The cat, also called the domestic cat or house cat, is a
small feline carnivorous mammal of the subspecies Felis silvestris catus. Its
most immediate pre-domestication ancestor is the African wild cat, Felis silvestris lybica. The cat has been living in close
association with humans for at least 3,500 years; the Ancient Egyptians
routinely used cats to keep mice and other rodents (mostly rats) away from their
grain (and also believed that cats were sacred to the goddess Bastet). The
history of the domestic cat may stretch back even further, as 8,000-year-old
bones of humans and cats were found buried together on the island of Cyprus.
A group of cats is referred to as a clowder, while a male cat is
called a tom, and a female is called a queen or quean. An
immature cat is called a kitten
(which is also an alternate name for young
rats, rabbits, hedgehogs, beavers, and squirrels). A cat whose ancestry is formally registered is called a
purebred cat, a
pedigree cat, or a
(although not all show cats are pedigree or purebred). In strict terms, a
purebred cat is one whose ancestry contains only individuals of the same breed.
A pedigree cat is one whose ancestry is recorded, but may have ancestors of
Purebreds are less than one percent of the total feline population; cats of
mixed ancestry are referred to as
domestic longhairs and
domestic shorthairs or commonly as random-bred, moggies, mongrels, mutt-cats
or alley cats. The ratio of pedigree/purebred cats to random-bred cats varies
from country to country.
dozens of breeds of domestic cats, some
and they exist in a variety of different colors including multicolored. They are
skilled predators and have been known to hunt over one thousand different
species for food. They are also intelligent animals: some are able to manipulate
simple mechanisms such as lever-handled doors and flush toilets. They communicate by calling ("meow"/"miaou"),
hissing, and gesturing. Because the domestication of the cat is relatively
recent, cats may also still live effectively in the wild, often forming small
colonies. The cat's association with humans leads it to figure prominently in
the mythology and legends of several cultures, including the ancient Egyptians,
Vikings, and Chinese.
A cat grooming itself.
Cats typically weigh between 2.5 and 7 kg (5.5–16 lb); however, some breeds, such as the
can exceed 11.3 kg (25 pounds). Some have been known to reach up to 23 kg
(50 lb), due to overfeeding. This is very unhealthy for the cat, and should be
diet and exercise (playing), especially for cats living exclusively indoors.
In captivity, indoor cats typically live 15 to 20 years, though the
oldest-known cat lived to age 36.
Domestic cats tend to live longer if they are not permitted to go outdoors
(reducing the risk of injury from fights or accidents) and if they are
spayed or neutered. Spaying and neutering a cat also decreases the risk of
testicular and ovarian cancer, and female cats spayed before their first heat or
litter benefit from reduced risk of mammary cancer.Feral cats
living in modern
urban environments often live only two years, or less. Feral cats in maintained
colonies can live much longer; the British Cat Action Trust reported a
19-year-old feral female. The oldest feral cat was Mark who was maintained by
the British charity Cats Protection and who reached 26 years of age.
Thirty-two individual muscles in the ear allow for a manner of directional
 the cat can move each ear independently of the other. Thus
a cat can move its body in one direction and point its ears in quite another
direction (such as pointing backward toward its owner). Most cats have straight
ears pointing upward. Unlike dogs, flap-eared breeds are extremely rare.
(Scottish Folds are one such exceptional genetic mutation.) When angry or
frightened, a cat will lay its ears back, to accompany the growling or hissing
sounds it makes. Cats conserve energy by sleeping more
than most animals, especially as they grow older. Daily durations of sleep are
various, usually 12–16 hours, with 13–14 being the average. Some cats can sleep
as much as 20 hours in a 24-hour period. The term cat nap refers to the
cat's ability to fall asleep for a brief period; someone who nods off for a few
minutes is said to be "taking a cat nap".
Cats' temprament can vary depending on the breed and socialization. Shorter
haired cats tend to be skinnier and more active, while cats with longer hair
tend to be heavier and less active.
body temperature of a cat is between 38 and 39 °C (101 and 102.2 °F).
A cat is considered
febrile if it has a temperature of 39.5 °C (103 °F) or greater, or hypothermic if less than 37.5 °C (100 °F). Comparatively, humans have a
normal temperature of approximately 37 °C (97 to 100 °F). A domestic cat's
normal heart rate ranges from 140 to 220 beats per minute, and is largely
dependent on how excited the cat is. For a cat at rest, the average heart rate
should be between 150 and 180 bpm, depending upon level of activity.
A popular belief holds that cats always land on their
feet. They do usually, but not always. During a fall, a cat can reflexively
twist its body and right itself using its acute sense of balance and flexibility.
