Felis catus (original combination)
Felis catus domestica (invalid junior synonym )
The DOMESTIC CAT (
Felis silvestris catus or
Felis catus) is a
small, typically furry , carnivorous mammal . They are often called
HOUSE CATS when kept as indoor pets or simply CATS when there is no
need to distinguish them from other felids and felines . Cats are
often valued by humans for companionship and for their ability to hunt
vermin . There are more than 70 cat breeds , though different
associations proclaim different numbers according to their standards.
Cats are similar in anatomy to the other felids, with a strong
flexible body, quick reflexes, sharp retractable claws, and teeth
adapted to killing small prey.
Cat senses fit a crepuscular and
predatory ecological niche . Cats can hear sounds too faint or too
high in frequency for human ears, such as those made by mice and other
small animals. They can see in near darkness. Like most other mammals,
cats have poorer color vision and a better sense of smell than humans.
Cats, despite being solitary hunters, are a social species and cat
communication includes the use of a variety of vocalizations (mewing ,
purring , trilling , hissing, growling , and grunting ), as well as
cat pheromones and types of cat-specific body language .
Cats have a high breeding rate. Under controlled breeding, they can
be bred and shown as registered pedigree pets, a hobby known as cat
fancy . Failure to control the breeding of pet cats by neutering , as
well as the abandonment of former household pets , has resulted in
large numbers of feral cats worldwide, requiring population control .
In certain areas outside cats' native range, this has contributed,
along with habitat destruction and other factors, to the extinction of
many bird species. Cats have been known to extirpate a bird species
within specific regions and may have contributed to the extinction of
isolated island populations. Cats are thought to be primarily
responsible for the extinction of 33 species of birds, and the
presence of feral and free-ranging cats makes some otherwise suitable
locations unsuitable for attempted species reintroduction .
Since cats were venerated in ancient Egypt , they were commonly
believed to have been domesticated there, but there may have been
instances of domestication as early as the
Neolithic from around 9,500
years ago (7,500 BC). A genetic study in 2007 concluded that all
domestic cats are descended from Near Eastern wildcats , having
diverged around 8,000 BC in the
Middle East . A 2016 study found
that leopard cats were undergoing domestication independently in China
around 5,500 BC, though this line of partially domesticated cats
leaves no trace in the domesticated populations of today. A 2017
study confirmed that domestic cats are descendants of those first
domesticated by farmers in the
Near East around 9,000 years ago.
As of a 2007 study, cats are the second most popular pet in the US by
number of pets owned, behind freshwater fish . In a 2010 study they
were ranked the third most popular pet in the UK, after fish and dogs,
with around 8 million being owned.
* 1 Taxonomy and evolution
* 2 Nomenclature and etymology
* 3 Biology
* 3.3 Senses
* 3.4 Health
* 3.4.1 Diseases
* 3.4.2 Poisoning
* 3.5 Genetics
* 4 Behavior
* 4.1 Sociability
* 4.2 Communication
* 4.3 Grooming
* 4.4 Fighting
* 4.5 Hunting and feeding
* 4.6 Play
* 4.7 Reproduction
* 5 Ecology
* 5.1 Habitats
* 5.3 Impact on prey species
* 5.4 Impact on birds
* 6 Interaction with humans
Cat bites and scratches
* 6.2 Infections transmitted from cats to humans
* 6.3 History and mythology
* 6.3.1 Superstitions and cat burning
* 7 See also
* 8 References
* 9 External links
TAXONOMY AND EVOLUTION
The domestic cat is believed to have evolved from the Near Eastern
wildcat , whose range covers vast portions of the
Middle East westward
to the Atlantic coast of Africa. Between 70,000 and 100,000 years
ago the animal gave rise to the genetic lineage that eventually
produced all domesticated cats, having diverged from the Near Eastern
wildcat around 8,000 BC in the
Middle East .
The felids are a rapidly evolving family of mammals that share a
common ancestor only 10–15 million years ago and include lions ,
tigers , cougars and many others. Within this family, domestic cats
Felis catus) are part of the genus
Felis , which is a group of small
cats containing about seven species (depending upon classification
scheme). Members of the genus are found worldwide and include the
jungle cat (
Felis chaus) of southeast Asia,
European wildcat (F.
African wildcat (F. s. lybica), the Chinese
mountain cat (F. bieti), and the Arabian sand cat (F. margarita),
The domestic cat was first classified as
Felis catus by Carl Linnaeus
in the 10th edition of his Systema Naturae published in 1758.
Because of modern phylogenetics , domestic cats are usually regarded
as another subspecies of the wildcat, F. silvestris. This has
resulted in mixed usage of the terms, as the domestic cat can be
called by its subspecies name,
Felis silvestris catus. Wildcats
have also been referred to as various subspecies of F. catus, but in
International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature fixed
the name for wildcats as F. silvestris. The most common name in use
for the domestic cat remains F. catus. Sometimes, the domestic cat has
Felis domesticus as proposed by German naturalist J.C.P.
Erxleben in 1777, but these are not valid taxonomic names and have
been used only rarely in scientific literature. A population of
Transcaucasian black feral cats was once classified as
(Satunin 1904) but now this population is considered to be a part of
All the cats in this genus share a common ancestor that is believed
to have lived around 6–7 million years ago in the
Near East (the
Middle East). The exact relationships within the
Felidae are close
but still uncertain, e.g. the
Chinese mountain cat is sometimes
classified (under the name
Felis silvestris bieti) as a subspecies of
the wildcat, like the North African variety F. s. lybica.
Ancient Egyptian sculpture of the cat goddess Bastet. The earliest
evidence of felines as Egyptian deities comes from a c. 3100 BC.
In comparison to dogs, cats have not undergone major changes during
the domestication process, as the form and behavior of the domestic
cat is not radically different from those of wildcats and domestic
cats are perfectly capable of surviving in the wild. Fully
domesticated house cats often interbreed with feral F. catus
populations, producing hybrids such as the
Kellas cat . This limited
evolution during domestication means that hybridisation can occur with
many other felids , notably the Asian leopard cat . Several natural
behaviors and characteristics of wildcats may have predisposed them
for domestication as pets. These traits include their small size,
social nature, obvious body language, love of play and relatively high
intelligence. :12–17 Several small felid species may have an inborn
tendency towards tameness.
