The domestic cat (Felis catus or Felis silvestris catus, informally Felis domesticus) is a small, usually furry, domesticated, carnivorous mammal. It is often called the housecat when kept as an indoor pet, or simply the cat when there is no need to distinguish it from other felids and felines. Cats are valued by humans for companionship and ability to hunt vermin and household pests(Dell 1691P battery). They are primarily nocturnal.
Cats are similar in anatomy to the other felids, with strong, flexible bodies, quick reflexes, sharp retractable claws, and teeth adapted to killing small prey. As crepuscular predators, cats use their acute hearing and ability to see in near darkness to locate prey. Not only can cats hear sounds too faint for human ears(Dell 310-6321 battery), they can also hear sounds higher in frequency than humans can perceive. This is because the usual prey of cats (particularly rodents such as mice) make high frequency noises, so the hearing of the cat has evolved to pinpoint these faint high-pitched sounds. Cats also have a much better sense of smell than humans.
Despite being solitary hunters, cats are a social species, and cat communication includes the use of a variety of vocalizations(Dell 312-0068 battery) (meowing, purring, trilling, hissing, growling and grunting) as well as pheromones and types of cat-specific body language.
Cats have a rapid breeding rate. Under controlled breeding, they can be bred and shown as registered pedigree pets, a hobby known as cat fancy. Failure to control the breeding of pet cats by spaying and neutering and the abandonment of former household pets has resulted in large numbers of feral cats worldwide(Dell 312-0078 battery), with a population of up to 60 million of these animals in the United States alone.
Since cats were cult animals in ancient Egypt, they were commonly believed to have been domesticated there, but there may have been instances of domestication as early as the Neolithic. A genetic study in 2007 revealed that all house cats are descended from as few as five female African Wildcats (Felis silvestris lybica) c. 8000 BCE, in the Middle East(Dell 312-0079 battery). Cats are currently the most popular pet in the world, now found almost everywhere in the world.
Nomenclature and etymology
The English word cat (Old English catt) is in origin a loanword, introduced to many languages of Europe from Latin cattus and Byzantine Greek κάτια, including Portuguese and Spanish gato, French chat, German Katze, Lithuanian katė and Old Church Slavonic kotka, among others(Dell 312-0305 battery). The ultimate source of the word is Afro-Asiatic, presumably from Late Egyptian čaute, the feminine of čaus "African wildcat". The word was introduced (together with the domestic animal) to the Roman Republic by the 1st century BCE. An alternative word with cognates in many languages is English puss (pussycat). Attested only from the 16th century, it may have been introduced from Dutch poes or from Low German puuskatte(Dell 312-0326 battery), related to Swedish kattepus, or Norwegian pus, pusekatt. The etymology of this word is unknown, but it appears to reflect the native Germanic name of the animal.
While wildcats are the ancestral species from which domestic cats are descended, there are several intermediate stages between domestic pet and pedigree cats and these entirely wild cats. The semi-feral cat is a cat that is not owned by any one individual(Dell 312-0518 battery), but is generally friendly to people and may be fed by several households. Feral cats are associated with human habitations and may be fed by people or forage in rubbish, but are wary of human interaction.
A group of cats is referred to as a "clowder", a male cat is called a "tom" (or a "gib", if neutered), and a female is called a "molly" or "queen". The male progenitor of a cat, especially a pedigreed cat, is its "sire", and its female progenitor is its "dam"(Dell 312-0566 battery). An immature cat is called a "kitten". 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. In strict terms, a pure-bred 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(Dell 312-0585 battery). Cats of unrecorded mixed ancestry are referred to as domestic longhairs and domestic shorthairs or commonly as random-bred, moggies, mongrels, or mutt-cats.
Taxonomy and evolution
Main article: Cat evolution
The wildcat Felis silvestris is a close relative and possible ancestor of the domestic cat.
The Felids are a rapidly evolving family of mammals that share a common ancestor only 10–15 million years ago, and include, in addition to the domestic cat, lions, tigers, cougars, and many others. Within this family, domestic cats (Felis catus) are part of the genus Felis, which is a group of small cats containing seven species. (Dell 312-0831 battery) Members of the genus are found worldwide and include the Jungle Cat (Felis chaus) of southeast Asia, the African Wildcat (Felis silvestris lybica), the Chinese Mountain Cat (Felis bieti) and the Arabian Sand Cat (Felis margarita).
