Hair and fur in cats means basically the same thing. While a source of confusion for some, these terms are used interchangeably although the hair is more often used to describe a single strand or strands while fur is usually the term used when referring to thick hair, like what most cats have.
Cat hair (or fur, if you prefer) is made of keratin, a protective and fibrous protein that forms part of the main structural constituents of hair, claws, hoofs, horns, and feathers.
Cats, like all mammals, have hair that originates from under the skin or the epidermis. They possess a muscle called arrector pili that is sensitive to temperature and which contracts when a cat is frightened or alarmed, causing the hair to stand up, often referred to as the “Halloween cat” look.
Interestingly, cat breeders often refer to the overall appearance of the cat’s fur as “coat” and people use the phrases “comb the hair” and “brush its fur”. At the same time, cats are described as either short-haired or long-haired. To set the record straight, whether you refer to it as hair, fur, or coat does not make any difference. These terms may be used interchangeably and may depend on the amount of hair being referenced.
What are the types of cat hair and coats?
Cats do not only have genuine quirks and behavior but they are also physically unique. Take a cat’s hair or fur, for instance. It has various types that have their attributes.
Here are the common types of cat hair and coats:
These are long and tactile hairs that are extremely sensitive and play a vital role in a cat’s ability to find her way around in total darkness and to navigate her environment. Whiskers extend from the muzzle, the cheeks, above the eyes, and in the outer part of lower legs. Read our article on how many whiskers does a cat have for more surprising details.
Some beneficial facts about whiskers:
- its distribution is symmetrical
- it works as a built-in measuring tape
- it helps cats to sense vibrations in the air
- it acts as night vision aid and also helps with close up vision
- it tells you a cat’s moods or emotions
- it should never be trimmed
- it can change color as a result of aging
The undercoat is the softer and fluffier hair that provides warmth and also referred to as down and the secondary hairs. This is the type of hair that is prone to matting if a cat is not groomed properly.
The guard hairs are the stiffer and longer hairs that extend past the awn hairs or base coat. They are also called primary hairs. This type of hair determines a cat’s basic color and helps deter water to keep a cat dry.
The awn hairs form part of a cat’s basic coat. For some cat breeds, the finer awn hairs may be of the same length as those with guard hairs while other breeds like the Manx have longer guard hairs.
The vellus is the sparse and baby-fine hair usually found in hairless breeds like the Sphynx.
3 hair type categories of cats
These are the hair type categories for cats:
Coats are usually less than 2 inches in length and may be groomed regularly, but it is not as critical as with longer haired breeds. Short-haired cat breeds include the American Shorthair, Bombay, Burmese, Devon Rex, Cornish Rex, Japanese Bobtail, Siamese, Manx, and Korat.
Coats can grow up to 5 inches in length and require daily grooming. Long-haired cat breeds include the Maine Coon, American Curl, Persian, Balinese, Angora, Birman, and Norwegian Forest.
They only have baby-fine hair and should be groomed at least once a week. Hairless cat breeds include the Sphynx, Bambino, Donskoy, Peterbald, Ukrainian Levkoy, Elf, and Dwelf.
Check out our earlier article on how often should you brush your cat for a detailed discussion on grooming practices for the hair type categories.
Cat hair fun facts
Here are some fun facts about cat hair that are interesting to know:
- guard hairs grow at an average daily rate of 0.011 inches while for secondary hairs it is 0.010 inches.
- cats that are more exposed to natural sunlight may tend to shed more in the spring and fall while indoor cats may shed all year long
- more or less 30% of guard hairs and 50% of secondary hairs are in resting mode in the summertime while the percentage may increase to 75 and 90 during the wintertime
The terms hair, fur or coat are used interchangeably although the hair is often used to describe a strand while fur is usually reserved for thick hair.
Image: istockphoto.com / Vadimborkin