Cats have either a mutualistic or commensal relationship with humans.
Two main theories are given about how cats were domesticated. In one,
people deliberately tamed cats in a process of artificial selection as
they were useful predators of vermin. This has been criticized as
implausible, because the reward for such an effort may have been too
little; cats generally do not carry out commands and although they do
eat rodents, other species such as ferrets or terriers may be better
at controlling these pests. The alternative idea is that cats were
simply tolerated by people and gradually diverged from their wild
relatives through natural selection , as they adapted to hunting the
vermin found around humans in towns and villages.
NOMENCLATURE AND ETYMOLOGY
The origin of the English word cat (
Old English catt) and its
counterparts in other
Germanic languages (such as German Katze),
descended from Proto-Germanic *kattōn-, is controversial. It has
traditionally thought to be a borrowing from
Late Latin cattus
"domestic cat", from catta (used around 75 AD by
Martial ), compare
Byzantine Greek κάττα, Portuguese and Spanish gato, French
chat, Maltese qattus, Lithuanian katė, and
Old Church Slavonic
Old Church Slavonic kotъ
(kotka), among others. The
Late Latin word is generally thought to
originate from an Afro-Asiatic language, but every proposed source
word has presented problems. Many references refer to "Berber" (Kabyle
) kaddîska "wildcat" and "Nubian kadīs" as possible sources or
cognates, but M.
Lionel Bender says the Nubian term is a loan from
Arabic قِطَّة qiṭṭa.
Jean-Paul Savignac suggests the Latin
word is from an Egyptian precursor of Coptic ϣⲁⲩ (šau) "tomcat"
or its feminine form suffixed with -t, but John Huehnergard says "the
source was clearly not Egyptian itself, where no analogous form is
attested." Huehnergard opines it is "equally likely that the forms
might derive from an ancient Germanic word, imported into Latin and
thence to Greek and to Syriac and Arabic". Guus Kroonen also considers
the word to be native to Germanic (due to morphological alternations)
and Northern Europe, and suggests that it might ultimately be borrowed
from Uralic , cf. Northern Sami gađfe "female stoat" and Hungarian
hölgy "stoat; lady, bride" from Proto-Uralic *käďwä "female (of a
fur animal)". In any case, cat is a classic case of a
An alternative word is English puss (extended as pussy and pussycat).
Attested only from the 16th century, it may have been introduced from
Dutch poes or from
Low German puuskatte, related to Swedish kattepus,
or Norwegian pus, pusekatt. Similar forms exist in Lithuanian puižė
and Irish puisín or puiscín. The etymology of this word is unknown,
but it may have simply arisen from a sound used to attract a cat.
A group of cats is referred to as a clowder or a glaring, a male cat
is called a tom or tomcat (or a gib, if neutered), an unaltered
female is called a queen, and a juvenile cat is referred to as a
kitten . The male progenitor of a cat, especially a pedigreed cat, is
its sire, and its female progenitor is its dam. In Early Modern
English , the word kitten was interchangeable with the now obsolete
A pedigreed cat is one whose ancestry is recorded by a cat fancier
organization. A purebred cat is one whose ancestry contains only
individuals of the same breed. Many pedigreed and especially purebred
cats are exhibited as show cats . Cats of unrecorded, mixed ancestry
are referred to as domestic short-haired or domestic long-haired cats
, by coat type, or commonly as random-bred, moggies (chiefly British
), or (using terms borrowed from dog breeding ) mongrels or mutt-cats.
African wildcat is the ancestral subspecies from which
domestic cats are descended, and wildcats and domestic cats can
completely interbreed (being subspecies of the same species), several
intermediate stages occur between domestic pet and pedigree cats on
one hand and entirely wild animals on the other. The semiferal cat, a
mostly outdoor cat, is not owned by any one individual, but is
generally friendly to people and may be fed by several households.
Feral cats are associated with human habitation areas and may be fed
by people or forage for food, but are typically wary of human
Cat anatomy Diagram of the general anatomy of a
Domestic cats are similar in size to the other members of the genus
Felis, typically weighing between 4 and 5 kg (9 and 10 lb). Some
breeds , such as the
Maine Coon , can occasionally exceed 11 kg (24
lb). Conversely, very small cats, less than 2 kg (4 lb), have been
reported. The world record for the largest cat is 21 kg (50 lb). The
smallest adult cat ever officially recorded weighed around 1 kg (2
Feral cats tend to be lighter as they have more limited access
to food than house cats. In the
Boston area, the average feral adult
male will weigh 4 kg (9 lb) and average feral female 3 kg (7 lb).
Cats average about 23–25 cm (9–10 in) in height and 46 cm (18 in)
in head/body length (males being larger than females), with tails
averaging 30 cm (12 in) in length.
Cats have seven cervical vertebrae , as do almost all mammals ; 13
thoracic vertebrae (humans have 12); seven lumbar vertebrae (humans
have five); three sacral vertebrae like most mammals (humans have
five); and a variable number of caudal vertebrae in the tail (humans
retain three to five caudal vertebrae, fused into an internal coccyx
). :11 The extra lumbar and thoracic vertebrae account for the cat's
spinal mobility and flexibility. Attached to the spine are 13 ribs,
the shoulder, and the pelvis . :16 Unlike human arms, cat forelimbs
are attached to the shoulder by free-floating clavicle bones which
allow them to pass their body through any space into which they can
fit their head.
The cat skull is unusual among mammals in having very large eye
sockets and a powerful and specialized jaw. :35 Within the jaw, cats
have teeth adapted for killing prey and tearing meat. When it
overpowers its prey, a cat delivers a lethal neck bite with its two
long canine teeth , inserting them between two of the prey's vertebrae
and severing its spinal cord , causing irreversible paralysis and
death. Compared to other felines, domestic cats have narrowly spaced
canine teeth, which is an adaptation to their preferred prey of small
rodents, which have small vertebrae. The premolar and first molar
together compose the carnassial pair on each side of the mouth, which
efficiently shears meat into small pieces, like a pair of scissors.
