How Cats Keep Their Cool: The Secret of Cat's Fur

A cat's fur is so much more than something soft for us to stroke
Ask anyone how a cat keeps warm in winter and they'll tell you it's because of its fur. But how do they keep their cool in the summertime? It might come as a surprise to learn that it's also thanks to their fur that they can remain cool when all around is hot.

In fact a cat's fur is remarkable stuff that keeps it warm or cool whenever necessary, provides protection from the elements, wards off threats and even acts as a sort of GPS! Let's find out more about the fur that makes our furry friends so furry.

The differences between ground hair, awn hair and guard hair (L to R)
Cats Have Three Types of Hair
Most people don't realize that cats actually have three different types of hair that grow simultaneously, and what's more they grow a lot of it! Humans can only grow a single hair from one hair follicle, but cats grow as many as six hairs from each follicle.
  • Guard Hair. This is the outermost layer of hair. It grows straighter and longer than the other layers of hair and acts as a shield against water and sunlight. Cats can also 'raise' the guard hair as a warning display when threatened.
  • Ground Hair. Also called down hair or the undercoat, this is the innermost layer of hair. Short and wavy, ground hair keeps a layer of dry air next to a cat's body for thermoregulation.
  • Awn Hair. The tips of awn hairs are straight at their ends and act like guard hairs in repelling water and sunlight. The inner half of awn hairs are wavy like down hairs and provide a similar thermoregulation function.

A Cat's Fur is its Air Conditioning System.
It is the layer of air next to a cat's body that helps keep it warm in winter and cool in summer. Preventing body-warmed air from escaping through the fur keeps a cat warm, and allowing fresh air to ventilate through the fur keeps a cat cool.

A Cat's Fur Acts as an Umbrella
By helping to shed water a cat's fur behaves in the same way as an umbrella, but it also acts as a sun shade too. A cat's fur prevents harmful UV rays from causing sunburn on a its skin.

Cats' fur acts as an umbrella to protect them from UV rays and rainfall
A Cat's Fur is Like a GPS?
Well not quite, but the fur does tell a cat a lot about its surroundings. Similar to a cat's whiskers, the awn hairs help a cat's spatial awareness - hence cats rubbing their bodies against objects as they walk around.

A Cat's Fur Used as a Warning
By raising the guard hairs a cat appears bigger to a perceived threat and therefore appears more of a force to be reckoned with. This 'hair standing on end' display is a warning to other animals to back off.

Healthy Cats Need Healthy Coats
Unsurprisingly keeping a cat's fur in good condition has a big bearing on the overall health of the cat. Regular brushing to remove old hairs and promote growth of new ones is important, as is the use of flea and tick preventatives.

A healthy diet with vitamins and supplements is also essential for a cat to grow a healthy coat of fur, and so is plenty of fresh water to drink. A pet supply specialist will be able to help you find everything you need to keep your cats healthy and happy.

By John Bone
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