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There's more to your cat's coat than the soft, silky feel of it. Fur insulates your cat from the elements, protects her skin from injury, and acts as a health indicator. Read on about how nutrition, illness, and grooming all affect your pet's coat and skin.

Health by a Hair

Breed determines whether your cat is short-, medium-, or longhaired and whether her hair is coarse, medium, or fine. But no matter what her fur looks like, all healthy cats should boast glossy, mat-free coats.

Lusterless, brittle coats can indicate illness. Call your veterinarian if your cat's fur looks dull, breaks easily, or starts falling out excessively, leaving bald spots. Your cat also shouldn't groom herself to the point of hair loss -call your veterinarian if she does.

The Skin She's In

Just like your skin, your cat's skin is a sensory and protective organ that helps maintain her body temperature. And although your kitty doesn't sweat like people do, the many blood vessels in her skin dilate to cool her off or constrict to hold in heat and keep her warm.

A cat's skin is thinner than human skin, and its natural color ranges from white to brown, gray, or black. When your cat isn't feeling well, her skin may change color or appear dry and patchy. Dry skin is especially common in kittens; it can result from inadequate nutrition, gastrointestinal parasite infections, or sometimes mange.

Check your cat's skin by gently separating her fur. Look for anything unusual, including bumps, rashes, or discoloration. Flakes, scabs, odor, or a greasy feel also can indicate a skin problem. If you notice any of these abnormalities, call your veterinarian. Your vet will examine your cat to find the cause.

Also, look for fleas or fine, black specks on your cat's skin. This dust is flea waste, a sure sign your pet has been infested. Fleas make your pet miserable, so take steps to treat her - and her environment - right away. Your veterinarian can provide expert advice on eradicating fleas.

Brushing Up

Grooming your cat makes her even more beautiful and keeps her clean and healthy. Your pet has natural oils on her skin, and regular brushings spread those oils throughout the coat to keep it shiny. It also feels great!

Shedding is a year-round thing, but you might not notice it until the longer days of spring and summer arrive. Regular brushing keeps fur flyaways under control - and off the couch - and prevents matting, which can trap moisture and bacteria next to your pets' skin and cause irritated, itchy skin patches. Brushing also removes loose dirt from your cat's coat and she may suffer fewer hairballs.

Grooming your cat also gives you a chance to pass your hands over her body, to check for lumps, bumps, and sensitive areas. Call your veterinarian if you find anything suspicious.