The cat (Felis catus) is a small carnivorous mammal. It is the only domesticated species in the family Felidae and often referred to as the domestic cat to distinguish it from wild members of the family. The cat is either a house cat, kept as a pet, or a feral cat, freely ranging and avoiding human contact. A house cat is valued by humans for companionship and for its ability to hunt rodents. About 60 cat breeds are recognized by various cat registries.
|Various types of domestic cat|
Cats are similar in anatomy to the other felid species, with a strong flexible body, quick reflexes, sharp teeth and retractable claws adapted to killing small prey. They are predators who are most active at dawn and dusk (crepuscular). Cats can hear sounds too faint or too high in frequency for human ears, such as those made by mice and other small animals. Compared to humans, they see better in the dark (they see in near total darkness) and have a better sense of smell, but poorer color vision. Cats, despite being solitary hunters, are a social species. Cat communication includes the use of vocalizations including mewing, purring, trilling, hissing, growling and grunting as well as cat-specific body language. Cats also communicate by secreting and perceiving pheromones.
Female domestic cats can have kittens from spring to late autumn, with litter sizes ranging from two to five kittens. Domestic cats can be bred and shown as registered pedigreed cats, a hobby known as cat fancy. Failure to control the breeding of pet cats by spaying and neutering, as well as abandonment of pets, has resulted in large numbers of feral cats worldwide, contributing to the extinction of entire bird species, and evoking population control.
It was long thought that cat domestication was initiated in Egypt, because cats in ancient Egypt were venerated since around 3100 BC. However, the earliest indication for the taming of an African wildcat (F. lybica) was found in Cyprus, where a cat skeleton was excavated close by a human Neolithic grave dating to around 7500 BC. African wildcats were probably first domesticated in the Near East. The leopard cat (Prionailurus bengalensis) was tamed independently in China around 5500 BC, though this line of partially domesticated cats leaves no trace in the domestic cat populations of today.
As of 2017, the domestic cat was the second-most popular pet in the U.S. by number of pets owned, after freshwater fish, with 95 million cats owned. As of 2017, it was ranked the third-most popular pet in the UK, after fish and dogs, with around 8 million being owned. The number of cats in the United Kingdom has nearly doubled since 1965, when the cat population was 4.1 million.
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 also Byzantine Greek κάττα, Portuguese and Spanish gato, French chat, Maltese qattus, Lithuanian katė, and Old Church Slavonic kotъ (kot'), 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 suggests the Nubian term is a loan from Arabic قِطَّة qiṭṭa. Jean-Paul Savignac suggests the Latin word is from an Ancient 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 gáđfi, 'female stoat', and Hungarian hölgy, 'stoat'; from Proto-Uralic *käďwä, 'female (of a furred animal)'. In any case, cat is a classic example of a word that has spread as a loanword among numerous languages and cultures: a Wanderwort.
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 can be referred to as a clowder or a glaring.
- A male cat is called a tom or tomcat (or a gib, if neutered)
- An unspayed female is called a queen, especially in a cat-breeding context.
- A juvenile cat is referred to as a kitten. In Early Modern English, the word kitten was interchangeable with the now-obsolete word catling.
- The male progenitor of a cat, especially a pedigreed cat, is its sire and its mother is its dam.
- 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.
- The semi-feral 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.
- Truly feral cats are associated with human habitation areas, foraging for food and sometimes intermittently fed by people, but are typically wary of human interaction.
- Domestic vs. wild - while the African wildcat is the ancestral species from which domestic cats are descended, and wildcats and domestic cats can completely interbreed, several intermediate stages occur between domestic pet and pedigree cats on one hand and entirely wild animals on the other.
The scientific name Felis catus for the domestic cat was proposed by Carl Linnaeus in the 10th edition of Systema Naturae published in 1758.Felis catus domesticus was a scientific name proposed by the German naturalist Erxleben in 1777.Felis daemon proposed by Satunin in 1904 was a black cat specimen from the Transcaucasus, later identified as a domestic cat.