These are vital in feeding, since cats' small molars cannot chew food
effectively, and cats are largely incapable of mastication. :37 Though
cats tend to have better teeth than most humans, with decay generally
less likely because of a thicker protective layer of enamel, a less
damaging saliva, less retention of food particles between teeth, and a
diet mostly devoid of sugar, they are nonetheless subject to
occasional tooth loss and infection.
Cats, like dogs, are digitigrades . They walk directly on their toes,
with the bones of their feet making up the lower part of the visible
leg. Cats are capable of walking very precisely because, like all
felines , they directly register; that is, they place each hind paw
(almost) directly in the print of the corresponding fore paw,
minimizing noise and visible tracks. This also provides sure footing
for their hind paws when they navigate rough terrain. Unlike most
mammals, when cats walk, they use a "pacing" gait ; that is, they move
the two legs on one side of the body before the legs on the other
side. This trait is shared with camels and giraffes . As a walk speeds
up into a trot, a cat's gait changes to be a "diagonal" gait, similar
to that of most other mammals (and many other land animals, such as
lizards ): the diagonally opposite hind and fore legs move
Like almost all members of the Felidae, cats have protractable and
retractable claws . In their normal, relaxed position, the claws are
sheathed with the skin and fur around the paw 's toe pads. This keeps
the claws sharp by preventing wear from contact with the ground and
allows the silent stalking of prey. The claws on the fore feet are
typically sharper than those on the hind feet. Cats can voluntarily
extend their claws on one or more paws. They may extend their claws in
hunting or self-defense, climbing, kneading , or for extra traction on
soft surfaces. Most cats have five claws on their front paws, and four
on their rear paws. The fifth front claw (the dewclaw ) is proximal
to the other claws. More proximally is a protrusion which appears to
be a sixth "finger". This special feature of the front paws, on the
inside of the wrists, is the carpal pad, also found on the paws of big
cats and dogs. It has no function in normal walking, but is thought to
be an antiskidding device used while jumping. Some breeds of cats are
prone to polydactyly (extra toes and claws). These are particularly
common along the northeast coast of North America.
Cats are familiar and easily kept animals, and their physiology has
been particularly well studied; it generally resembles those of other
carnivorous mammals, but displays several unusual features probably
attributable to cats' descent from desert-dwelling species. For
instance, cats are able to tolerate quite high temperatures: Humans
generally start to feel uncomfortable when their skin temperature
passes about 38 °C (100 °F), but cats show no discomfort until their
skin reaches around 52 °C (126 °F), :46 and can tolerate
temperatures of up to 56 °C (133 °F) if they have access to water.
Normal physiological values :330
38.6 °C (101.5 °F)
120–140 beats per minute
16–40 breaths per minute
Thermograph of various body parts of a cat
Cats conserve heat by reducing the flow of blood to their skin and
lose heat by evaporation through their mouths. Cats have minimal
ability to sweat, with glands located primarily in their paw pads,
and pant for heat relief only at very high temperatures (but may also
pant when stressed). A cat's body temperature does not vary throughout
the day; this is part of cats' general lack of circadian rhythms and
may reflect their tendency to be active both during the day and at
night. :1 Cats' feces are comparatively dry and their urine is highly
concentrated, both of which are adaptations to allow cats to retain as
much water as possible. Their kidneys are so efficient, they can
survive on a diet consisting only of meat, with no additional water,
and can even rehydrate by drinking seawater . :29 While domestic cats
are able to swim, they are generally reluctant to enter water as it
quickly leads to exhaustion.
Cats are obligate carnivores : their physiology has evolved to
efficiently process meat, and they have difficulty digesting plant
matter. In contrast to omnivores such as rats , which only require
about 4% protein in their diet, about 20% of a cat's diet must be
protein. Cats are unusually dependent on a constant supply of the
amino acid arginine , and a diet lacking arginine causes marked weight
loss and can be rapidly fatal. Another unusual feature is that the
cat cannot produce taurine , with taurine deficiency causing macular
degeneration , wherein the cat's retina slowly degenerates, causing
A cat's gastrointestinal tract is adapted to meat eating, being much
shorter than that of omnivores and having low levels of several of the
digestive enzymes needed to digest carbohydrates. These traits
severely limit the cat's ability to digest and use plant-derived
nutrients, as well as certain fatty acids . Despite the cat's
meat-oriented physiology, several vegetarian or vegan cat foods have
been marketed that are supplemented with chemically synthesized
taurine and other nutrients, in attempts to produce a complete diet.
However, some of these products still fail to provide all the
nutrients cats require, and diets containing no animal products pose
the risk of causing severe nutritional deficiencies. However,
veterinarians in the United States have expressed concern that many
domestic cats are overfed.
Cats do eat grass occasionally. A proposed explanation is that cats
use grass as a source of folic acid . Another proposed explanation is
that it is used to supply dietary fiber , helping the cat defecate
more easily and expel parasites and other harmful material through
feces and vomit .
Cat senses Reflection of camera flash from the
Cats have excellent night vision and can see at only one-sixth the
light level required for human vision. :43 This is partly the result
of cat eyes having a tapetum lucidum , which reflects any light that
passes through the retina back into the eye, thereby increasing the
eye's sensitivity to dim light. Another adaptation to dim light is
the large pupils of cats' eyes. Unlike some big cats, such as tigers,
domestic cats have slit pupils . These slit pupils can focus bright
light without chromatic aberration , and are needed since the domestic
cat's pupils are much larger, relative to their eyes, than the pupils
of the big cats. At low light levels a cat's pupils will expand to
cover most of the exposed surface of its eyes. However, domestic cats
have rather poor color vision and (like most nonprimate mammals) have
only two types of cones , optimized for sensitivity to blue and
yellowish green; they have limited ability to distinguish between red
and green. A 1993 paper reported a response to middle wavelengths
from a system other than the rods which might be due to a third type
of cone. However, this appears to be an adaptation to low light levels
rather than representing true trichromatic vision.
Cats have excellent hearing and can detect an extremely broad range
of frequencies. They can hear higher-pitched sounds than either dogs
or humans, detecting frequencies from 55 Hz to 79,000 Hz, a range of
10.5 octaves, while humans and dogs both have ranges of about 9
octaves. Cats can hear ultrasound , which is important in hunting
because many species of rodents make ultrasonic calls. However, they
do not communicate using ultrasound like rodents do. Cats' hearing is
also sensitive and among the best of any mammal, being most acute in
the range of 500 Hz to 32 kHz. This sensitivity is further enhanced
by the cat's large movable outer ears (their pinnae ), which both
amplify sounds and help detect the direction of a noise.
