Breed Groups and Coat Types

img cat coat types

A cat’s fur is its most admired feature, and it is also an important part of its body. It is not just the basis for cat breed identification but on a functional level it:

  • Provides a barrier between the cat’s skin and its environment
  • Protects the cat from injury and infection
  • Helps to regulate body temperature
  • Insulates the body in cold weather
  • Is a general guide to health
  • Protects against excess sunlight and chemicals

The coat hair may be:

  • Long
  • Short
  • Hard
  • Soft
  • Silky
  • Coarse
  • Thick
  • Wavy

Selective breeding and genetic mutation have enhanced cats’ coats and in fact have caused coat loss. The result is that the various cat breeds not only have different textures of coat but also have an incredible variety of colour and coat pattern. The basic type of cat, the wild type, is the Tabby cat. It is from the Tabby that all other breeds of cat have evolved. A cat’s coat may contain up to 200 hairs per square millimetre (130 000 per square inch). The cat has a top coat of guard hair and an undercoat which consists of coarse, bristly awn hairs and soft down hairs.

The guard or primary hairs normally form the coarse outer layer of the coat. In the cat these hairs tend to be rooted in individual hair follicles. They are connected to the nervous system (autonomic) and therefore respond to information from the senses (eyes, ears, smell and touch) in the form of excitement, fear, cold or the fight reflex. The guard hairs stand upright at these times giving the cat an aggressive appearance. There are more of these hairs on the cat’s back and sides making it appear larger to another animal. If the cat is cold then these hairs stand up providing an area around the cat in which to trap body heat and thus acts as a form of insulation. Throughout the top coat of guard hairs is the under coat made up of bristly awn hairs with thickened tips and the soft downy hairs which lie close to the skin.

Generally cats are considered to be either short haired or long haired with a guard hair length from 4.5 cm to 15 cm. Besides the length, there is the coat’s density and texture. This is provided by the guard, awn, and down hairs. These three hairs vary from one breed to another.

The ideal coat of a pedigree cat has been set out in Breed and Show Standards, over the last 100 years of selective breeding. The aim of the Standards is to ensure that any proposed new breed is different from other registered breeds and that there are enough potential breeders interested in breeding the cat to support the agreed Standard. The process may take a number of years, through preliminary and provisional stages before being shown in championship level classes. This is regulated by the Governing Council of the Cat Fancy.

For grooming purposes, cat breeds can be subdivided into:

  1. Long hair: Persian
  2. Semi-long hair: Birman, Turkish Van, Ragdoll
  3. Short hair: British short hair, Manx
  4. Short hair: Foreign Abyssinian, Russian Blue, Cornish and Devon Rex
  5. Short hair: American Shaded Silver, Red Tabby
  6. Burmese: Burmese
  7. Oriental: Oriental Black, Blue and Caramel Havana
  8. Siamese: Siamese, Balinese

In North America domestic cats are categorised in two groups only:

  • Long hair
  • Short hair

Popular cat coat types

Long coat Cats with long coats have large bodies and a round head. The nose is short, the eyes are large and the ears are small. The coat is long and double with soft undercoat and quite coarse guard hairs of almost the same length as the undercoat. Although these cats will self-groom, to prevent matting of the coat the owner needs to assist the cat. This will prevent tangles forming, which the cat cannot deal with. Typical long haired breeds include Persian and Angora. In the long hair coat the down hair is almost as long as the guard hair, giving the coat a soft silky feel. The longest guard hair length is about 12.5 cm. Breeds like the Turkish or Birman, though genetically the same as the Persian, have shorter down hairs, leaving the coat less full.

Semi-long coat

These cats are sturdy and muscular with a normal shaped head and length of nose. The eyes are of normal size, however the upright ears can be large. The coat is long but not as double as the Persian, having either a finer or a shaggy texture (which means that the coat is less liable to matting).

Short coat

This coat is dense and easy to care for. It is easier to clean and unlikely to get tangled. Fig. 1.17 a and b show cats with typical short coats. These cats’ features vary depending on their origin, for example:

  1. British Shorthair: These cats have a stocky build, with large round heads and
    muscular body and short legs.
  2. American Shorthair: These cats are larger than the British/European breeds,
    with a lean body. They are longer legged with an oval head.
  3. Foreign Shorthair: These cats are slim bodied and long legged, their coat contains fine hairs and the head is wedge shaped.

Curly or wavy coat

The curly or wavy coat has either no guard hair or very short guard hair. It comprises short curly awn and down hairs that are of the same length, giving the coat a curly, wavy appearance, e.g. the Cornish Rex. The Devon Rex coat has all three types of hair, however the guard and awn are so altered they resemble down hairs giving the coat a harsher feel. The Devon Rex also varies in that it has either shortened whiskers or none at all.

Wire coat

The coat is thick, curly, woolly, coarse and wiry to touch. It appears crimped due to the wave or curl of the hairs, and some are even coiled in spirals. The guard hair and down are similar, the tips of the awn hair looking like a shepherd’s crook, with some even coiled into complete spirals. A typical breed with this coat type is the American Blue Wirehair.


These cats do in fact have some hairs, but they are so sparse that the appearance is hairless. Down hairs around the face, legs and body give a thin covering. With little or no hair to protect the skin and help in body heat conservation this breed needs assistance in cold weather and early treatment for any obvious skin damage. The skin and down hair can be of any recognised colour and pattern, such as that seen in the Blue Sphynx.

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