Until comparatively recently, cats only had two types of coats, short haired and long haired. This is still generally true of ordinary pet cats or moggies, which are usually described as Domestic Shorthaired Cats or Domestic Longhaired Cats. But in the last 50 years or so the number of cat breeds has proliferated, and so has the variety of coat types. These are all a little different, and require different care by the owner. Let us take a look at all of them...
Short haired cats are still commonest, and most of the cats we all see every day have short hair. Their coats are smooth and sleek, and the cats can generally take care of their own coats. Some short haired cats, however, do benefit from a little grooming by their owners, particularly those which have a rather thick and plush coat. This type of thick coat is typical of the Russian Blue, but it also occurs sometimes in non-pedigree cats. These cats benefit from weekly grooming, if their coats are not to become matted and even develop the type of knots most often associated with long haired cats.
When it comes to moggies, any cat with a slightly longer coat than the usual short coat is usually described as a Domestic Longhair. However, among pedigree cats, the term is reserved for Persian cats, any other breeds with longer fur being described as 'semi-longhairs'. These cats have longer fur, and they often need help from their owners in keeping it groomed and free from knots and matts. While longhaired moggies may be fine with a weekly groom, most Persians need daily brushing and combing, some even twice daily. Therefore taking on a longhaired pedigree cat involves quite a commitment and a great deal of work. Please don't be tempted to do it unless you are prepared to keep up with the regular grooming, as you don't want your cat to end up as one of the large number of Persians which are put up for rehoming because their owners cannot cope with the amount of work involved in tending to their coats.
This is the term used for the coats of Maine Coons, Birmans, Somalis, Norwegian Forest Cats, Ragamuffins, and many other breeds. These cats have longer fur than the shorthaired cats, but not as long and thick as the coat of Persians. The coat is of a different texture too, and does not require nearly as much grooming as that of the Persian. So if you like the longhaired look, but don't have time for daily grooming, a semi-longhaired breed may be right for you. But do bear in mind that semi-longhairs still need some grooming, anything from every couple of days to weekly, depending on the breed, and even on the individual cat.
Every so often kittens are born with a sparse, wavy or curly ‘Rex’ coat. As they get older, they really look as though the fur has been permed. Rex cats have been reported in many different places at various times. A few, such as the Devon Rex, Cornish Rex, and Selkirk Rex, have been developed as new breeds. Others have been allowed to die out. In fact, there are records of at least 17 different Rex cats. The curly hair is caused by a spontaneously occurring mutant gene, which is usually recessive, so the ‘permed’ cats will disappear naturally unless they are carefully bred to develop the breed. However, the Selkirk Rex gene appears to be genetically dominant. Here is a brief history of Rex cats...
Most Rex cats do not require much coat care, the exception being the longer haired Selkirk Rex, which needs some grooming now and then. But some Rex cats have very sparse fur, and need to be kept indoors in very cold weather.
The Sphynx cat has no fur in the generally accepted sense, and appears at first sight to be completely naked. In fact, if you have never seen one, before, it looks very odd indeed, and not much like a real cat! However, Sphynx cats do have a very fine coat, which feels much like velvet when it is touched. Sphynx cats originated in Britain in the 1960s, when a natural mutation produced a litter of almost hairless kittens. These were then bred to produce the Sphynx breed. The Sphynx coat needs no grooming, but it is prone to greasiness, and Sphynx cats benefit from the occasional bath. They also need to be protected from cold, and also from sunburn during hot weather.
It is useful to know about cat coat types in order to have some idea of how much work owning that particular cat will involve. But it may be helpful in other ways too. People who are slightly allergic to cat fur often find that they are worse around cats with longer hair. In the same way, some allergic individuals seem to be able to tolerate the Rex breeds or Sphynx cats, although this is not universal. So if you would like to own a cat, but cannot tolerate the longer fur, this may be something that is worth looking into.