 It always rights itself in the same way, provided it has
the time to do so during a fall. Certain breeds that don't have a
tail are a notable exception, since a cat moves its tail and relies on
conservation of angular momentum to set up for landing.
Cats, like dogs, are
digitigrades: they walk directly on their toes, the bones of their feet making
up the lower part of the visible leg. They are capable of walking very precisely, placing each hind paw directly in
the print of the corresponding forepaw, minimising noise and visible tracks.
Like many predators, cats have retractable
claws. This is
actually a misnomer because in their normal, relaxed position the claws are
sheathed with the skin and fur around the toe pads. This is done to keep the
claws sharp by preventing wear from contact with the ground. It is only by
stretching, such as swatting at prey, that the connecting tendons are pulled
taut, forcing the claws to extend. Thus extending the claws is an involuntary
A close-up of a cat's eye.
Measuring the senses of any animal can be difficult, because there is
usually no explicit communication (e.g., reading aloud the letters of a
Snellen chart) between the subject and the tester.
While a cat's senses of
smell and hearing may not be as keen as, say, those of a mouse, they are
superior in many ways to those of humans. These along with the cat's highly
advanced eyesight, taste, and touch
receptors make the cat extremely sensitive among mammals.
Testing indicates that a cat's vision is superior
night in comparison to humans, and inferior in daylight. Cats, like dogs,
tapetum lucidum that reflects extra light to the retina. While this
enhances the ability to see in low light, it appears to reduce net
visual acuity, thus detracting when light is abundant. In very bright light, the
slit-like iris closes very narrowly over the eye, reducing the amount of light
on the sensitive retina, and improving depth of field. The tapetum and other
mechanisms give the cat a minimum light detection threshold up to 7 times lower
than that of humans. Variation in color of cats' eyes in flash photographs is
largely due to the interaction of the flash with the tapetum.
Average cats have a visual
field of view estimated at 200°, versus 180° in humans, with a binocular field
(overlap in the images from each eye) narrower than that of humans. As with most
predators, their eyes face forward, affording depth perception at the expense of
field of view. Field of view is largely dependent upon the placement of the
eyes, but may also be related to the eye's construction. Instead of the fovea
which gives humans sharp central vision, cats have a central band known as the
visual streak. Cats can apparently differentiate among colors, especially at close range, but without appreciable subtlety.
Cats have a third eyelid, the
nictitating membrane, which is a thin cover that closes from the side and
appears when the cat's eyelid opens. This membrane partially closes if the cat
is sick; although in a sleepy, content cat this membrane is often visible. If a
cat chronically shows the third eyelid, it should be taken to a veterinarian.
Humans and cats have a similar range of hearing on the low end of the scale,
but cats can hear much higher-pitched sounds, even better than dogs. Cats can
hear 2 octaves higher than humans, and one-half octave higher than dogs. When
listening for something, a cat's ears will swivel in that direction; a cat's ear
flaps (pinnae) can independently point backwards as well as forwards and
sideways to pinpoint the source of the sound. Cats can judge within three inches (7.5 cm) the location of a sound
being made one yard (approximately one meter) away.
A domestic cat's sense of smell is about 14 times stronger than a human's.
Cats have twice as many smell-sensitive cells in their noses as people do, which
means they can smell things we are not even aware of. Cats also have a scent
organ in the roof of their mouths called the
vomeronasal, or Jacobson's, organ. When a cat wrinkles its muzzle, lowers its
chin, and lets its tongue hang a bit, it is opening the passage to the
vomeronasal. This is called gaping. Gaping is the equivalent of the Flehmen
response in other animals, such as dogs and horses.
A cat using its senses for exploration
Cats generally have about a dozen
in four rows on each upper lip, a few on each cheek, tufts over the eyes and
bristles on the chin. Whiskers may also be found on the cat's "elbows." The
Sphynx (a nearly hairless breed) may have full length, short, or no whiskers at
Whiskers (technically called
vibrissae) can aid with navigation and sensation. Whiskers may detect very small
shifts in air currents, enabling a cat to know it is near obstructions without actually seeing them. The
upper two rows of whiskers can move independently from the lower two rows for
even more precise measuring.
It is thought that a cat may choose to rely on the whiskers in dim light
where fully dilating the pupils would reduce its ability to focus on close
objects. The whiskers also spread out roughly as wide as the cat's body making
it able to judge if it can fit through an opening.
Whiskers are also an indication of the cat's attitude. Whiskers point forward
when the cat is inquisitive and friendly, and lie flat on the face when the cat
is being defensive or aggressive.
National Geographic (December
8), cats cannot taste sugary foods due to a faulty
Some scientists believe this is related to the cat's diet being naturally high
in protein, though it is unclear whether it is the cause or the result of it.