In 2003, the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN) fixed the scientific name for the wildcat as F. silvestris. The same commission ruled that the domestic cat is a distinct taxon Felis catus. Following results of phylogenetic research, the domestic cat was considered a wildcat subspecies F. silvestris catus in 2007.
In 2017, the IUCN Cat Classification Taskforce followed the recommendation of the ICZN in regarding the domestic cat as a distinct species.
The domestic cat is a member of the Felidae, a family that had a common ancestor about 10–15 million years ago. The genus Felis diverged from the Felidae around 6–7 million years ago. Members of this genus include the jungle cat (F. chaus), European wildcat (F. silvestris), African wildcat (F. lybica), Chinese mountain cat (F. bieti), sand cat (F. margarita) and black-footed cat (F. nigripes). Results of phylogenetic research confirm that these wild Felis species evolved through sympatric or parapatric speciation, whereas the domestic cat evolved through artificial selection.
The earliest known indication for a tamed African wildcat was excavated close by a human grave in Shillourokambos, southern Cyprus, dating to about 9,200 to 9,500 years before present. As there is no evidence of native mammalian fauna on Cyprus, the inhabitants of this Neolithic village most likely brought the cat and other wild mammals to the island from the continent. Scientists therefore assume that African wildcats were attracted to early human settlements in the Fertile Crescent by rodents, in particular the house mouse (Mus musculus), and were tamed by Neolithic farmers. This commensal relationship between early farmers and tamed cats lasted thousands of years. As agricultural practices spread, so did tame and domesticated cats. Wildcats of Egypt contributed to the maternal gene pool of the domestic cat at a later time. The earliest known evidence for the occurrence of the domestic cat in Greece dates to around 1200 BC. Greek, Phoenician, Carthaginian and Etruscan traders introduced domestic cats to southern Europe. By the 5th century BC, it was a familiar animal around settlements in Magna Graecia and Etruria. Domesticated cats were introduced to Corsica and Sardinia during the Roman Empire before the beginning of the 1st millennium. The Egyptian domestic cat lineage is evidenced in a Baltic Sea port in northern Germany by the end of the Roman Empire in the 5th century.
During domestication, cats have undergone only minor changes in anatomy and behavior, and they are still capable of surviving in the wild. House cats often interbreed with feral cats, producing hybrids such as the Kellas cat in Scotland. Hybridisation between domestic and other small wild cat species is also possible.
Several natural behaviors and characteristics of wildcats may have preadapted 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 Captive Leopardus cats may also display affectionate behavior toward humans, but have not been domesticated.
Domestic cats are generally smaller than wildcats in both skull and limb measurements. Adult domestic cats typically weigh between 4 and 5 kg (9 and 10 lb) although many breeds have a wide range of sizes, with male American Shorthairs, a common breed, ranging from 3 and 7 kg (7 to 15 lb) Some breeds, such as the Maine Coon, can occasionally exceed 11 kg (24 lb). Very small cats, less than 2 kg (4 lb), have been reported. The world record for the largest cat is 21 kg (50 lb).[self-published source] The smallest adult cat ever officially recorded weighed around 1 kg (2 lb). Feral cats tend to be lighter, as they have more limited access to food than house cats. The average feral adult male weighs 4 kg (9 lb), and the average adult 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 most mammals); 13 thoracic vertebrae (humans have 12); seven lumbar vertebrae (humans have five); three sacral vertebrae (as do most mammals, but humans have five); and a variable number of caudal vertebrae in the tail (humans have only vestigial 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 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 relative to the size of their jaw, 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 Although 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 simultaneously.
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 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 and many other animals have a Jacobson's organ in their mouths that is used in the behavioral process of flehmening. It allows them to sense certain aromas in a way that humans cannot. 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 sexual behaviors.
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 acids, amino acids like protein, and bitter tastes. 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).
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. A cat falling from heights of up to 3 meters can right itself and land on its paws.