Cats have an acute sense of smell, due in part to their
well-developed olfactory bulb and a large surface of olfactory mucosa
, about 5.8 cm2 (0.90 in2) in area, which is about twice that of
humans. Cats are sensitive to pheromones such as
3-mercapto-3-methylbutan-1-ol , which they use to communicate through
urine spraying and marking with scent glands . Many cats also respond
strongly to plants that contain nepetalactone , especially catnip , as
they can detect that substance at less than one part per billion.
About 70–80% of cats are affected by nepetalactone. This response
is also produced by other plants, such as silver vine (Actinidia
polygama ) and the herb valerian ; it may be caused by the smell of
these plants mimicking a pheromone and stimulating cats' social or
Cats have relatively few taste buds compared to humans (470 or so
versus more than 9,000 on the human tongue). Domestic and wild cats
share a gene mutation that keeps their sweet taste buds from binding
to sugary molecules, leaving them with no ability to taste sweetness .
Their taste buds instead respond to amino acids, bitter tastes, and
acids. Cats and many other animals have a Jacobson\'s organ located
in their mouths that allows them to taste-smell certain aromas in a
way of which humans have no experience. Cats also have a distinct
temperature preference for their food, preferring food with a
temperature around 38 °C (100 °F) which is similar to that of a
fresh kill and routinely rejecting food presented cold or refrigerated
(which would signal to the cat that the "prey" item is long dead and
therefore possibly toxic or decomposing). The whiskers of a cat
are highly sensitive to touch.
To aid with navigation and sensation, cats have dozens of movable
whiskers (vibrissae) over their body, especially their faces. These
provide information on the width of gaps and on the location of
objects in the dark, both by touching objects directly and by sensing
air currents; they also trigger protective blink reflexes to protect
the eyes from damage. :47
Most breeds of cat have a noted fondness for settling in high places,
or perching. In the wild, a higher place may serve as a concealed site
from which to hunt; domestic cats may strike prey by pouncing from a
perch such as a tree branch, as does a leopard . Another possible
explanation is that height gives the cat a better observation point,
allowing it to survey its territory. During a fall from a high place,
a cat can reflexively twist its body and right itself using its acute
sense of balance and flexibility. This is known as the cat righting
reflex . An individual cat always rights itself in the same way,
provided it has the time to do so, during a fall. The height required
for this to occur is around 90 cm (3.0 ft). Cats without a tail (e.g.
Manx cats ) also have this ability, since a cat mostly moves its hind
legs and relies on conservation of angular momentum to set up for
landing, and the tail is little used for this feat.
The average lifespan of pet cats has risen in recent years. In the
early 1980s, it was about seven years, :33 rising to 9.4 years in
1995 :33 and 12–15 years in 2014. However, cats have been reported
as surviving into their 30s, with the oldest known cat, Creme Puff ,
dying at a verified age of 38.
Spaying or neutering increases life expectancy: one study found
neutered male cats live twice as long as intact males, while spayed
female cats live 62% longer than intact females. :35 Having a cat
neutered confers health benefits, because castrated males cannot
develop testicular cancer , spayed females cannot develop uterine or
ovarian cancer , and both have a reduced risk of mammary cancer .
Despite widespread concern about the welfare of free-roaming cats,
the lifespans of neutered feral cats in managed colonies compare
favorably with those of pet cats. :45 :1358
A wide range of health problems may affect cats, including infectious
diseases, parasites, injuries, and chronic disease. Vaccinations are
available for many of these diseases, and domestic cats are regularly
given treatments to eliminate parasites such as worms and fleas.
In addition to obvious dangers such as rodenticides , insecticides ,
and herbicides , cats may be poisoned by many chemicals usually
considered safe by their human guardians, because their livers are
less effective at some forms of detoxification than those of many
other animals, including humans and dogs. Some of the most common
causes of poisoning in cats are antifreeze and rodent baits. Cats may
be particularly sensitive to environmental pollutants. When a cat
has a sudden or prolonged serious illness without any obvious cause,
it has possibly been exposed to a toxin.
Many human medicines should never be given to cats. For example, the
painkiller paracetamol (or acetaminophen, sold as Tylenol and Panadol
) is extremely toxic to cats: even very small doses need immediate
treatment and can be fatal. Even aspirin , which is sometimes used
to treat arthritis in cats, is much more toxic to them than to humans
and must be administered cautiously. Similarly, application of
minoxidil (Rogaine) to the skin of cats, either accidentally or by
well-meaning guardians attempting to counter loss of fur, has
sometimes been fatal. Essential oils can be toxic to cats and cases
have been reported of serious illnesses caused by tea tree oil ,
including flea treatments and shampoos containing it.
Other common household substances that should be used with caution
around cats include mothballs and other naphthalene products. Phenol
-based products (e.g.
Dettol /Lysol or hexachlorophene )
are often used for cleaning and disinfecting near cats' feeding areas
or litter boxes , but these can sometimes be fatal.
Ethylene glycol ,
often used as an automotive antifreeze , is particularly appealing to
cats, and as little as a teaspoonful can be fatal. Some human foods
are toxic to cats; for example chocolate can cause theobromine
poisoning , although (unlike dogs) few cats will eat chocolate. Large
amounts of onions or garlic are also poisonous to cats. Many
houseplants are also dangerous, such as
Philodendron species and the
leaves of the Easter lily (
Lilium longiflorum ), which can cause
permanent and life-threatening kidney damage.
The domesticated cat and its closest wild ancestor are both diploid
organisms that possess 38 chromosomes and roughly 20,000 genes.
About 250 heritable genetic disorders have been identified in cats,
many similar to human inborn errors . The high level of similarity
among the metabolism of mammals allows many of these feline diseases
to be diagnosed using genetic tests that were originally developed for
use in humans, as well as the use of cats as animal models in the
study of the human diseases.
Cat behavior and
Cat intelligence A cat on a fence.