A cat vocalizing
The unique sound a small cat makes is written
onomatopoeically as "meow" in American English; "meow" or "miaow" in British
English; "miaou" or "miaw" in French; "miao" in Mandarin Chinese and Italian; "miau"
in German, Spanish, Finnish, Lithuanian, Polish, Croatian, Romanian and
Portuguese; "miau" or "מיאו" in Hebrew;"miyav" in Turkish; "mjäu" in Estonian; "mowa'a"
in Arabic; "nyaa" or "nyan" in Japanese; "meong" or "ngeong" in Bahasa
Indonesia; "ngiau" in Malay; "yaong" or "nyaong" in Korean; and various ways in
other languages. The sound of an increasingly annoyed cat is transcribed in
James Joyce's Ulysses as "mkgnao", "mrkgnao" and "mrkrgnao"
, and the sound made by Pixel, the title character of
Robert A. Heinlein's The Cat Who Walks Through Walls, was written as "blert",
while the sound made by Bill the Cat in Berkeley Breathed's comic strip Bloom
County was generally described as "ack". The cat's pronunciation of this
call varies significantly depending on meaning. Usually cats call out to
indicate pain, request human attention (to be fed or played with, for example),
or as a greeting. Some cats are very vocal, and others rarely call out. Cats are
capable of about 100 different vocalisations, compared to about 10 for dogs.
A kitten's call first starts out as a high-pitched squeak-like sound when
very young, and then deepens over time. Some cats, however, do not exercise
their voices a lot, so their call may remain similar to that of a kitten through
Cats can also produce a
purring noise that
typically indicates that the cat is happy, but also can mean that it feels
distress. Cats purr among other cats—for example, when a mother meets her
kittens. Until recently, there were many competing theories to explain how cats
purr, including vibration of the cat's false vocal chords when inhaling and
exhaling, the sound of blood hitting the aorta, vibration of the hyoid
apparatus, or resonation directly in the lungs. Currently, though, it is
believed that purring
is a result of rhythmic impulses to the cat's
It is possible for a cat to call out and purr simultaneously, although this
is typical only in very vocal cats. In addition to purring, happy cats may blink
slowly or partially close their eyes to break any possible stares and
communicate their ease in the situation. However, purring may also be a way for
the cat to calm itself down. For example, cats have been known to purr when
Most cats growl or hiss when angered or in danger. Some may engage in nipping
behavior or batting with their paws, either with claws extended or retracted.
With cats who are improperly socialised and do not know their own strength, this
can result in inadvertent damage to human skin. Cat scratches can easily become
infected, and in extreme cases can result in cat scratch fever.
Cats are also known to make chirping noises when observing prey, or as a
means of expressing interest in an object to nearby humans. When directed at
out-of-reach prey, it is unknown whether this is a threatening sound, an
expression of frustration, or an attempt to replicate a birdcall (or replicate
the call of a bird's prey, for example a
this feline expression often involves a mouth movement similar to the one they
would use to kill their prey (their "killing bite"), they may be trying to
practice this mouth movement in anticipation.
When passing solid waste, cats, like many types of
predators, release from anal glands a small amount of liquid that scents their
feces, to mark their territory. These scent-producing anal sacs are found in all
predators; those of the skunk are used
for self-defense, for example. During moments of excitement or other strong
emotions, a cat's anal sac may discharge, releasing a foul-smelling brown
liquid. Anal irritation, possibly shown by the cat rubbing its bottom on the
floor and frequent licking of the area, can be a sign that the cat's anal sacs
are not being emptied when waste passes
. Although this condition can be treated through the
addition of a small amount of bran to each meal, it may require veterinary
attention. Shorthair cats are more prone to this problem.
Cats will twitch the tips of their tails when hunting or angry, while larger
twitching indicates displeasure. A tail held high is a sign of happiness, while
half-raised shows less pleasure, and unhappiness is indicated with a tail held
low. A scared cat may puff up its tail and the hair along its back and turn its
body sideways to a threat in order to increase its apparent size. Tailless cats,
such as the
Manx (cat), who possess only a small stub of a tail move the stub around as
though they possessed a full tail, though it is not nearly as communicative as
that of a fully tailed cat. Touching noses is a friendly greeting for cats,
while a lowered head is a sign of submission.
When cats are happy, they are known to paw their owners, or that on which
they sit, with a kneading motion. Cats often use this action alongside purring
to show contentment and affection for their owners. The action is often referred
to as paddy-pawing, making muffins or treading paws. It is instinctive to cats,
and they use it when they are young to stimulate the mother cat's nipple to
release milk during nursing. As a result, cats that are hand-raised by humans
may lack this reflex. Pawing is also a way for cats to mark their territory. The
scent glands on the underside of their paws release small amounts of scent onto
the person or object being pawed, marking it as "theirs" in the same way they
would urinate to mark their territory.
