The Long and Short of It: Hair Length


No question about it, a beautifully groomed long-haired cat is a head-turner. Cats such as Persians have the feline world’s equivalent of Hollywood glamour. We watch them on TV as they recline on their pillows in their diamond collars, eating out of stemmed crystal glasses. That’s probably why Persians are

one of the most popular breeds. We see them and fall in love, unaware of the “behind the scenes” work that goes into maintaining that glorious coat.

The coats of many long-haired cats will mat if not brushed daily. That silky coat can get into a knot faster than you can say “detangling spray.” Aside from the unsightly look of matted fur, mats can create health risks if left unattended because they can prevent air from reaching the skin. Fleas can also seek refuge under mats. As mats tighten they pull on the skin and make walking painful. The nails of the cat can get stuck in the mats as he attempts to scratch. I’ve seen neglected Persians who have ripped holes in their skins in an attempt to scratch beneath the mat. If you love the look of a silky long-haired cat, give serious thought to the maintenance.

Not all long-haired cats are prone to matting. Even if you choose a cat whose hair doesn’t mat, be aware that all long-haired breeds will still require more frequent brushing. The Maine Coon and Norwegian Forest Cat, for example, have thick, long hair that doesn’t mat. Maintenance is still required, though, to keep this coat looking lustrous.

 Long-haired cats, whether they mat or not, occasionally need special assistance concerning their personal hygiene. Their long fur can now and then catch and trap pieces of feces. If a long-haired cat develops diarrhea, the cleanup is much more involved than with a short-haired cat.

Hair balls. You’ve heard of them. You’ve maybe even seen them. Although any cat, regardless of coat length, can have them, long-haired cats experience more than their share. A good grooming schedule by you, feeding hair-ball formula food or treats, and a regular dose of hair-ball-prevention gel will help. If you aren’t able to maintain the cat’s coat, you might be subjecting him to certain hairballs.

Some breeds are more fragile than others. The Sphinx, for example—which is a practically hairless cat—requires warmer temperatures and therefore wouldn’t be a good choice for someone who prefers keeping the thermostat set low.

Hybrids and Exotic Breeds

Don’t choose a cat merely based on its exotic or unique looks. Some people spend lots of money on cats for their physical appeal without researching temperament, personality, and training needs. Bengals are a good example of this. I’ve met many people who purchased Bengals for their wild look and then became shocked when behavior problems developed because no training was done or the owners had no clue as to the activity and intelligence level of the breed.

If you’re interested in one of these cats, carefully research and learn about the breed’s personality, care requirements, and potential health risks. Evaluate whether that breed is the right fit for your family and whether you can create the appropriate environment for the cat.

Magnificent Mixed Breeds

Some of the most loved, spoiled, cared for, doted on, cherished cats are the ones who don’t come with a pedigree. They’re the ones we find lost by the roadside, at our back door, in the neighbor’s garage, in the barn, in the local shelter, brought home by our children, or shivering in the parking lot. So many are in need of our rescue. Really, I believe many more actually rescue us.

Unless you’re already set on a specific breed, are planning to enter your cat in shows (and actually, there are several mixed-breed shows), or embarking on a breeding career (something I strongly advise against), you should consider a mixed breed.

What is a mixed breed? It refers to the product of the random matings of different or mixed breeds of cats. Sometimes you see a trace of an identifiable breed but usually, the years of random matings create cats whose histories are mysteries. Mixed-breed cats are available all shapes, sizes, and colors. From a personality standpoint, you may not get the predictability that you might with purebreds, but in general, what you will get is a hearty, adaptable, trainable cat.