During a fall from a high place, a cat reflexively twists its body and rights itself to land on its feet using its acute sense of balance and flexibility. This reflex is known as the cat righting reflex. An individual cat always rights itself in the same way during a fall, provided it has sufficient time to do so. The height required for this to occur is around 90 cm (3.0 ft). Cats without a tail also have this reflex. Several explanations have been proposed for this phenomenon since the late 19th century:
|Body temperature||38.6 °C (101.5 °F)|
|Heart rate||120–140 beats per minute|
|Breathing rate||16–40 breaths per minute|
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.
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.
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
Ability to swim
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. 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. 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.
Cats do eat grass occasionally. A proposed explanation is that cats use grass as a source of folic acid. Another 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.
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. Arginine is an essential additive in cat food because cats have low levels of the enzymes aminotransferase and pyrroline-5-carboxylate which are responsible for the synthesis of ornithine and citrulline in the small intestine. Citrulline would typically go on to the kidneys to make arginine, but because cats have a deficiency in the enzymes that make it, citrulline is not produced in adequate quantities to make arginine. Arginine is essential in the urea cycle in order to convert the toxic component ammonia into urea that can then be excreted in the urine. Because of its essential role, deficiency in arginine results in a buildup of toxic ammonia and leads to hyperammonemia. The symptoms of hyperammonemia include lethargy, vomiting, ataxia, hyperesthesia and can be serious enough to induce death and coma in a matter of days if a cat is being fed an arginine-free diet. The quick onset of these symptoms is due to the fact that diets devoid in arginine will typically still contain all of the other amino acids, which will continue to be catabolized by the body, producing mass amounts of ammonia that very quickly build up with no way of being excreted.
Another unusual feature is that the cat cannot produce taurine,[note 1] with a deficiency in this nutrient causing macular degeneration, wherein the cat's retina slowly breaks down, causing irreversible blindness. This is due to the hepatic activity of cystinesulfinic acid decarboxylase being low in cats. This limits the ability of cats to biosynthesize the taurine they need from its precursor, the amino acid cysteine, which ultimately results in inadequate taurine production needed for normal function. Deficiencies in taurine result in compensated function of feline cardiovascular and reproductive systems. These abnormalities can also be accompanied by developmental issues in the central nervous system along with degeneration of the retina.
Niacin is an essential vitamin for the cat; dietary deficiency can lead to anorexia, weight loss and an increase in body temperature. Biosynthesis of niacin occurs by metabolism of tryptophan via the kynurenine pathway to quinolinic acid, the niacin precursor. However, cats have a high activity of picolinic acid carboxylase, which converts one of the intermediates to picolinic acid instead of quinolinic acid. As a result, niacin can become deficient and require supplementation.
Preformed vitamin A is required in the cat for retinal and reproductive health. Vitamin A is considered to be a fat-soluble vitamin and is seen as essential in a cat's diet. Normally, the conversion of beta-carotenes into vitamin A occurs in the intestine (more specifically the mucosal layer) of species, however cats lack the ability to undergo this process. Both the kidney and liver are contributors to the use of vitamin A in the body of the majority of species while the cats liver does not produce the enzyme Beta-carotene 15,15'-monooxygenase which converts the beta-carotene into retinol (vitamin A). To summarize: cats do not have high levels of this enzyme leading to the cleavage and oxidation of carotenoids not taking place.
Vitamin D3 is a dietary requirement for cats as they lack the ability to synthesize vitamin D3 from sunlight. Cats obtain high levels of the enzyme 7-dehydrocholestrol delta 7 reductase which causes immediate conversion of vitamin D3 from sunlight to 7-dehydrocholesterol. This fat soluble vitamin is required in cats for bone formation through the promotion of calcium retention, along with nerve and muscle control through absorption of calcium and phosphorus.