Hunting and diet
Relative to size, domestic cats are very effective
predators. They ambush and dispatch vertebrate prey using tactics similar to
those of leopards and tigers by pouncing; they then deliver a lethal neck bite
with their long canine teeth that severs the victim's spinal cord, or asphyxiate it by crushing the windpipe.
The domestic cat can hunt and eat about one thousand
species—many big cats will
eat fewer than 100. Although, theoretically, big cats can kill most of these
species as well, they often do not due to the relatively low nutritional content
that smaller animals provide. An exception is the leopard, which commonly hunts
rabbits and many other smaller animals.
A cat yawning, showing characteristic canine teeth.
Cats have highly specialized teeth and a digestive tract suitable to the
digestion of meat. The premolar and first molar together compose the carnassial
pair on each side of the mouth, which efficiently functions to shear meat like a
pair of scissors. While this is present in canines, it is highly developed in
felines. The cat's tongue has sharp spines, or papillae, designed to retain and
rip flesh from a carcass. These papillae are small backward-facing hooks that
contain keratin and assist in their grooming. Unlike most carnivores, cats eat
almost no vegetable matter apart from that found in the digestive tracts of
their prey. Whereas bears and dogs
commonly supplement their diet of meat with fruits, berries, roots, and honey
when they can get them, cats feed exclusively on meat, usually freshly killed.
Cats, including the great cats, have a genetic anomaly that prevents them from
, which is probably related to their meat-only habits.
In captivity, cats cannot be adapted to an unsupplemented
vegetarian diet because they cannot synthesize all the amino acids they need
from plant material. Specifically this applies to
absence of which causes the cat's retina to slowly degenerate, causing eye
problems and (eventually) irreversible blindness. This condition is called
central retinal degeneration (CRD). Cow's milk is a poor source of taurine and
adult cats are generally lactose intolerant. Lactose-free milk is perfectly safe, but still not a
substitute for meat. This contrasts with domesticated dogs, which commonly are
fed a mixture of meat and vegetable products and have been adapted in some cases
to a vegetarian diet. Despite this, however, the majority of brand-name cat
foods are primarily grain based, often containing large amounts of corn or rice
and supplemented with meats and essential vitamins. Some vegetarian owners feed
their cats a vegetarian diet containing supplemental taurine.
Cats are also known to munch on grass, leaves, shrubs and houseplants. They
do not eat a lot in one sitting, but prefer to have it as a snack. Eating
vegetation in this way may aid the cat's digestive system and can prevent
Cats can be fussy eaters. This mostly happens when the
vomeronasal, or Jacobson's, organ becomes sensitized to a specific food, at
which point the cat will reject any food that doesn't fit the pattern it is
expecting. Additionally, cats have been known to develop a fondness for "people
food" such as barbecued chicken, bread, french fries, pepperoni pizza, ice
cream, tomato soup, carrot juice, olives, and carnitas burritos, as well as cat
diet exotica such as corn kernels and diced cantaloupe. Many "people foods" are
not good for cats; chocolate, for example, can be fatal due to the theobromine
found in chocolate.
Domestic cats, especially young ones, are known for their love of string
play. Many cannot resist a dangling piece of string, or a piece of rope drawn
randomly and enticingly across the floor. This notorious love of string is often
depicted in cartoons and photographs, which show kittens or cats playing with
balls of yarn. This propensity is probably related to their hunting instinct.
However, string is more often being replaced with a red dot
pointer. This is because, if the string is ingested, it can be caught in the
cat’s stomach or intestines causing illness or, in extreme cases, death. Some
people discourage the use of laser pointers for play with pets, however, because
of the risk of eye damage and the loss of satisfaction (especially for cats)
associated with the successful capture of prey.
Because of their small size, domestic cats pose almost no danger to
humans—the only hazard is the possibility of infection (or, rarely,
rabies) from a
cat bite or scratch.
Cats can be destructive to
ecosystems in which they are not native and whose species did not have time to
adapt to their introduction. In some cases, cats have contributed to or caused
extinctions — for example, see the case of the Stephens Island Wren.
A cat litter box.
Cats are known for their cleanliness. They
groom themselves by licking their fur. Their saliva is a powerful cleaning
agent, but it can provoke allergic reactions in humans. Some people who are
allergic to cats - typically manifested by hay fever, asthma or a skin rash -
quickly acclimate themselves to a particular animal and live comfortably in the
same house with it, while retaining an allergy to cats in general. Many cats
also enjoy grooming humans or other cats. Some cats occasionally regurgitate
hair balls of fur that have collected in their stomachs as a result of their
grooming. Longhair cats are more prone to this than shorthairs. Hairballs can be
prevented with certain cat foods and remedies that ease elimination
of the hair. Cats expend nearly as much fluid grooming as they do urinating.