All the cats in this genus share a common ancestor that probably lived around 6–7 million years ago in Asia. Although the exact relationships within the Felidae are still uncertain, (Dell BAT30WL battery) both the Chinese Mountain Cat and the African Wildcat are close relatives of the domestic cat and are both classed as subspecies of the Wildcat Felis silvestris. As domestic cats are little altered from wildcats, they can readily interbreed. This hybridization may pose a danger to the genetic distinctiveness of wildcat populations, particularly in Scotland and Hungary. (Dell D6400 battery)
The domestic cat was first classified as Felis catus by Carolus Linnaeus in the tenth edition of his Systema Naturae of 1758. However, because of modern phylogenetics, domestic cats are now usually regarded as another subspecies of the Wildcat Felis silvestris. This has resulted in mixed usage of the terms, as the domestic cat can be called by its subspecies name(Dell HF674 battery), Felis silvestris catus. Wildcats have also been referred to as various subspecies of F. catus, but in 2003 the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature fixed the name for wildcats as F. silvestris. The most common name in use for the domestic cat remains F. catus, following a convention for domesticated animals of using the earliest (the senior) synonym proposed. (Dell N3010 battery) Sometimes the domestic cat is called Felis domesticus or Felis domestica, the term coined by German naturalist Johann Christian Polycarp Erxleben in 1777. These are not valid taxonomic names, and Linnaeus's binomial takes precedence.
Cats have either a mutualistic or commensal relationship with humans. However, in comparison to dogs, cats have not undergone major changes during the domestication process(Dell Inspiron N4010 battery), as the form and behavior of the domestic cat are not radically different from those of wildcats, and domestic cats are perfectly capable of surviving in the wild. This limited evolution during domestication means that domestic cats tend to interbreed freely with feral cats, which distinguishes them from other domesticated animals. However, several natural behaviors and characteristics of wildcats may have preadapted them for domestication as pets. (Dell INSPIRON 1100 battery) These traits include their small size, social nature, obvious body language, love of play and relatively high intelligence; they may also have an inborn tendency towards tameness.
There are two main theories about how cats were domesticated. In one, people deliberately tamed cats in a process of artificial selection, as they were useful predators of vermin. However, this has been criticized as implausible, because there may have been little reward for such an effort(Dell Inspiron 1200 battery): cats generally do not carry out commands and, although they do eat rodents, other species such as ferrets or terriers may be better at controlling these pests. The alternative idea is that cats were simply tolerated by people and gradually diverged from their 'wild' relatives through natural selection, as they adapted to hunting the vermin found around humans in towns and villages. (Dell Inspiron 1420 battery)
Main article: Cat genetics
Blue-eyed cats with white fur have a high incidence of genetic deafness.
The domesticated cat and its closest wild ancestor are both diploid organisms that possess 38 chromosomes and roughly 20,000 genes. About 250 heritable genetic disorders have been identified in cats, many similar to human inborn errors. The high level of similarity among the metabolisms of mammals allows many(Dell Inspiron 1464 battery) 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 in the study of the human diseases.
An example of a mutation that is shared among all felines, including the big cats, is a mutant chemosensor in their taste buds that prevents them from tasting sweetness, which may explain their indifference to fruits, berries, and other sugary foods. (Dell Inspiron 1564 battery) In some breeds of cats congenital deafness is very common, with most white cats (but not albinos) being affected, particularly if they also have blue eyes. The genes responsible for this defect are unknown, but the disease is studied in the hope that it may shed light on the causes of hereditary deafness in humans. (Dell Inspiron 1764 battery)
Since a large variety of coat patterns exist within the various cat breeds, the cat is an excellent animal to study the coat genetics of hair growth and coloration. Several genes interact to produce cats' hair color and coat patterns. Different combinations of these genes give different phenotypes. For example, the enzyme tyrosinase is needed to produce the dark pigment melanin and Burmese cats have a mutant form that is only active at low temperatures(Dell Inspiron 1520 battery), resulting in color appearing only on the cooler ears, tail and paws. A completely inactive gene for tyrosinase is found in albino cats, which therefore lack all pigment. Hair length is determined by the gene for fibroblast growth factor 5, with inactive copies of this gene causing long hair.