Essential fatty acids
Cats, like all mammals, need to get linoleic acid, an essential fatty acid, from their diet. Most mammals can convert linoleic acid to arachidonic acid, as well as the omega 3 fatty acids (eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid) through the activity of enzymes, but this process is very limited in cats. The Δ6-desaturase enzyme eventually converts linoleic acid, which is in its salt form linoleate, to arachidonate (salt form of arachidonic acid) in the liver, but this enzyme has very little activity in cats. This means that arachidonic acid is an essential fatty acid for cats as they lack the ability to create required amounts of linoleic acid. Deficiency of arachidonic acid in cats is related to problems in growth, can cause injury and inflammation to skin (e.g. around the mouth) decreased platelet aggregation, fatty liver, increase in birth defects of kittens whose queens were deficient during pregnancy, and reproductive failure in queens. Arachidonic acid can also be metabolized to eicosanoids that create inflammatory responses which are needed to stimulate proper growth and repair mechanisms in the cat.
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 (17–69 acres).
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 gather 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 hunt alone.
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.
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 difficult 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,[when?] believed that only the cats of the Felis genus could purr. However, felids of the genus Panthera (tiger, lion, jaguar, and leopard) also produce non-continuous sounds, called chuffs, similar to purring, but only when exhaling.
Cats are known for spending considerable amounts of time licking their coats to keep them 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.
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 nose.
Hunting and feeding
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 to 3.7 billion birds and 6.9 to 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 kittens.:153
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. See also Animal psychopathology § Pica.
Since cats lack sufficient 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 like a corkscrew, drawing water upwards.
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 animals.
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.
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 of conception.
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.
The gestation period of queens is between 64 and 67 days, with an average of 66 days. Data on reproductive capacity of more than 2,300 free-ranging queens were collected during a study between May 1998 and October 2000. They had one to six kittens per litter, with an average of three kittens. They produced a mean of 1.4 litters per year, but a maximum of three litters in a year. Of 169 kittens, 127 died before they were six months old due to a trauma caused in most cases by dog attacks and road accidents. The first litter is usually smaller than subsequent litters. Kittens are weaned between six and seven weeks of age. Queens normally reach sexual maturity at 5–10 months, and males at 5–7 months. This varies depending on breed.
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 before puberty, at about three to six months. In the US, about 80% of household cats are neutered.
The domestic cat is a cosmopolitan species and occurs across much of the world. It can live on the highest mountains and in the hottest deserts. It is adaptable and 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.
The domestic cat's ability to thrive in almost any terrestrial habitat has led to its designation as one of the world's most invasive species. As it is little altered from the wildcat, it can readily interbreed with the wildcat. This hybridization poses a danger to the genetic distinctiveness of some wildcat populations, particularly in Scotland and Hungary and possibly also the Iberian Peninsula.
Feral cats can live in forests, grasslands, tundra, coastal areas, agricultural land, scrublands, urban areas, and wetlands. Their habitats include small islands with no human inhabitants. The close relatives of the domestic cat, the African wildcat (Felis lybica) and the sand cat (F. margarita) both inhabit desert environments. Domestic cats still show similar adaptations and behaviors.
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 million. 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 Colosseum and 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
To date, little scientific data is available to assess the impact of cat predation on prey populations outside of agricultural situations. 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 cats. Feral cats have had a major impact on these native species and have played a leading role in the endangerment and extinction of many animals.
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).
In agricultural settings, cats can be effective at keeping mouse and rat populations low, but only if rodent harborage locations (such as tall grass) are kept under control. While cats are effective at preventing rodent population explosions, they are not effective for eliminating pre-existing severe infestations.
Impact on birds
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 robins (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 release hypothesis.
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, and the New Zealand merganser 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
Cats are common pets throughout the world, and their worldwide population exceeds 500 million as of 2007. 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 been outlawed in the United States, Australia, and the European Union. Cat pelts have been used for superstitious purposes as part of the practise of witchcraft, and are still made into blankets in 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's one) and over the Internet, 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.
Cats are popular as a subject of art and photography, Walter Chandoha made his career photographing cats after his 1949 images of Loco, an especially charming stray taken in, were published around the world. He is reported to have photographed 90,000 cats during his career and maintained an archive of 225,000 images that he drew from for publications during his lifetime.