Outdoor cats are active both day and night, although they tend to be
slightly more active at night. The timing of cats' activity is quite
flexible and varied, which means house cats may be more active in the
morning and evening , as a response to greater human activity at these
times. Although they spend the majority of their time in the vicinity
of their home, housecats can range many hundreds of meters from this
central point, and are known to establish territories that vary
considerably in size, in one study ranging from 7 to 28 hectares
Cats conserve energy by sleeping more than most animals, especially
as they grow older. The daily duration of sleep varies, usually
between 12 and 16 hours, with 13 and 14 being the average. Some cats
can sleep as much as 20 hours. The term "cat nap" for a short rest
refers to the cat's tendency to fall asleep (lightly) for a brief
period. While asleep, cats experience short periods of rapid eye
movement sleep often accompanied by muscle twitches, which suggests
they are dreaming .
Although wildcats are solitary, the social behavior of domestic cats
is much more variable and ranges from widely dispersed individuals to
feral cat colonies that form around a food source, based on groups of
co-operating females. Within such groups, one cat is usually
dominant over the others. Each cat in a colony holds a distinct
territory, with sexually active males having the largest territories,
which are about 10 times larger than those of female cats and may
overlap with several females' territories. These territories are
marked by urine spraying , by rubbing objects at head height with
secretions from facial glands, and by defecation. Between these
territories are neutral areas where cats watch and greet one another
without territorial conflicts. Outside these neutral areas, territory
holders usually chase away stranger cats, at first by staring,
hissing, and growling , and if that does not work, by short but noisy
and violent attacks. Despite some cats cohabiting in colonies, they do
not have a social survival strategy, or a pack mentality , and always
Cat with an
Alaskan Malamute dog
However, some pet cats are poorly socialized. In particular, older
cats may show aggressiveness towards newly arrived kittens, which may
include biting and scratching; this type of behavior is known as
feline asocial aggression.
Though cats and dogs are often characterized as natural enemies ,
they can live together if correctly socialized.
Life in proximity to humans and other domestic animals has led to a
symbiotic social adaptation in cats, and cats may express great
affection toward humans or other animals. Ethologically , the human
keeper of a cat may function as a sort of surrogate for the cat's
mother, and adult housecats live their lives in a kind of extended
kittenhood, a form of behavioral neoteny . The high-pitched sounds
housecats make to solicit food may mimic the cries of a hungry human
infant, making them particularly hard for humans to ignore.
Domestic cats use many vocalizations for communication, including
purring , trilling , hissing, growling /snarling , grunting , and
several different forms of meowing . (By contrast, feral cats are
generally silent.) :208 Their types of body language , including
position of ears and tail, relaxation of the whole body, and kneading
of the paws, are all indicators of mood. The tail and ears are
particularly important social signal mechanisms in cats; for
example, a raised tail acts as a friendly greeting, and flattened ears
indicates hostility. Tail-raising also indicates the cat's position in
the group's social hierarchy , with dominant individuals raising their
tails less often than subordinate animals. Nose-to-nose touching is
also a common greeting and may be followed by social grooming , which
is solicited by one of the cats raising and tilting its head.
Purring may have developed as an evolutionary advantage as a
signalling mechanism of reassurance between mother cats and nursing
kittens. Post-nursing cats often purr as a sign of contentment: when
being petted, becoming relaxed, or eating. The mechanism by which
cats purr is elusive. The cat has no unique anatomical feature that is
clearly responsible for the sound. It was, until recent times,
believed that only the cats of the
Felis genus could purr. However,
felids of the
Panthera genus (tiger , lion , jaguar , and leopard )
also produce sounds similar to purring, but only when exhaling.
The hooked papillae on a cat's tongue act like a hairbrush to
help clean and detangle fur. Play media A tabby housecat uses
its brush-like tongue to groom itself, licking its fur to straighten
Cats are known for spending considerable amounts of time licking
their coat to keep it clean. The cat's tongue has backwards-facing
spines about 500 μm long, which are called papillae . These contain
keratin which makes them rigid so the papillae act like a hairbrush.
Some cats, particularly longhaired cats, occasionally regurgitate
hairballs of fur that have collected in their stomachs from grooming.
These clumps of fur are usually sausage-shaped and about 2–3 cm
(0.8–1.2 in) long. Hairballs can be prevented with remedies that
ease elimination of the hair through the gut , as well as regular
grooming of the coat with a comb or stiff brush.
Among domestic cats, males are more likely to fight than females.
Among feral cats, the most common reason for cat fighting is
competition between two males to mate with a female. In such cases,
most fights are won by the heavier male. Another common reason for
fighting in domestic cats is the difficulty of establishing
territories within a small home. Female cats also fight over
territory or to defend their kittens.
Neutering will decrease or
eliminate this behavior in many cases, suggesting that the behavior is
linked to sex hormones . An arched back, raised fur, and an
open-mouthed hiss can all be signs of aggression in a domestic cat.
When cats become aggressive, they try to make themselves appear
larger and more threatening by raising their fur, arching their backs,
turning sideways and hissing or spitting. Often, the ears are pointed
down and back to avoid damage to the inner ear and potentially listen
for any changes behind them while focused forward. They may also
vocalize loudly and bare their teeth in an effort to further
intimidate their opponent. Fights usually consist of grappling and
delivering powerful slaps to the face and body with the forepaws as
well as bites. Cats also throw themselves to the ground in a defensive
posture to rake their opponent's belly with their powerful hind legs.
Serious damage is rare, as the fights are usually short in duration,
with the loser running away with little more than a few scratches to
the face and ears. However, fights for mating rights are typically
more severe and injuries may include deep puncture wounds and
lacerations. Normally, serious injuries from fighting are limited to
infections of scratches and bites, though these can occasionally kill
cats if untreated. In addition, bites are probably the main route of
transmission of feline immunodeficiency virus . Sexually active males
are usually involved in many fights during their lives, and often have
decidedly battered faces with obvious scars and cuts to their ears and
HUNTING AND FEEDING
A cat that is playing with a caught mouse. Cats play with their
prey to weaken or exhaust them before making a kill.
