A group of cats is referred to as a clowder, a male cat is called a tom, and a female is called a queen. The male progenitor of a cat, especially a pedigreed cat, is its sire, and its female progenitor is its dam. An immature cat is called a kitten (which is also an alternative name for young rats, rabbits, hedgehogs, beavers, squirrels and skunks). In medieval Britain, the word kitten was interchangeable with the word catling. A cat whose ancestry is formally registered is called a pedigreed cat, purebred cat, or a show cat (although not all show cats are pedigreed or purebred). In strict terms, a purebred cat is one whose ancestry contains only individuals of the same breed. A pedigreed cat is one whose ancestry is recorded, but may have ancestors of different breeds (almost exclusively new breeds; cat registries are very strict about which breeds can be mated together). Cats of unrecorded 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. However, generally speaking, purebreds are less than ten percent of the total feline population.
The word cat derives from Old English catt, which belongs to a group of related words in European languages, including Latin cattus, Welsh cath, Spanish gato, Basque katu, Byzantine Greek κάττα, Old Irish cat, and Old Church Slavonic kotka. The ultimate source of all these terms, however, is unknown. However, it may be linked to the ancient Nubian kadis and the Berber kadiska.
The term puss (as in pussycat or Puss in boots) may come from Dutch (from „poes“, a female cat, or the diminutive „poesje“, an endearing term for any cat) or from other Germanic languages. However it has also been suggested that the name derives from „Pust“, an alternative name for the Ancient Egyptian cat goddess Bast.
The domestic cat was named Felis catus by Carolus Linnaeus in his Systema Naturae of 1758. Johann Christian Daniel von Schreber named the Wildcat Felis silvestris in 1775. The domestic cat was considered a subspecies of the Wildcat: 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, and so 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 Zoological Nomenclature, March 31 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 Wildcat and F. silvestris catus for its domesticated cousin. F. catus is still valid if the domestic form is considered a separate species. Recent DNA and comparative bone research shows that the separate species name F. catus is correct after all. The results show little relation to the F. sylvestris group with F. catus being derived from F. lybica 7000 years ago when the very first small felines were domesticated in Asia Minor.
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.
Cats typically weigh between 2.5 and 7 kg (5.5–16 pounds); however, some breeds, such as the Maine Coon can exceed 11.3 kg (25 pounds). Some have been known to reach up to 23 kg (50 pounds) due to overfeeding. Conversely, very small cats (less than 1.8 kg / 4.0 lbs) have been reported.Diagram of the general anatomy of a cat.
In captivity, indoor cats typically live 14 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 exposure to diseases) and if they are spayed or neutered. Some such benefits are: neutered male cats cannot develop testicular cancer, spayed female cats cannot develop ovarian cancer, and both have a reduced risk of mammary cancer.
Cats also possess rather loose skin; this enables them to turn and confront a predator or another cat in a fight, even when it has a grip on them. This is also an advantage for veterinary purposes, as it simplifies injections. In fact, the life of cats with kidney failure can sometimes be extended for years by the regular injection of large volumes of fluid subcutaneously, which serves as an alternative to dialysis.
The particular loose skin at the back of the neck is known as the scruff, and is the area by which a mother cat grips her kittens to carry them. As a result, cats have a tendency to relax and become quiet and passive when gripped there. This tendency often extends into adulthood, and can be useful when attempting to treat or move an uncooperative cat. However, since an adult cat is quite a bit heavier than a kitten, a pet cat should never be carried by the scruff, but should instead have their weight supported at the rump and hind legs, and also at the chest and front paws. Often (much
like a small child) a cat will lie with its head and front paws over a person’s shoulder, and its back legs and rump supported under the person’s arm.
Like almost all mammals, cats possess seven cervical vertebrae. They have thirteen thoracic vertebrae (compared to twelve in humans), seven lumbar vertebrae (compared to five in humans), three sacral vertebrae like most mammals (humans have five because of their bipedal posture), and twenty-two or twenty-three caudal vertebrae (humans have three to five, fused into an internal coccyx). The extra lumbar and thoracic vertebrae account for the cat’s enhanced spinal mobility and flexibility, compared to humans; the caudal vertebrae form the tail, used by the cat for counterbalance to the body during quick movements.
