hairs carry bands of colours.
The particular mixture of the various hair types gives each breed its typical coat texture. Here are some examples:
- Longhair – a dense coat guard and down hairs, up to 12.5 cm (5 inch) and thick down hairs.
- Angora – very long guard and down hairs but finer and less profuse than in the Longhair.
- Maine Coon – long guard and down hairs (like the Longhair) but shaggy and uneven.
- American Wirehair – the coat has guard, awn and down hairs, all of which are curly, even coiled.
- Cornish Rex – the short and curly awn and down hairs are all of similar length.
- Devon Rex – the guard, down and awn hairs are all very short and curly.
- Sphynx – there are no guard or awn hairs, but a few down hairs on the face, tail and legs.
- British or European Shorthair – the guard hairs are about 4.5 cm (1¾ inch) long, and the awn hairs are sparse.