Skipping the Integumentary
In my anatomy class we finally started dissecting the cats, but, of course, before you can actually dissect anything, you must skin the cat. We’re dissecting cats because when my teacher was a student, he dissected a cat and thus knows the most about their anatomy and how the process works. Some facts about the cat that my partner and I have chosen to dissect. First, you should know that I’m a cat person and so I was very careful to pick a cat that I liked and appealed to me. Our cat’s name is Garfield, he’s an orange tabby cat and we believe (based on the amount of fat we found on his belly and neck) he was a little pudgy during life.
When we pulled Garfield out of the bag, I cried a little bit. I’m a cat lover so dissecting a cat isn’t at the top of my to-do list. His post-mortum position was as if he had been clawing for help, a position that you’d find at Pompeii, sort of. His arms were up near his head, mouth was open (supported by a sponge cube), tongue rolled up in back of mouth and his eyes were shut. We laid him down on the dissecting “plate” and grabbed our scalpels.
It hadn’t hit me until we were actually about to begin, that skinning the cat meant literally taking the skin and fat off until there was just muscle. Garfield still had fur and a lot of it! Now why the cats weren’t shaved, I don’t understand but regardless I still had to skin the cat using my hands and a scalpel. To start the skinning process, one must pierce the skin at the sternum and slice laterally down the ventral side of the cat, making sure not to cut into muscles. After my partner (who was completely unaffected by the dead cat on the table) had done that with scissors, I used my scalpel to cut around the base of the neck and up both of the forelimbs, stopping at the paws. For a cat dissection, the skin on the head, tail and paws isn’t removed. We used our fingers to peel the skin away from the abdominal muscles before we began slicing away.
The muscles were connected to skin by connective tissue, which is called the subdermis. The subdermis was right underneath the middle layer of skin, the dermis. The subdermis is made up of connective and fatty tissue and helps the body with insulation, energy storage and making sure the skin stays on the body. This is the thickest layer of the three layers (epidermis, dermis, subdermis). The connective tissue has different appearances depending on placement. If it was right on top of a muscle it was white and slightly thick and we used tweezers to remove this tissue and at other times (when peeling the skin back) the tissue simply looked like cobwebs that we sliced through easily with a scalpel. Garfield happened to have a lot of subdermis on his body and thus, in some areas (like the chest and arms) cutting was really easy, but in others, like the belly and the back we had to put in a lot of effort to remove the skin completely. The most difficult part about skinning was making sure not to slice into or completely destroy any muscles. My partner and I did a fine skinning job on most of the cat, but we ended up slicing out the trapezius muscles on our cat. I’m not really sure how it happened, but I think we must have mistaken it for connective tissue or the amount of connective tissue between the muscle and the subdermis was thin, making the muscle “stick” to the skin really well. Another difficulty was having to cut around the base of the tail (and since Garfield is a boy, the scrotum), because the tail and scrotum can’t just be peeled off with the rest of the skin; they were cut around.
After two days of skinning a cat we finally succeeded in removing the skin on the torso and limbs, and whenever we have to store Garfield for the day we wrap him back in his skin. It’s like a blanket!!