Cats hunt small prey, primarily birds and rodents, and are often
used as a form of pest control. Domestic cats are a major predator
of wildlife in the United States, killing an estimated 1.4–3.7
billion birds and 6.9–20.7 billion mammals annually. The bulk of
predation in the United States is done by 80 million feral and stray
cats. Effective measures to reduce this population are elusive,
meeting opposition from cat enthusiasts. In the case of free-ranging
pets, equipping cats with bells and not letting them out at night will
reduce wildlife predation.
Free-fed feral cats and house cats tend to consume many small meals
in a single day, although the frequency and size of meals varies
between individuals. Cats use two hunting strategies, either stalking
prey actively, or waiting in ambush until an animal comes close enough
to be captured. Although it is not certain, the strategy used may
depend on the prey species in the area, with cats waiting in ambush
outside burrows, but tending to actively stalk birds. :153
Perhaps the best known element of cats' hunting behavior, which is
commonly misunderstood and often appalls cat owners because it looks
like torture, is that cats often appear to "play" with prey by
releasing it after capture. This behavior is due to an instinctive
imperative to ensure that the prey is weak enough to be killed without
endangering the cat. This behavior is referred to in the idiom
"cat-and-mouse game" or simply "cat and mouse ".
Another poorly understood element of cat hunting behavior is the
presentation of prey to human guardians. Ethologist Paul Leyhausen
proposed that cats adopt humans into their social group and share
excess kill with others in the group according to the dominance
hierarchy , in which humans are reacted to as if they are at, or near,
the top. Anthropologist and zoologist
Desmond Morris , in his 1986
book Catwatching, suggests, when cats bring home mice or birds, they
are attempting to teach their human to hunt, or trying to help their
human as if feeding "an elderly cat, or an inept kitten". Morris's
hypothesis is inconsistent with the fact that male cats also bring
home prey, despite males having negligible involvement with raising
Domestic cats select food based on its temperature, smell and
texture; they dislike chilled foods and respond most strongly to moist
foods rich in amino acids, which are similar to meat. Cats may
reject novel flavors (a response termed neophobia ) and learn quickly
to avoid foods that have tasted unpleasant in the past. They may also
avoid sugary foods and milk. Most adult cats are lactose intolerant ;
the sugars in milk are not easily digested and may cause soft stools
or diarrhea . They can also develop odd eating habits. Some cats
like to eat or chew on other things, most commonly wool, but also
plastic, cables, paper, string, aluminum foil, or even coal. This
condition, pica , can threaten their health, depending on the amount
and toxicity of the items eaten.
Though cats usually prey on animals less than half their size, a
feral cat in Australia has been photographed killing an adult
pademelon of around the cat's weight at 4 kg (8.8 lb).
Since cats lack lips to create suction, they use a lapping method
with the tongue to draw liquid upwards into their mouths. Lapping at a
rate of four times a second, the cat touches the smooth tip of its
tongue to the surface of the water, and quickly retracts it, drawing
Cat play and toys Play media Play fight between
kittens, age 14 weeks
Domestic cats, especially young kittens, are known for their love of
play. This behavior mimics hunting and is important in helping kittens
learn to stalk, capture, and kill prey. Cats also engage in play
fighting, with each other and with humans. This behavior may be a way
for cats to practice the skills needed for real combat, and might also
reduce any fear they associate with launching attacks on other
Owing to the close similarity between play and hunting, cats prefer
to play with objects that resemble prey, such as small furry toys that
move rapidly, but rapidly lose interest (they become habituated ) in a
toy they have played with before. Cats also tend to play with toys
more when they are hungry. String is often used as a toy, but if it
is eaten, it can become caught at the base of the cat's tongue and
then move into the intestines , a medical emergency which can cause
serious illness, even death. Owing to the risks posed by cats eating
string, it is sometimes replaced with a laser pointer 's dot, which
cats may chase.
Kitten When cats mate, the tomcat (male) bites the
scruff of the female's neck as she assumes a position conducive to
mating known as lordosis behavior . Radiography of a pregnant
cat (about one month and a half)
Female cats are seasonally polyestrous , which means they may have
many periods of heat over the course of a year, the season beginning
in spring and ending in late autumn. Heat periods occur about every
two weeks and last about 4 to 7 days. Multiple males will be
attracted to a female in heat. The males will fight over her, and the
victor wins the right to mate. At first, the female rejects the male,
but eventually the female allows the male to mate. The female utters a
loud yowl as the male pulls out of her because a male cat's penis has
a band of about 120–150 backwards-pointing penile spines , which are
about 1 mm long; upon withdrawal of the penis, the spines rake the
walls of the female's vagina , which acts to induce ovulation . This
act also occurs to clear the vagina of other sperm in the context of a
second (or more) mating, thus giving the later males a larger chance
After mating, the female washes her vulva thoroughly. If a male
attempts to mate with her at this point, the female will attack him.
After about 20 to 30 minutes, once the female is finished grooming,
the cycle will repeat.
Because ovulation is not always triggered by a single mating, females
may not be impregnated by the first male with which they mate.
Furthermore, cats are superfecund ; that is, a female may mate with
more than one male when she is in heat, with the result that different
kittens in a litter may have different fathers. A newborn kitten
At 124 hours after conception, the morula forms. At 148 hours, early
blastocysts form. At 10–12 days, implantation occurs.
The gestation period for cats is between 64 and 67 days, with an
average of 66 days. The size of a litter usually is three to five
kittens, with the first litter usually smaller than subsequent
litters. Kittens are weaned between six and seven weeks old, and cats
normally reach sexual maturity at 5–10 months (females) and to 5–7
months (males), although this can vary depending on breed. Females
can have two to three litters per year, so may produce up to 150
kittens in their breeding span of around ten years.
Cats are ready to go to new homes at about 12 weeks of age, when
they are ready to leave their mother. They can be surgically
sterilized (spayed or castrated ) as early as 7 weeks to limit
unwanted reproduction. This surgery also prevents undesirable
sex-related behavior, such as aggression, territory marking (spraying
urine) in males and yowling (calling) in females. Traditionally, this
surgery was performed at around six to nine months of age, but it is
increasingly being performed prior to puberty , at about three to six
months. In the US, about 80% of household cats are neutered.