Indoor cats may be provided a
containing sand or
similar commercial material (litter).
This arrangement serves the same purpose as a
toilet for humans. It
should be cleaned daily and changed often (depending on the number of cats in a
household and the type of litter—clumping litter stays cleaner longer, but has
been reported to cause health problems in some cats.
) A litterbox is recommended for indoor-outdoor cats as
well. Litterboxes may pose a risk of
toxoplasmosis transmission to susceptible pregnant women and immuno-compromised
individuals. Transmission risk may be reduced by daily litterbox cleaning.
In addition, some cats may be toilet trained, eliminating the litterbox and
its attending expense and odor. Training involves two or three weeks of
incremental moves, such as moving and elevating the litterbox until it is near
the toilet. For a short time, an adapter, such as a bowl or small box, may be
used to suspend the litter above the toilet bowl. When training is complete, the
cat uses the toilet by perching over the bowl.
Indoor cats will also benefit from being provided with a
scratching post so they are less likely to ruin furniture with their claws.
Nails can be trimmed, but care should be taken to avoid cutting a vein in the
quick of the claw.
Some cat owners choose to have their cat declawed (onychectomy). This major
surgery removes the tip of each digit (from the first knuckle out) of the cat's
forepaws. Some people are opposed to declawing, claiming it is inhumane.
Declawing is not a simple procedure; serious complications can arise, such as an
increased risk of infections, or life-long discomfort in the cat's paws. This
operation is rare outside of North America. In Germany and Switzerland,
declawing cats is explicitly forbidden by the laws against cruelty to animals.
In many other European countries, it is also forbidden under the terms of the
European Convention for the Protection of Pet Animals, unless "a veterinarian considers [such] non-curative procedures necessary either for
veterinary medical reasons or for the benefit of any particular animal".
Where it is legal, some cat veterinarians refuse to do this type of surgery
because it deprives the cat of its main defense ability, although cats usually
learn to donkey kick or rake with their hind claws in defense. Other experts
mention difficulties with the cat's typical stretching and exercise habits,
which can lead to muscle atrophy. Some doctors believe that a loss of the cat's
claws causes a loss of its ability to balance on thin objects, such as rails or
balconies. Declawing surgery requires anesthesia, which carries with it a small
risk of death. Additionally, some experts believe that declawed cats are more
inclined to bite. If a cat is not declawed at an early age, it becomes too
dangerous to declaw them when they are older. However, many American cats are
still declawed, often when the owner finds that it is the only option for
keeping the cat (sometimes it is mandated by landlords). Some cats that are not
declawed and cannot be retrained are either abandoned or turned in to animal
shelters, where they may be euthanized. In Britain, where the prevailing style
of ownership is indoor/outdoor, shelters find it difficult to rehome imported cats that had previously been declawed. One
popular, relatively inexpensive alternative to declawing is the application of
vinyl nail caps that are affixed to the claws with nontoxic glue, requiring
periodic replacement when the cat sheds its claw sheaths (usually every four to
The wild cat, ancestor of the domestic cat, is believed to have evolved in a
desert climate, as evident in the behavior common to both the domestic and wild
forms. Wild cats are native to all continents other than Australasia and
Antarctica. Their feces are usually dry, and cats prefer to bury them in sandy
places. They are able to remain motionless for long periods, especially when
observing prey and preparing to pounce. In North Africa there are still small
wildcats that are probably related closely to the ancestors of today's
Cats enjoy heat and solar exposure, often sleeping in a warm area during the
heat of the day. Cats like to be a lot warmer than humans do. People start to
feel uncomfortable when their skin's temperature gets higher than about 44.5 °C
(112 °F), but cats don't start to show signs of discomfort until their skin
reaches about 52 °C (126 °F).
Being closely related to desert animals, cats can withstand the heat and cold
of a temperate climate, but not for long periods. Although certain breeds such as the
Norwegian Forest Cat and
have developed more protection than others, they have little resistance against
fog, rain and snow and struggle
to maintain their 39 °C (102 °F) body temperature when wet. Most cats dislike
immersion in water, but one exception is the
Van cat. If a cat is continually exposed to water from a very young age,
often it will develop a fondness for it; however, this rarely if ever occurs
Reproduction and genetics
Four kittens being
Cats are seasonally
polyestrous, which means they may have many heat periods over the course of
a year. A heat period lasts about 4 to 7 days if the female is bred; if she is
not, the heat period lasts longer and recurs at regular intervals.