A cat show is a judged event in which the owners of cats compete to win titles in various cat registering organizations by entering their cats to be judged after a breed standard. Both pedigreed and companion (or moggy) cats are admissible, although the rules differ from organization to organization. Cats are compared to a breed standard, and the owners of those judged to be closest to it are awarded a prize. Moggies are judged based on their temperament. Often, at the end of the year, all of the points accrued at various shows are added up and more national and regional titles are awarded.
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 toxoplasmosis.
History and mythology
In ancient Egypt, cats were sacred animals, with the goddess Bast often depicted in cat form, sometimes taking on the war-like aspect of a lioness.:220 Killing a cat was absolutely forbidden and the Greek historian Herodotus reports that, whenever a household cat died, the entire family would mourn and shave their eyebrows. Families took their dead cats to the sacred city of Bubastis, where they were embalmed and buried in sacred repositories. The earliest unmistakable evidence of the Greeks having domestic cats comes from two coins from Magna Graecia dating to the mid-fifth century BC showing Iokastos and Phalanthos, the legendary founders of Rhegion and Taras respectively, playing with their pet cats.:57–58
House cats seem to have been extremely rare among the ancient Greeks and Romans; Herodotus expressed astonishment at the domestic cats in Egypt, because he had only ever seen wildcats. Even during later times, weasels were far more commonly kept as pets and weasels, not cats, were seen as the ideal rodent-killers. The usual ancient Greek word for "cat" was ailouros, meaning "thing with the waving tail",:57 but this word could also be applied to any of the "various long-tailed carnivores kept for catching mice". Cats are rarely mentioned in ancient Greek literature, but Aristotle does remark in his History of Animals that "female cats are naturally lecherous.":74 The Greeks later syncretized their own goddess Artemis with the Egyptian goddess Bast, adopting Bastet's associations with cats and ascribing them to Artemis.:77–79 In Ovid's Metamorphoses, when the deities flee to Egypt and take animal forms, the goddess Diana (the Roman equivalent of Artemis) turns into a cat.:79 Cats eventually displaced ferrets as the pest control of choice because they were more pleasant to have around the house and were more enthusiastic hunters of mice. During the Middle Ages, many of Artemis's associations with cats were grafted onto the Virgin Mary. Cats are often shown in icons of Annunciation and of the Holy Family and, according to Italian folklore, on the same night that Mary gave birth to Jesus, a virgin cat in Bethlehem gave birth to a kitten. Domestic cats were spread throughout much of the rest of the world during the Age of Discovery, as ships' 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. In Norse mythology, Freyja, the goddess of love, beauty, and fertility, is depicted as riding a chariot drawn by cats. In Jewish legend, the first cat was living in the house of the first man Adam as a pet that got rid of mice. The cat was once partnering with the first dog before the latter broke an oath they had made which resulted in enmity between the descendants of these two animals. It is also written that neither cats nor foxes are represented in the water, while every other animal has an incarnation species in the water. 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 later Sufi saint, Ahmed ar-Rifa'i, centuries after Muhammad. One of the companions of Muhammad was known as "Abu Hurayrah" (Father of the Kitten), in reference to his documented affection to cats.
Superstitions and rituals
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 Ypres, Belgium, is commemorated in the innocuous present-day Kattenstoet (cat parade). 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.
The average lifespan of pet cats has risen in recent decades. In the early 1980s, it was about seven years,:33 rising to 9.4 years in 1995:33 and 15.1 years in 2018. Some 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
Diseases which affect cats include acute infections, parasitic infestations, injuries; and chronic diseases such as kidney disease, thyroid disease, and arthritis. Vaccinations are available for many infectious diseases, as are treatments to eliminate parasites such as worms and fleas.
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.
- Aging in cats
- Animal testing on cats
- Animal track
- Cancer in cats
- Cat and mouse (cat-and-mouse game)
- Cat burning
- Cat intelligence
- Cat lady
- Cat lover culture
- Cats and the Internet
- Dog–cat relationship
- Dried cat
- List of cat documentaries
- List of cats
- List of fictional cats and felines
- Media coverage of cats
- Pet door including cat flap
- Pet first aid
- Popular cat names
- Big cat
- Cats by location
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