A cat in snowy weather
Cats are a cosmopolitan species and are found across much of the
world. Geneticist Stephen James O'Brien, of the National Cancer
Frederick, Maryland , remarked on how successful cats
have been in evolutionary terms: "Cats are one of evolution's most
charismatic creatures. They can live on the highest mountains and in
the hottest deserts." They are extremely adaptable and are now
present on all continents except
Antarctica , and on 118 of the 131
main groups of islands—even on isolated islands such as the
Kerguelen Islands .
Feral cats can live in forests, grasslands, tundra, coastal areas,
agricultural land, scrublands, urban areas, and wetlands. Their
habitats even include small oceanic islands with no human inhabitants.
Further, the close relatives of domestic cats, the African wildcat
Felis silvestris lybica) and the Arabian sand cat (
both inhabit desert environments, and domestic cats still show
similar adaptations and behaviors. The cat's ability to thrive in
almost any terrestrial habitat has led to its designation as one of
the world's worst invasive species .
As domestic cats are little altered from wildcats, they can readily
interbreed. This hybridization poses a danger to the genetic
distinctiveness of some wildcat populations, particularly in Scotland
Hungary and possibly also the
Iberian Peninsula .
Feral farm cat
Feral cats are domestic cats that were born in or have reverted to a
wild state. They are unfamiliar with and wary of humans and roam
freely in urban and rural areas. The numbers of feral cats is not
known, but estimates of the US feral population range from 25 to 60
Feral cats may live alone, but most are found in large
colonies , which occupy a specific territory and are usually
associated with a source of food. Famous feral cat colonies are found
in Rome around the
Forum Romanum , with cats at some of
these sites being fed and given medical attention by volunteers.
Public attitudes towards feral cats vary widely, ranging from seeing
them as free-ranging pets, to regarding them as vermin. One common
approach to reducing the feral cat population is termed
'trap-neuter-return', where the cats are trapped, neutered , immunized
against diseases such as rabies and the feline Panleukopenia and
Leukemia viruses , and then released. Before releasing them back into
their feral colonies, the attending veterinarian often nips the tip
off one ear to mark it as neutered and inoculated, since these cats
may be trapped again. Volunteers continue to feed and give care to
these cats throughout their lives. Given this support, their lifespans
are increased, and behavior and nuisance problems caused by
competition for food are reduced.
IMPACT ON PREY SPECIES
Carrying half of a rabbit
To date, little scientific data is available to assess the impact of
cat predation on prey populations. Even well-fed domestic cats may
hunt and kill, mainly catching small mammals, but also birds,
amphibians, reptiles, fish, and invertebrates. Hunting by domestic
cats may be contributing to the decline in the numbers of birds in
urban areas, although the importance of this effect remains
controversial. In the wild, the introduction of feral cats during
human settlement can threaten native species with extinction. In many
cases, controlling or eliminating the populations of non-native cats
can produce a rapid recovery in native animals. However, the
ecological role of introduced cats can be more complicated. For
example, cats can control the numbers of rats, which also prey on
birds' eggs and young, so a cat population can protect an endangered
bird species by suppressing mesopredators .
In isolated landmasses, such as
Australasia , there are often no
other native, medium-sized quadrupedal predators (including other
feline species); this tends to exacerbate the impact of feral cats on
small native animals. Native species such as the New Zealand kakapo
and the Australian bettong , for example, tend to be more ecologically
vulnerable and behaviorally "naive", when faced with predation by
Feral cats have had a major impact on these native species and
have played a leading role in the endangerment and extinction of many
Even in places with ancient and numerous cat populations, such as
Western Europe , cats appear to be growing in number and independently
of their environments' carrying capacity (such as the numbers of prey
available). This may be explained, at least in part, by an abundance
of food, from sources including feeding by pet owners and scavenging.
For instance, research in Britain suggests that a high proportion of
cats hunt only "recreationally". And in
South Sweden , where research
in 1982 found that the population density of cats was as high as 2,000
per square kilometre (5,200/sq mi).
IMPACT ON BIRDS
A black cat eating a house sparrow
The domestic cat is a significant predator of birds. UK assessments
indicate they may be accountable for an estimated 64.8 million bird
deaths each year. A 2012 study suggests feral cats may kill several
billion birds each year in the United States. Certain species appear
more susceptible than others; for example, 30% of house sparrow
mortality is linked to the domestic cat. In the recovery of ringed
Erithacus rubecula ) and dunnocks (
Prunella modularis ), 31%
of deaths were a result of cat predation. In parts of North America,
the presence of larger carnivores such as coyotes which prey on cats
and other small predators reduces the effect of predation by cats and
other small predators such as opossums and raccoons on bird numbers
and variety. The proposal that cat populations will increase when the
numbers of these top predators decline is called the mesopredator
On islands, birds can contribute as much as 60% of a cat's diet. In
nearly all cases, however, the cat cannot be identified as the sole
cause for reducing the numbers of island birds, and in some instances,
eradication of cats has caused a 'mesopredator release' effect; where
the suppression of top carnivores creates an abundance of smaller
predators that cause a severe decline in their shared prey. Domestic
cats are, however, known to be a contributing factor to the decline of
many species, a factor that has ultimately led, in some cases, to
extinction. The South Island piopio , Chatham rail , the New Zealand
merganser , and the common diving petrel are a few from a long
list, with the most extreme case being the flightless Lyall\'s wren ,
which was driven to extinction only a few years after its discovery.
Some of the same factors that have promoted adaptive radiation of
island avifauna over evolutionary time appear to promote vulnerability
to non-native species in modern time. The susceptibility of many
island birds is undoubtedly due to evolution in the absence of
mainland predators, competitors, diseases, and parasites, in addition
to lower reproductive rates and extended incubation periods. The loss
of flight, or reduced flying ability is also characteristic of many
island endemics. These biological aspects have increased
vulnerability to extinction in the presence of introduced species ,
such as the domestic cat. Equally, behavioral traits exhibited by
island species, such as "predatory naivety" and ground-nesting, have
also contributed to their susceptibility.
INTERACTION WITH HUMANS
Human interaction with cats Cats and people
Cats are common pets throughout the world, and their worldwide
population exceeds 500 million. Although cat guardianship has
commonly been associated with women, a 2007
Gallup poll reported that
men and women in the United States of America were equally likely to
own a cat.