The male cat's penis has spines which point backwards. Upon withdrawal of the
penis, the spines rake the walls of the female's vagina. The female needs this
stimulation for ovulation to begin. Because of this, females are rarely
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, meaning different kittens in a litter may have different fathers.
The gestation period for cats is approximately 60 days. The size of a litter averages three to five kittens, with the first litter usually smaller
than subsequent litters. Kittens are weaned at between six and seven weeks, and
cats normally reach sexual maturity at six months (females) to seven months
Blue-eyed cats with white fur have a higher
genetic incidence of deafness.
Completely white cats (not due to albinism, but white because of the dominant
epistatic white (W) gene) with two blue eyes have a forty percent probability of
being born deaf.
The deafness is an effect of the W
gene. This gene
produces a white coat because it completely masks any other color or pattern the
cat has. Blue
irises can result, and they are linked to deafness.
 Any cat that receives even one W from one
parent may exhibit this. Blue eyes can also result from the form of albinism
characteristic of the siamese breed; white cats from this genetic background,
sometimes called Foreign whites or
Oriental Shorthairs may not have a problem with deafness, but it can happen
if the cat inherits the W gene. This also occurs with dogs if they
have white coat and blue eyes, and in the case of dogs, it can be equally common
for them to be born blind.
 However, blindness in cats has not found to be associated
with the W gene.
 Often, blue eyes will lack a tapetum lucidum and thus will
not reflect like colored cat eyes. This may diminish the cats' visual acuity,
but the extent is not known. Humans with common albinism, white skin and blue
eyes generally suffer from visual problems, but in Tietz syndrome they suffer from deafness.
Around 5% of all cats are completely white, of which 10%–20% are deaf. Very
few survive in the wild because of all the hazards that they cannot avoid as
easily as other cats would in the same situation. Many people believe that deaf
white cats should not be used for breeding as it is not ethical to propagate
such a disability, and instead deaf cats should be spayed or neutered to avoid
passing the trait to their offspring.
 Some breeds however, such as the
Turkish Angora are based on all white cats and produce a higher percentage
of deaf cats as a results. It was not until recently that colored
Turkish Angoras were allowed to be shown, making deafness an issue in that
breed. Apart from the
Turkish Angora, there are also many non-pedigree white cats that have odd
eyes, i.e. one blue eye and one amber eye.
Like some other domesticated animals, cats live in a
mutualistic arrangement with humans. Cats, however, have done so for a much
shorter time than almost all other domesticated animals, and the degree of
domestication of cats is somewhat disputed. Since the benefit of removing rats
and mice from humans'
food stores outweighed the cost of allowing a formerly wild animal to enjoy the
relative safety of a human settlement, the relationship between cat and human
flourished. Unlike the dog, which also kills rodents, the cat did not eat
grains, fruits, or vegetables. A cat that is good at hunting rodents is referred
to as a mouser.
The venerable simile "like herding cats" refers to the seeming intractability
of the ordinary house cat to be trained in the manner of the
occasional cohabitation in colonies, cats are lone hunters. It is no coincidence
that cats are also "clean" animals, the chemistry of their saliva, expended in
frequent grooming, acting as a natural deodorant. The "purpose" of this
cleanliness is to help hide the cat's presence while stalking prey. A dog's
odor, on the other hand, is an advantage, for a dog is a pack hunter; part of
the pack stations itself upwind, and its odor drives prey towards the rest of
the pack stationed downwind. This requires a cooperative effort, which in turn
requires communications skills. No such communications skills are required of
the lone hunter. Thus, communicating with such an animal is problematic, and
cats in particular are labelled as opaque or inscrutable, if not obtuse, as well
as aloof and self-sufficient. However, cats can be very affectionate towards
their humans, especially if they
imprint on them at a very young age and are treated with consistent
Cat catching a
Human attitudes toward cats vary widely. Some humans keep cats for
companionship as pets.
Some people (known as cat lovers) go to great lengths to pamper their cats,
sometimes treating them almost as if they were children. When a cat bonds with
its human owner, at times, the cat may display behaviors similar to that of the
human. Such behavior may include a trip to the litter box before bedtime and
snuggling up close to its companion in bed or on the sofa. Other behaviors could
include mimicking sounds of the owner or using certain sounds the cat picks up
from the human; sounds representing specific needs of the cat, which the owner
would recognize. The cat may also be capable of learning to communicate with the
human using non-spoken language or
body language such as rubbing for affection (confirmation), facial
expressions and making eye-contact with the owner if something needs to be
addressed (e.g. finding a bug crawling on the floor for the owner to get rid
of). Some owners like to train their cat to perform "tricks" commonly exhibited
by dogs such as jumping.
