Body Care and Health for Cats
Domestic cats are carnivorous mammals. They have had a very long relationship with people, going back as far as 10,000 years.
A cat owner has a responsibility to know and understand their cat’s anatomy and physiology.
Healthy cats generally show the following signs of well being:
- A healthy cat should appear to be in good physical condition. You should be able to feel, but not see, the cat’s ribs. However, the cat’s belly should not look full or extended.
- A healthy cat has a bright, shiny and sleek coat. There should be no evidence of excessive shedding or scaling. Patches of missing hair can indicate a skin disorder or other illness. There should be no sign of fleas.
- Most cats have moist, cool noses with no sign of discharge. Frequent sneezing can signal a respiratory infection.
- The cat’s ears should be clean and free of waxy buildup, which can be a sign of infection. There should be no evidence of scratching or hair loss around the ears.
- A healthy cat should smell pleasant. Odours can signal skin disease, dental problems or other illnesses or disorders.
- The cat’s tongue and gums should be a healthy shade of pink.
- The eyes should be bright and clear, with no sign of discharge.
- Cats should not show any signs of limping or sensitivity around their bones or joints. Cats are much stronger than people, relative to their size, and can jump, twist and run gracefully.
- Urine should be yellow and show no signs of blood. A cat that uses the litter box frequently or has difficulty passing stools may be ill.
Skin & Hair
Cats’ skin and hair coat make up the outer covering of their body and is their largest sensory organ. The skin protects the muscles, skeletal system and internal organs and the hair coat covers the skin and helps cats monitor the environment and regulate their body temperature.
While a cat’s skin is water resistant, oils and medicines can still be absorbed through the skin. This should be kept in mind when using any insecticides or medications on a cat’s skin, as a toxic substance absorbed into it can be fatal. A healthy cat’s skin is always elastic and pliable, with the ability to quickly heal.
Healthy cats have healthy hair coats, although the amount and type can vary from cat to cat and breed to breed. Its hair coat protects it from both cold and hot temperatures. Most cats have three types of hairs. Guard hairs are found in the outer coat and are usually coarse, long and straight. The intermediate coat is made of awn hairs, which are of medium length, and the undercoat is made of soft short fur.
Cats’ whiskers are also hairs. They act like antennae and help the cat to sense movement and air currents.
Cats will raise their hair, particularly along its neck and back, if they feel threatened or frightened. They will also arch their back and turn sideways to appear larger and more threatening.
Cats naturally shed hair all year long, but more so in the spring and fall. Excessive shedding can be a sign of illness or disease, and also a warning sign of a poor diet or parasites.
Cats have excellent eyesight and can see better than humans, especially in the early evening and at night. Most cats can also see different kinds of light, such as ultraviolet, that are invisible to people. Cats have the ability to see some colours: they are dichromats and see in blue, yellow and grey. A cat’s eyes will actually glow in the dark. This is caused by a layer of iridescent cells at the back of the eyeball. These cells reflect the light and enhance the cat’s ability to see at night.
Cats have a range of hearing that is much broader than the range of human hearing, and they are very sensitive to sound. Some scientists believe that cats have a keener sense of hearing than most dogs. When listening, cats will move their head and turn their ears in the direction of the sound.
Cats have tongues that are long, flat and tapered. The tongue is covered with small spines called filiform papillae, which give it a “raspy” feel. These are important for both eating and grooming.
Skeleton & Muscles
The skeletal system and musculature of the cat gives it some unique abilities. The cat’s skeletal system provides the framework for its muscular system and allows for important movements. Movement patterns include:
- The walk, in which each foot lands on the ground at a separate time.
- The trot, in which the opposite front and rear legs strike the ground at the same time.
- The run.
A cat’s muscles are designed for walking, running, leaping, and twisting. As a result of their musculature and skeletal system, cats are quick and agile. Cats have 30 vertebrae, compared to 24 in people. If cats fall, they will usually land on their feet. Their muscle system allows them to catch prey and escape quickly from threats.
A healthy cat has a good appetite. Cats are designed to eat several small meals a day. Cats are predators and their digestive systems can handle prey such as small birds and small mammals such as mice. A cat is a non-ruminant. Non-ruminants (humans, cats and dogs) digest carbohydrates, protein and fat by enzymatic action. Ruminants (cattle, sheep and deer) use bacteria in the fore stomachs to digest fiber by fermentation and use enzymatic digestion in the small intestine.