Silky-soft cat fur isn't just nice to look at and stroke, but also fulfils important protective functions for cats, along with the skin that lies underneath. As fundamental parts of the feline body, they clearly signal when something is not right: if the metabolic processes are out of sync, the skin and fur often visibly suffer.
Cat Skin and Fur
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You might have heard it said before that the cat's largest organ is its skin. Well, it's true! The cat's skin is more than just an important barrier organ against dryness through the loss of bodily fluids and the invasion of pathogens. It also regulates body temperature and acts as an excretory organ for sebum, sweat and hormones. As the cat's largest organ, it equally plays an important role as a sensory organ.
Cat skin is made up of four layers. The exterior layer, known as the epidermis, fulfils an important protective function against external influences. It contains sebaceous glands and hairballs that extend deep into the undermost skin layer. Nerve endings and blood vessels are found in the dermis and cutis. These skin layers are particularly important for sensory perception. The underlying sub-cutis stores fat, amongst other components.
Awn hair, numerous types of guard hair and underfur, known as down hair, stem from every hair follicle on the cat's skin.
Long and short-haired breeds may differ in terms of the length of their fur, but it plays an important role in both cases by protecting the cat's body from deviations in temperature thanks to its insulating effect. In addition, it acts a barrier to superficial injuries and comes to the fore, for instance, to protect against the tops of branches when prowling in the undergrowth or against powerful bites when fighting opponents.
Malfunctions in the skin and fur metabolism
Skin and fur are important but often overlooked organs in the cat's body. Pathological changes frequently point to underlying conditions or malnutrition, but they could also indicate the presence of parasites or a disease per se. In particular, cat owners should watch out for sudden fur loss, increased scratching or licking, scales, bloody scabs or the fur suddenly turning dull. Skin lesions can often be concealed by profuse cat fur. If these alternations occur for longer periods or outside the moulting period in spring and autumn, you have to go the vet! The same applies if noticeable changes to the fur are accompanied by abnormal behaviour.
Off to the vet we go
Your vet will generally take a closer look at your cat's skin and fur. Do the observed symptoms only affect one area or are they spread over the whole body? Can they perhaps be traced back to an injury or are parasites present? If the cause isn't apparent, a blood test could help in terms of ruling out or precisely identifying deficiency symptoms. If your cat is suffering from an infection, there will be clear indications in the blood count. Your vet will potentially prescribe medication for your cat or recommend dietary supplements.
Dull fur, scales and open wounds could result in the following consequences:
Parasites: Cats can suffer from external parasites such as mites, lice or fleas, whilst endoparasites such as worms can also affect the skin and fur. A prophylaxis against external parasites is often recommended for free-roaming cats; spot-ons that can simply be dribbled onto the cat's neck are particularly common. Deworming puts a strain on the cat's body and should therefore only be prescribed following a positive faecal analysis.
Fungal skin infections: Fungal skin infections are unpleasant for cats and can also be passed on to humans and other pets. Hygiene is fundamental if your cat is suffering from a fungal infection. Your vet will also prescribe you an antifungal agent for internal or external application.
Malnutrition: At least in theory, commercial cat food contains everything a cat needs in order to stay healthy. Every cat is different though, and younger or older cats or those suffering from chronic illnesses often need more nutrients than their counterparts. If a cat doesn't receive sufficient vitamins, minerals or trace elements in its food, this is often demonstrated by matt fur or scales. However, please refrain from randomly trying out dietary supplements and hoping for the best. If your cat has dull fur or other anomalies, this is generally due to a fundamental deficiency that should be remedied in a targeted manner. A blood count can clearly identify what nutrients your cat requires.
Allergies: Allergies are no longer a rare occurrence in the feline world and often come to the fore through the altered appearance of the skin and fur. Find out more in our article about cat allergies!
Change of coat: Every year, cats lose their thick winter fur or set themselves up for the colder months with a plushy coat. This is completely normal and no sign of illness, but during this period, many cats develop dull fur or scratch themselves to shed loose fur. Regular brushing and providing dietary supplements can help the coat change process take place without any problems. Cat grass or malt paste can make it easier to remove swallowed hairs.
Mental disorders and stress: If your cat constantly licks itself, tears out its hair or shows other abnormalities, chronic stress or mental disorders could be the cause. It's generally best to rule out physical causes before approaching an animal behaviour therapist.
As prevention or support upon discussion with the vet, dietary supplements can encourage shiny fur and healthy skin. Many products contain yeast, which supports the skin metabolism, or taurine, an essential amino acid that cannot be produced by the cat's body. In order to meet the daily requirement for taurine, your cat has to consume amino acids with its food. Taurine deficiency is first apparent through dull fur, but can lead to heart disorders or blindness on a more lasting basis. Thankfully, dietary supplements with taurine are generally harmless, since excess taurine is excreted by the body.
We wish you and your cat all the best!
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