Allergies to cat
dander are one of the most common reasons people cite for disliking cats.
However, in some instances, humans find the rewards of cat companionship
outweigh the discomfort and problems associated with allergies. Many chose to
cope with cat allergies by taking prescription allergy medicine and bathing
their cats frequently, since weekly bathing will eliminate about 90% of the cat
dander present in the environment. Recent studies have indicated the humans who
are exposed to cats or dogs within the first year of their lives develop few
animal allergies, while most adults who are allergic to animals did not have a
cat or a dog as a pet in childhood.
In urban areas, some people find feral and free roaming pet cats annoying and
intrusive. Unaltered animals can engage in persistent nighttime calling
(caterwauling) and defecation or "marking" on private property. Indoor
confinement of pets and TNR (Trap, Neuter, Return) programs for feral cats can
help in this situation; some people also use
deterrents to discourage cats from entering their property.
In rural areas, farms often have dozens of semi-feral cats. Hunting in the
barns and the fields, they kill and eat rodents that would otherwise spoil large
parts of the grain crop. Many pet cats successfully hunt and kill
rabbits, rodents, birds, lizards, frogs, fish, and large insects by instinct, but might not eat their prey. They may even present such victims, dead or
maimed, to a beloved owner, perhaps expecting their owner to praise or reward
them, or possibly even complete the kill and eat the mouse.
Despite its reputation as a solitary animal, the domestic cat is social
enough to form
colonies, but does not attack in groups as do lions. Some breeds like bengal,
are very social, but these breeds are exceptions. While each cat holds a
distinct territory (sexually active males having the largest territories, and
neutered cats having the smallest), there are "neutral" areas where cats watch
and greet one another without territorial conflict or aggression. Outside of
these neutral areas, territory holders usually vigorously chase away strangers,
at first by staring, hissing, and growling, and if that does not work by short
but noisy and violent attacks.
make themselves look larger by raising their fur and arching their backs.
Attacks usually comprise powerful slaps to the face and body with the forepaws
as well as bites, but serious damage is rarely done, and usually the loser runs
away with little more than a few scratches to the face. Sexually active males
may be engaged in many fights over their lives and often have decidedly
weathered faces with obvious scars and cuts to the ears and nose. Not only males
will fight; females will also fight over territory or to defend their kittens
and even neutered cats will defend their small territories vigorously.
Feral cats are thought to be a major predator of
Hawaiian coastal and forest habitats, and are one species among many responsible
for the decline of endemic forest bird species as well as seabirds like the
 In one study of 56 cat
scats, the remains of 44 birds were found, 40 of which were endemic species.
may live alone, but most are found in large groups called
feral colonies with communal nurseries, depending on resource availability.
Many lost or abandoned pet cats join these colonies out of desperation. The
average lifespan of these feral cats is much shorter than a domestic housecat,
which can live an average of sixteen years or more. Urban areas are not native
environments to the cat; most domestic cats were artificially selected from cats
in desert climates and were distributed throughout the world by humans, but some
feral cat colonies are found in large cities, for example, around the
Colosseum and Forum Romanum in Rome. Although cats are adaptable, feral felines
are unable to thrive in extreme cold and heat, and with a protein requirement of
about 90%, few find adequate nutrition on their own in cities. In addition, they
have little defense or understanding of the dangers from dogs, coyotes, and even
automobiles. However, there are thousands of volunteers and organizations
that trap these unadoptable feral felines,
spay or neuter them,
immunize the cats against rabies and
feline leukemia, and treat them with long-lasting
Before release back into their feral colonies, the attending veterinarian nips
the tip off one ear to mark the feral as spayed/neutered and inoculated, as
these cats will more than likely find themselves trapped again. Volunteers
continue to feed and give care to these cats throughout their lives, and not
only is their lifespan greatly increased, but behavior and nuisance problems,
due to competition for food, are also greatly reduced. In time, if an entire
colony is successfully spayed and neutered, no additional kittens are born and
the feral colony disappears. Many hope to see an end to urban feral cat colonies
through these efforts.
The environmental impact of feral cat programs and of indoor/outdoor cats is
a subject of debate. Part of this stems from humane concern for the cats
themselves and part arises from concerns about cat predation on endangered
species. Nearly all studies agree that abandoned animals lead hard lives. Owners
who can no longer keep their cats would do best to give them to friends, rescue
organizations, or shelters.
The amount of ecological damage done by indoor/outdoor cats depends on local
conditions. The most severe impact occurs with island ecologies. Serious
concerns also exist in places such as Florida where housecats are not native,
where several small sized endangered species live near human populations, and
where the climate allows cats to breed throughout the year. Environmental
concerns may be minimal in most of England where cats are an established species
and few to none of the local prey species are endangered.