Sixty-two individual muscles in the ear allow for a manner of directional hearing:the cat can move each ear independently of the other. Because of this mobility, a cat can move its body in one direction and point its ears in another direction. 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 will also turn their ears back when they are playing, or occasionally to show interest in a sound coming from behind them.
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. 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 forepaw, minimizing noise and visible tracks. This also provides sure footing for their hind paws when they navigate rough terrain.
Unlike dogs and most mammals, cats walk by moving both legs on one side and then both legs on the other. Most mammals move legs on alternate sides in sequence. Cats share this unusual gait with camels, giraffes, and a select few other mammals. There is no known connection between these animals which might explain this.
Like all members of family Felidae except the cheetah, cats have retractable claws. In their normal, relaxed position the claws are sheathed with the skin and fur around the 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 forefeet are typically sharper than those on the hind feet. Cats can extend their claws voluntarily on one or more paws at will. Cats may extend their claws in hunting or self-defense, climbing, „kneading“, or for extra traction on soft surfaces (bedspreads, thick rugs, etc.). It is also possible to make a cooperative cat extend its claws by carefully pressing both the top and bottom of the paw. The curved claws may become entangled in carpet or thick fabric, which may cause injury if the cat is unable to free itself.
Most cats have 5 claws at their front paws, and 4 or 5 at their rear paws. Because of an ancient mutation, however, domestic cats are prone to polydactyly, and may have 6 or 7 toes. The fifth front claw (the thumb) is in a more proximal position than those of the other fingers. More proximally, there 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 anti-skidding device while jumping. If present, the fifth claw at the rear legs, corresponding with the big toe, is called the dew-claw.
Perching and falling
Most breeds of cat have a noted fondness for settling in high places, or perching. Animal behaviorists have posited a number of explanations, the most common being that height gives the cat a better observation point, allowing it to survey its „territory“ and become aware of activities of people and other pets in the area. In the wild, a higher place may serve as a concealed site from which to hunt; domestic cats are known to strike prey by pouncing from such a perch as a tree branch, as does a leopard. Height, therefore, can also give cats a sense of security and prestige.
This fondness for high spaces, however, can dangerously test the popular axiom that a cat „always lands on its feet.“ The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals warns owners to safeguard the more dangerous perches in their homes, to avoid „high-rise syndrome,“ where an overconfident cat falls from an extreme height.
During a fall, a cat can reflexively twist its body and right itself using its acute sense of balance and flexibility.This is known as the cat’s „righting reflex.“ It always rights itself in the same way, provided it has the time to do so, during a fall. The height required for this to occur in most cats (safely) is around 3 feet (90cm). Many cases are known of cats falling from substantial heights (5 to 10 stories) and surviving almost unscathed. To achieve this, cats probably relax their ventral muscles, „flattening“ their bodies to some extent and creating more resistance to air. Contrary to popular belief, cats without a tail also have this ability, since a cat mostly moves its hindlegs and relies on conservation of angular momentum to set up for landing, and the tail is
fact little used for this feat
Cat senses are attuned for hunting. Cats have highly advanced hearing, eyesight, taste, and touch receptors, making the cat extremely sensitive among mammals. Cats’ night vision is superior to humans although their vision in daylight is inferior. Humans and cats have a similar range of hearing on the low end of the scale, but cats can hear much higher-pitched sounds, up to 64 kHz, which is 1.6 octaves above the range of a human, and even 1 octave above the range of a dog.A domestic cat’s sense of smell is about fourteen times as strong as a human’s. To aid with navigation and sensation, cats have dozens of movable vibrissae (whiskers) over their body, especially their face. Due to a mutation in an early cat ancestor, one of two genes necessary to taste sweetness has been lost by the cat family.
Many people characterise cats as ‘solitary’ animals. However, cats are actually highly social. A primary difference in social behaviour between cats and dogs (to which they are often compared) is that cats do not have a social survival strategy, or a ‘pack mentality’; however this only means that cats take care of their basic needs on their own (e.g., finding food, defending themselves, etc.). It is not the same thing as being asocial. Perhaps the best example of how domestic cats are ‘naturally’ meant to behave is to observe feral domestic cats, which often live in colonies, but in which each individual basically looks after itself.