The Cat Genome Project, sponsored by the Laboratory of Genomic Diversity at the U.S. National Cancer Institute Frederick Cancer Research and Development Center in Frederick(Dell Inspiron 1521 battery), Maryland, aims to help the development of the cat as an animal model for human hereditary and infectious diseases, as well as contributing to the understanding of the evolution of mammals. This effort led to the publication in 2007 of an initial draft of the genome of an Abyssinian cat called Cinnamon. The existence of a draft genome has led to the discovery of several cat disease genes, (Dell inspiron 1525 battery) and even allowed the development of cat genetic fingerprinting for use in forensics.
Main article: Cat anatomy
Diagram of the general anatomy of a male
Domestic cats are similar in size to the other members of the genus Felis, typically weighing between 4 kilograms (8 lb 13 oz) and 5 kilograms (11 lb 0 oz). However, some breeds, such as the Maine Coon, can exceed 11 kilograms (25 lb). Conversely, very small cats (less than 1.8 kilograms (3 lb 15 oz)) have been reported. The world record for the largest cat is 21.297 kilograms (Dell inspiron 1526 battery) (46 lb 15.2 oz). The smallest adult cat ever officially recorded weighed around 1.36 kilograms (3 lb). Cats average about 23–25 centimeters (9–10 in) in height and 46 centimeters (18.1 in) in head/body length (males being larger than females), with tails averaging 30 centimeters (11.8 in) in length.
Cats have 7 cervical vertebrae like almost all mammals, 13 thoracic vertebrae (humans have 12), 7 lumbar vertebrae (humans have 5) (Dell Inspiron 1720 battery), 3 sacral vertebrae like most mammals (humans have 5 because of their bipedal posture), and a variable number of caudal vertebrae in the tail (humans retain 3 to 5 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. (Dell Inspiron 2000 battery) 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 heads.
The cat skull is unusual among mammals in having very large eye sockets and a powerful and specialized jaw.:35 Within the jaw, cats have teeth adapted for killing prey and tearing meat. When it overpowers its prey(Dell INSPIRON 2600 battery), a cat delivers a lethal neck bite with its two long canine teeth, inserting them between two of the prey's vertebrae and severing its spinal cord, causing irreversible paralysis and death. Compared to other felines, domestic cats have narrowly spaced canine teeth; which is an adaptation to their preferred prey of small rodents, which have small vertebrae. The premolar and first molar together compose the carnassial pair on each side of the mouth(Dell INSPIRON 3800 battery), 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.
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 forepaw, minimizing noise and visible tracks(Dell INSPIRON 4000 battery). 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 will change to be a "diagonal" gait, similar to other mammals: the diagonally opposite hind and forelegs will move simultaneously. (Dell Inspiron 5000 battery)
Like almost all members of the Felidae family, cats have protractable 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. (Dell INSPIRON 500M battery)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, there is a protrusion which appears to be a sixth "finger"(Dell INSPIRON 5100 battery). 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 used while jumping. Some breeds of cats are prone to polydactylyism, and may have eight or even ten toes. These are particularly common along the North-East coast of North America. (Dell INSPIRON 510M battery)
As cats are familiar and easily kept animals, their physiology has been particularly well studied; it generally resembles that of other carnivorous mammals but displays several unusual features probably attributable to cats' descent from desert-dwelling species. For instance, cats are able to tolerate quite high temperatures: humans generally start to feel uncomfortable when their skin temperature passes about 44.5 °C (112 °F) (Dell INSPIRON 6000 battery), 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 mouth. They do not sweat, and pant only at very high temperatures. Unusually, 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. (Dell INSPIRON 600M battery) Cats' feces are usually dry and their urine is also highly concentrated, both of which are adaptations that allow cats to retain as much fluid as possible. Their kidneys are so efficient that cats can survive on a diet consisting only of meat, with no additional water, and can even rehydrate by drinking seawater.
