Perhaps the most striking features of a cat’s skin is the amount of it. A cat’s skin when examined will seem to be in great excess, with looseness most noticeable around the back of the neck to the point it can almost be twisted right around to the front. Loose skin has multiple benefits. It protects your cat from serious injury during fights, it enables your cat to better maintain their body temperature and when jumping or performing any acrobatic feet this loose skin ensures their limber muscles are not inhibited from moving to the most desirable place for a soft landing
The skin is in two layers.
Feline skin is made up of two layers of tissue: the dermis inner layer, and the epidermis outer layer, which is constantly being replaced as it dies and sloughs away into tiny flakes of dandruff dead skin. There are sweat glands on the skin, but these seem to exist mainly for excreting impurities from the body rather than for controlling body temperature. True sweat glands are to be found in the footpads.
On the nose and feet, the epidermis is up to 75 times thicker than on the rest of the body, yet it is extremely sensitive to pressure and temperature. There are sweat glands only on the feet. Unlike a dog, a cat cannot lose heat through its nose pad, any dampness on the skin here coming from the mucous membranes inside the nose.
Sebaceous glands open into the hair follicles and produce a semi-liquid, oily substance, called sebum, to coat each new hair as it grows. Scent glands can be found on the forehead just above the eyes(the temporal glands), by the lips(the perioral gland) and near the root of the tail(the caudal gland).
Hair is derived from the outer layer of skin and acts as insulatory cover. It is modified in certain areas to provide eyelashes, eyebrows and whiskers. There are three main types of hair.
- Down hairs or undercoat hairs are the shortest, thinnest and softest hairs; they lie close to the body and conserve body heat.
- Awn hairs form the middle coat and are slightly more bristly, with a swelling towards the tip before it tapers off. They are partly for insulation and partly for protection.
- Guard hairs are the thickest, longest and straightest; they form the topcoat, which protects the fur below from the elements.
The ratio of down, awn and guard hairs varies greatly between the domestic breeds; in the wildcat, there are approximately 1,000 down hairs to 300 awn hairs and 20 guard hairs. In a fit, healthy cat the skin is pliable; in a sick or dehydrated cat, it is stiff and unyielding. A sudden change from the normal pale pink colouring can indicate illness and needs veterinary investigation.