As well as being kept as pets, cats are also used in the
international fur and leather industries for making coats, hats,
blankets and stuffed toys; and shoes, gloves and musical instruments
respectively (about 24 cats are needed to make a cat fur coat). This
use has now been outlawed in the United States, Australia, and the
Cat pelts have been used for superstitious purposes
as part of the practise of witchcraft , and are still made into
Switzerland as folk remedies believed to help rheumatism .
In the Western intellectual tradition, the idea of cats as everyday
objects have served to illustrate problems of quantum mechanics in the
Schrödinger\'s cat thought experiment.
A few attempts to build a cat census have been made over the years,
both through associations or national and international organizations
(such as the
Canadian Federation of Humane Societies
Canadian Federation of Humane Societies 's one ) and over
the net, but such a task does not seem simple to achieve. General
estimates for the global population of domestic cats range widely from
anywhere between 200 million to 600 million.
CAT BITES AND SCRATCHES
Cats may bite humans when provoked, during play or when aggressive.
Complications from cat bites can develop. A cat bite differs from the
bites of other pets. This is because the teeth of a cat are sharp and
pointed causing deep punctures . Skin usually closes rapidly over the
bite and traps microorganisms that cause infection .
INFECTIONS TRANSMITTED FROM CATS TO HUMANS
Cats can be infected or infested with viruses , bacteria , fungus ,
protozoans , arthropods or worms that can transmit diseases to humans.
In some cases, the cat exhibits no symptoms of the disease, However,
the same disease can then become evident in a human. The likelihood
that a person will become diseased depends on the age and immune
status of the person. Humans who have cats living in their home or in
close association are more likely to become infected, however, those
who do not keep cats as pets might also acquire infections from cat
feces and parasites exiting the cat's body. Some of the infections
of most concern include salmonella , cat scratch disease and
HISTORY AND MYTHOLOGY
Cultural depictions of cats
Cultural depictions of cats and
Cats in ancient Egypt
Cats in ancient Egypt
A 19th century drawing of a tabby cat
Traditionally, historians tended to think ancient Egypt was the site
of cat domestication, owing to the clear depictions of house cats in
Egyptian paintings about 3,600 years old. However, in 2004, a
Neolithic grave excavated in
Cyprus , contained the
skeletons, laid close to one another, of both a human and a cat. The
grave is estimated to be 9,500 years old, pushing back the earliest
known feline–human association significantly. The cat specimen is
large and closely resembles the African wildcat, rather than
present-day domestic cats. This discovery, combined with genetic
studies, suggests cats were probably domesticated in the Middle East,
Fertile Crescent around the time of the development of
agriculture , and then were brought to
Cyprus and Egypt.
Direct evidence for the domestication of cats 5,300 years ago in
China has been published by archaeologists and
paleontologists from the
University of Washington
University of Washington and Chinese Academy
of Sciences . The cats are believed to have been attracted to the
village by rodents, which in turn were attracted by grain cultivated
and stored by humans.
In ancient Egypt, cats were sacred animals , with the goddess Bastet
often depicted in cat form, sometimes taking on the war-like aspect of
a lioness. :220 The Romans are often credited with introducing the
domestic cat from Egypt to Europe; :223 in Roman Aquitaine , a first-
or second-century engraving of a young girl holding a cat is one of
two earliest depictions of the Roman domesticated cat. However, cats
possibly were already kept in Europe prior to the
Roman Empire , as
they may have been present in Britain in the late
Iron Age . Domestic
cats were spread throughout much of the rest of the world during the
Age of Discovery
Age of Discovery , as ship\'s cats were carried on sailing ships to
control shipboard rodents and as good-luck charms. :223
Several ancient religions believed cats are exalted souls, companions
or guides for humans, that are all-knowing but mute so they cannot
influence decisions made by humans. In Japan, the maneki neko cat is a
symbol of good fortune.
Although no species are sacred in Islam, cats are revered by Muslims
. Some Western writers have stated
Muhammad had a favorite cat, Muezza
. He is reported to have loved cats so much, "he would do without his
cloak rather than disturb one that was sleeping on it". The story has
no origin in early Muslim writers, and seems to confuse a story of a
Sufi saint, Ahmed ar-Rifa\'i , centuries after Muhammad.
Freyja , the goddess of love, beauty, and fertility in Norse
mythology , is depicted as riding a chariot drawn by cats.
Many cultures have negative superstitions about cats. An example
would be the belief that a black cat "crossing one's path" leads to
bad luck, or that cats are witches' familiars used to augment a
witch's powers and skills. The killing of cats in Medieval
Belgium , is commemorated in the innocuous present-day Kattenstoet
In medieval France, cats would be burnt alive as a form of
entertainment. According to
Norman Davies , the assembled people
"shrieked with laughter as the animals, howling with pain, were
singed, roasted, and finally carbonized ".
"It was the custom to burn a basket, barrel, or sack full of live
cats, which was hung from a tall mast in the midst of the bonfire;
sometimes a fox was burned. The people collected the embers and ashes
of the fire and took them home, believing that they brought good luck.
The French kings often witnessed these spectacles and even lit the
bonfire with their own hands. In 1648
Louis XIV , crowned with a
wreath of roses and carrying a bunch of roses in his hand, kindled the
fire, danced at it and partook of the banquet afterwards in the town
hall. But this was the last occasion when a monarch presided at the
midsummer bonfire in Paris. At
Metz midsummer fires were lighted with
great pomp on the esplanade, and a dozen cats, enclosed in wicker
cages, were burned alive in them, to the amusement of the people.
Similarly at Gap , in the department of the
Hautes-Alpes , cats used
to be roasted over the midsummer bonfire."
According to a myth in many cultures, cats have multiple lives. In
many countries, they are believed to have nine lives, but in Italy,
Germany, Greece, Brazil and some Spanish-speaking regions, they are
said to have seven lives, while in Turkish and Arabic traditions,
the number of lives is six. The myth is attributed to the natural
suppleness and swiftness cats exhibit to escape life-threatening
situations. Also lending credence to this myth is the fact that
falling cats often land on their feet, using an instinctive righting
reflex to twist their bodies around. Nonetheless, cats can still be
injured or killed by a high fall.
* Cats portal
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