Cats are obligate carnivores: their physiology has evolved to efficiently process meat, and they have difficulty digesting plant matter. (Dell Inspiron 6400 battery) In contrast to omnivores such as rats, which only require about 4% protein in their diet, about 20% of a cat's diet must be protein. Cats are unusually dependent on a constant supply of the amino acid arginine, and a diet lacking arginine causes marked weight loss and can be rapidly fatal. Another unusual feature is that the cat also cannot produce the amino acid taurine, with taurine deficiency causing macular degeneration, where the cat's retina slowly degenerates(Dell INSPIRON 7000 battery), causing irreversible blindness. Since cats tend to eat all of their prey, they obtain minerals by digesting animal bones, and a diet composed only of meat may cause calcium deficiency.
A cat's digestive tract is also adapted to meat eating, being much shorter than that of omnivores and having low levels of several of the digestive enzymes that are 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. (Dell INSPIRON 700M battery) Despite the cat's meat-oriented physiology, several vegetarian or vegan cat foods have been marketed that are supplemented with chemically synthesized taurine and other nutrients, in attempts to produce a complete diet. However, some of these products still fail to provide all the nutrients that cats require, and diets containing no animal products pose the risk of causing severe nutritional deficiencies. (Dell Inspiron 710m battery)
Main article: Cat senses
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. (Dell INSPIRON 8200 battery) 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. Indeed, 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 non-primate mammals) have only two types of cones, optimized for sensitivity to blue and yellowish green(Dell INSPIRON 8600 battery); they have limited ability to distinguish between red and green, although they can achieve this in some conditions.
Cats' whiskers are highly sensitive to touch.
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 up to 79 kHz, a range of 10.5 octaves; while humans can only hear from 31 Hz up to 18 kHz, and dogs hear from 67 Hz to 44 kHz, which are both ranges of about 9 octaves. (Dell INSPIRON 9100 battery)Cats do not use this ability to hear ultrasound for communication but it is probably important in hunting, since many species of rodents make ultrasonic calls. Cat hearing is also extremely sensitive and is 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 a cat sense the direction from which a noise is coming. (Dell INSPIRON 9200 battery)
Cats have an acute sense of smell, which is due in part to their well-developed olfactory bulb and also to a large surface of olfactory mucosa, in cats this mucosa is about 5.8 cm2 in area, which is about twice that of humans and only 1.7-fold less than the average dog. Cats are very sensitive to pheromones such as 3-mercapto-3-methylbutan-1-ol, (Dell INSPIRON 9300 battery) which they use to communicate through urine spraying and marking with scent glands. Cats also respond strongly to plants that contain nepetalactone, especially catnip, as they can detect that substance at less than one part per billion. This response is also produced by other plants, such as Silver Vine and valerian, and may be caused by the smell of these plants mimicking a pheromone and stimulating cats' social or sexual behaviors. (Dell Inspiron 9400 battery)
Cats have relatively few taste buds compared to humans. Owing to a mutation in an early cat ancestor, one of two genes necessary to taste sweetness may have been lost by the cat family. Their taste buds instead respond to amino acids, bitter tastes and acids. To aid with navigation and sensation, cats have dozens of movable vibrissae (whiskers) over their body(Dell Inspiron E1505 battery), especially their face. 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
Main article: Cat health
The average life expectancy for male indoor cats at birth is around 12 to 14 years, with females usually living a year or two longer. However, there have been reports of cats reaching into their 30s, with the oldest known cat, Creme Puff, dying at a verified age of 38. (Dell Inspiron E1705 battery) Feline life expectancy has increased significantly in recent decades. Having a cat neutered or spayed confers some health benefits, since castrated males cannot develop testicular cancer, spayed females cannot develop uterine or ovarian cancer, and both have a reduced risk of mammary cancer. The lifespan of feral cats is hard to determine accurately, although one study reported a median age of 4.7 years, with a range between 0 to 8.3 years. (Dell Inspiron Mini 9 battery)
Cats can suffer from a wide range of health problems, including infectious diseases, parasites, injuries and chronic disease. Vaccinations are available for many of these diseases, and domestic cats are regularly given treatments to eliminate parasites such as worms and fleas.
