Integumentary System Overview - Anatomy & Physiology

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The integumentary system is an organ system that forms the protective covering of an animal and comprises the skin (including glands and their products), haircoat or feathers, scales, nails, hooves and horns.

The integumentary system has a variety of functions; in animals, it serves to waterproof, cushion and protect the deeper tissues, excrete waste, regulate temperature and is the location of sensory receptors for pain, pressure and temperature. Generally mammalian skin is covered with hair and is termed hirsute skin. Where hair is absent, it is termed glabrous skin.

The integumentary system is often the largest organ system. It distinguishes, separates, protects and informs the animal with regard to its surroundings. Small-bodied invertebrates of aquatic or continually moist habitats also respire using the outer layer (integument). This gas exchange system, where gases simply diffuse into and out of the interstitial fluid, is called integumentary exchange. The skin is an organ that shows complex adaptations many of which are species specific - fish, birds, reptiles and amphibians have modifications of the integumen that are tailored to meet the survival needs of each species. Specific lifestyles such as those including hibernation require additional modifications to support the skin such as the phsiologically adapted brown adipose tissue which generates body heat from specialised subcutaneous fat cells.

The skin can be reflective of the health status of an animal, being sensative to certain hormonal and nutritional conditions.

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  • Dyce, K.M., Sack, W.O. and Wensing, C.J.G. (2002) Textbook of Veterinary Anatomy. 3rd ed. Philadelphia: Saunders.
  • Gilbert, S.F., 2000. Developmental Biology. 6th ed. Sinauer Associates, Inc, Sunderland MA.
  • Sjaastad, O.V., Hove, K. and Sand, O. (2004) Physiology of Domestic Animals. Oslo: Scandinavian Veterinary Press.

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