Living with humans is a symbiotic social adaptation which has developed over thousands of years. The sort of social relationship cats have with their human keepers is hard to map onto more generalised wild cat behaviour, but it is certain that the cat thinks of the human differently than it does other cats (i.e., it does not think of itself as human, nor that the human is a cat). This can be seen in the difference in body and vocal language it uses with the human, when compared to how it communicates with other cats in the household, for example. Some have suggested that, psychologically, the human keeper of a cat is a sort of surrogate for the cat’s mother, and that adult domestic cats live forever in a kind of suspended kittenhood.
Cats conserve energy by sleeping more than most animals, especially as they grow older. Daily durations of sleep vary, 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 (lightly) for a brief period and has entered the English lexicon – someone who nods off for a few minutes is said to be „taking a cat nap“.
Due to their crepuscular nature, cats are often known to enter a period of increased hyperactivity and playfulness during the evening and early morning, dubbed the „evening crazies“, „night crazies“ or „mad half-hour“ by some.
The temperament of a cat can vary depending on the breed and socialization. Cats with „oriental“ body types tend to be thinner and more active, while cats that have a „cobby“ body type tend to be heavier and less active.
The normal body temperature of a cat is between 38 and 39 °C (101 and 102.2 °F).A cat is considered febrile (hyperthermic) if it has a temperature of 39.5 °C (103 °F) or greater, or hypothermic if less than 37.5 °C (100 °F). For comparison, humans have a normal temperature of approximately 36.8 °C (98.2 °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, about twice that of a human.
Hunting and diet
ats are highly specialized for hunting, compared to other mammals such as dogs. This is now thought to be the indirect result of cats’ inability to taste sugars, thereby reducing their intake of plant foods. Since they have a greatly reduced need to digest plants, their digestive tract has evolved to be shorter, too short for effective digestion of plants but less of a weight penalty for the rapid movement required for hunting. Hunting has likewise become central to their behavior patterns, even to their predilection for short bursts of intense exercise punctuating long periods of rest.
Much like the big cats, domestic cats are very effective predators. They ambush and immobilize vertebrate prey using tactics similar to those of leopards and tigers by pouncing; then they deliver a lethal neck bite with their long canine teeth that severs the victim’s spinal cord, causes fatal bleeding by puncturing the carotid artery or the jugular vein, or asphyxiates it by crushing its trachea. The domestic cat can hunt and eat about one thousand species, many of them invertebrates, especially insects — many big cats will eat fewer than a hundred different species. 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 for the effort. An exception is the leopard, which commonly hunts rabbits and many other smaller animals.
Even well-fed domestic cats hunt and kill birds, mice, rats, scorpions, cockroaches, grasshoppers, and other small animals in the vicinity. They often present such trophies to their owner. The motivation is not entirely clear, but friendly bonding behaviors are often associated with such an action. It is probable that
in this situation expect to be praised for their symbolic contribution to the group. Some theories suggest that cats see their owners gone for long times of the day and assume they are out hunting, as they always have plenty of food available. It is thought that a cat presenting its owner with a dead animal thinks it’s ‘helping out’ by bringing home the kill. Ethologist Paul Leyhausen, in an extensive study of social and predatory behavior in domestic cats (documented in his book Cat Behavior), proposed a mechanism which explains this presenting behavior. In simple terms, cats adopt humans into their social group, and share excess kill with others in the group according to the local pecking order, in which humans place at or near the top. Another possibility is that presenting the kill might be a relic of a kitten feline behaviour of demonstrating for its mother’s approval that it has developed the necessary skill for hunting.
Due to their hunting behaviour, in many countries feral cats are considered pests. Domestic cats are occasionally also required to have contained cat runs or to be kept inside entirely, as they can be hazardous to locally endangered bird species. For instance, various municipalities in Australia have enacted such legislation. In some localities, owners fit their cat with a bell in order to warn prey of its approach. On the other hand, the cat may figure out how and when the bell works and learn to move more carefully to avoid ringing it.