With their plush fur, double- and triple-coated cats are in a feline supermodel league of their own. Their lavish coats feel rich to the touch and provide insulation from natural elements, especially the heavy snow that is a feature of the original habitats of some of these cats—think Maine Coons, Norwegian Forest Cats, and Siberians. Not surprisingly, a moderate degree of maintenance is needed for these cats to stay ready for the catwalk. Here’s what lies beneath those thick, luxurious locks.
Types of Hair
Whether shorthaired or longhaired, feline coats comprise three types of fur: guard, down, and awn. (Not all cats have all three hair types.)
Guard hair is the longer, protective top layer, a water-repellent barrier that shields skin against natural outdoor elements of sun, snow, and rain.
“Guard hair is the hair that reacts from emotions such as fear. Just like the hairs on our arms may stand on end, so will a cat’s guard hairs if they are scared or defensive,” says Anita Kelsey, author of “Claws: Confessions of a Professional Cat Groomer.”
The soft down, or undercoat, lies closest to the skin and helps regulate the cat’s body temperature.
“This fur tends to be the main culprit of matting. It sheds and can get under the guard hairs if the owner is not combing their cat,” says Kelsey.
The mid layer, known as awn hair, also helps to regulate body temperature and make the coat denser. This adds further protection from the elements.
Year-Round Natural Insulation
The coat naturally adjusts to the changing environment the cat lives in. The water-resistant overcoat of guard hairs and dense layers of awn and down keep the cat warm and dry. Cats also have protective hairs around eyes, paws, and toes.
In winter the coat grows thicker in volume and sheds less. In summer, the coat sheds to be lighter and cooler. This process is Mother Nature’s natural thermostat. Cats who live exclusively indoors in a controlled environment tend to shed all year since they aren’t directly exposed to changing seasons. Kelsey says, “Cats who are shaved sometimes get hotter as they can no longer regulate their perfect body temperature through their fur.”
Although cats are naturally fastidious self-groomers, they benefit from extra brushing and combing. Regular grooming helps to remove dead fur from your cat’s coat, which means less fur is swallowed and fewer hairballs are hacked up. Additionally, brushing reduces the amount of fur shed around your home, conditions your cat’s skin and coat with natural oils, and allows you the opportunity to check for parasites, lumps, bumps and skin conditions.
Fortunately, you can keep most supermodel hair in shape with basic grooming. A weekly comb-out is usually all that’s needed. During twice-yearly sheds, the cats may require daily combing. (The profuse coats of Persian cats require daily care year-round.)
What’s the secret to grooming cats with long, thick coats? Kelsey says, “Use a molting comb or dual-purpose comb and pin slicker brush. That is all that’s required. Simple and no gimmicks.”
Some cats may find grooming stressful. To help cats learn to enjoy the special time together, keep sessions calm, gentle, and short–five minutes or less. Progress at your cat’s pace. Always stay positive, use small tasty treats throughout the process, and end with a rewarding tasty treat.
When to Call a Professional Groomer
Sometimes, no matter how diligent you are about following a grooming routine, you may need help. Cats who are exhibit fear or aggression with grooming, or have heavily matted fur should see a professional groomer, ideally one with Fear Free training.
The most common mistake people make when grooming their cat is only combing the top layer of fur without ever reaching through the other layers. This sets up matting. Kelsey recommends a home grooming lesson for every cat owner.
“The lesson helps owners understand the technique needed to comb their cat the correct way. It’s a good investment that will last the whole of the cat’s life and be of benefit to the owner and cat.”
This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.