Pet owners can contact veterinarians, ecological organizations, and
universities for opinions about whether local conditions are suitable for
outdoor cats. Additional concerns include potential dangers from larger
predators and infectious diseases. Coyotes kill large numbers of housecats in
the Southwestern United States, even in urban zones. FELV (feline leukemia), FIV
(feline immunodeficiency virus), or rabies may be present in the area. If faced
with conflicting evidence, the safe choice is to keep a cat indoors. Experts
recommend a gradual transition to indoor life for cats who are accustomed to
The domestic cat was named Felis catus by
Carolus Linnaeus in his Systema Naturae of 1758. Johann Christian Daniel von
Schreber named the wild cat Felis silvestris in 1775. The domestic cat is now
considered a subspecies of the wild cat: by the strict rule of priority of the
International Code of Zoological Nomenclature the name for the species thus
ought to be F. catus since Linnaeus published first. However, in practice
almost all biologists use F. silvestris for the wild species, using F.
catus only for the domesticated form.
In opinion 2027 (published in Volume 60, Part 1 of the Bulletin of
31 March 2003
) the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature
"conserved the usage of 17 specific names based on wild species, which are
predated by or contemporary with those based on domestic forms", thus confirming
F. silvestris for the wild cat and F. silvestris catus for its
domesticated subspecies. (F. catus is still valid if the domestic form is
considered a separate species.)
Johann Christian Polycarp Erxleben named the domestic cat Felis
domesticus in his Anfangsgründe der Naturlehre and Systema regni animalis
of 1777. This name, and its variants Felis catus domesticus and Felis
silvestris domesticus, are often seen, but they are not valid scientific
names under the rules of the
International Code of Zoological Nomenclature.
Varieties of domestic cat
list of cat breeds is quite large. Each breed has distinct features and
heritage. The owners and breeders of show cats compete to see whose animal bears
the closest resemblance to the "ideal" definition of the breed (see
selective breeding). Due to common crossbreeding in populated areas, many
cats are simply identified as belonging to the homogeneous breeds of
domestic longhair and
domestic shorthair, depending on their type of fur. In the
United Kingdom and Australia,
non-purebred cats are referred in slang as
moggies (also an
archaic slang word for a
prostitute, probably referring to a female cat's promiscuous habits). In the
United States, a non-purebred cat is sometimes referred to in slang as an
alley cat, even if it is not a
Cats come in a variety of
patterns. These are physical properties and should not be confused with a breed
Striped, with a variety of patterns. The classic "blotched tabby"
pattern is the most common and consists of butterflies and bull's-eyes. The
tabby is a series of vertical stripes down the cat's side (resembling the
fish). This pattern broken into spots is referred to as spotted tabby. The
worldwide evolution of the cat means that certain types of tabby are
associated with certain countries; for instance, blotched tabbies are quite
rare outside NW Europe, where they are the most common type.
Calico cat has black-brown-white fur and green eyes.
Featuring three colors mottled throughout the coat, this cat is also
known as a Calimanco cat or Clouded Tiger cat, and by the nickname "tortie".
A true tortoiseshell must consist of three kinds of color: a reddish color,
dark or light; white; and one other color, typically a brown, black or blue,
as described by American breeder Barbara French, writing for the Cat
. Calico cats are white with distinct black and red (or
blue and cream in the dilute variant) spots. The Japanese refer to this
pattern as mi-ke (meaning "triple fur"). Both tortoiseshell and calico cats
are typically female because the coat pattern is
the result of differential
X chromosome inactivation in females (which, as with all normal female
mammals, have two X chromosomes). Those male tortoiseshells that are created
are usually sterile; conversely, cats where the overall color is ginger
(orange) are virtually always male, and a litter sired by a ginger tom
usually contains tortoiseshell females. See "Tortoiseshell and Tricolour
Cats" for an extensive genetic explanation for tricolor
cats, and detailing the possible combinations of coloring.
Cats have been kept with humans since at least the days of
Ancient Egypt through various cultures. In Ancient Egypt, the cat god, Bast,
is a goddess of the home and of the domestic cat, although she sometimes took on
the war-like aspect of a lioness. Daughter of the sun god Ra, although sometimes
regarded as the daughter of Amun. She was the wife of Ptah and mother of the
lion-god Mihos. Her cult was centered on her sanctuary at Bubastis in the delta
region, where a necropolis has been found containing mummified cats. Bast was
also associated with the 'eye of Ra', acting as the instrument of the sun god's
vengeance. She was depicted as a cat or in human form with the head of a cat,
often holding the sacred rattle known as the sistrum.