In addition to obvious dangers such as rodenticides, insecticides and weed killers, cats may be poisoned by many chemicals that are usually considered safe. (Dell Latitude D400 battery) This is because their livers are less effective at some forms of detoxification than those of other animals, including humans and dogs. Some of the most common causes of poisoning in cats are antifreeze and rodent baits. It has also been suggested that cats may be particularly sensitive to environmental pollutants. When a cat has a sudden or prolonged serious illness without any obvious cause, it is possible that it has been exposed to a toxin. (Dell STUDIO 1450 battery)
Human medicines should never be given to cats. For example, the painkiller paracetamol (also called acetaminophen, sold as Tylenol and Panadol) is extremely toxic to cats: even very small doses need immediate treatment and can be fatal. Even aspirin, which is sometimes used to treat arthritis in cats, is much more toxic to them than to humans and must be administered cautiously. (Dell Vostro 1400 battery) Similarly, application of minoxidil (Rogaine) to the skin of cats, either accidentally or by well-meaning owners attempting to counter loss of fur, has sometimes been fatal. Essential oils can be toxic to cats and there have been reported cases of serious illnesses caused by tea tree oil, and tea tree oil-based flea treatments and shampoos. (Dell Vostro 1500 battery)
Other common household substances that should be used with caution around cats include mothballs and other naphthalene products. Phenol-based products (Pine-Sol, Dettol (Lysol) or hexachlorophene) are often used for cleaning and disinfecting near cats' feeding areas or litter boxes but these can sometimes be fatal. Ethylene glycol, often used as an automotive antifreeze, is particularly appealing to cats, and as little as a teaspoonful can be fatal. (Dell XPS GEN 2 battery) Some human foods are toxic to cats; for example theobromine in chocolate can cause theobromine poisoning, although few cats will eat chocolate. Large amounts of onions or garlic are also poisonous to cats. Many houseplants are also dangerous, such as Philodendron species and the leaves of the Easter Lily, which can cause permanent and life-threatening kidney damage. (Dell XPS M1210 battery)
See also: Cat behavior, cat communication, cognition in cats, and cat intelligence
Free-ranging 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 that house cats may be more active in the morning and evening (crepuscular behavior), as a response to greater human activity at these times. (Dell XPS M1330 battery) House cats have territories that vary considerably in size, in one study ranging from seven to 28 hectares (69 acres). Although they spend the majority of their time in the vicinity of their home, they can range many hundreds of meters from this central point. Cats conserve energy by sleeping more than most animals, especially as they grow older. The daily duration of sleep varies, usually 12–16 hours, with 13–14 being the average(Dell XPS 1340 battery). 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". During sleep cats experience short periods of rapid eye movement sleep accompanied by muscle twitches, which suggests that they are dreaming. (Dell XPS M1530 battery)
Social grooming in a pair
Although wildcats are solitary, the social behavior of domestic cats is much more variable and ranges from widely dispersed individuals to feral cat colonies that form around a food source, based on groups of co-operating females. Within such groups one cat is usually dominant over the others. Each cat in a colony holds a distinct territory(Dell XPS M170 battery), with sexually active males having the largest territories, which are about ten 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(Dell XPS M1710 battery). 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, cats do not have a social survival strategy, or a pack mentality and always hunt alone. (Dell XPS M1730 battery)
Domestic cats use many vocalizations for communication, including purring, trilling, hissing, growling, snarling and several different forms of meowing. In contrast, feral cats are generally silent.:208 Their types of body language, including position of ears and tail, relaxation of whole body, and kneading of paws, are all indicators of mood(Dell XPS M2010 battery). The tail and ears are particularly important social signal in cats, with a raised tail acting as a friendly greeting. 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-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. (Dell Latitude E5400 battery) 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.
For cats, life in proximity with humans (and other animals kept by humans) amounts to a "symbiotic social adaptation". They may express great affection towards their human companions(Dell Latitude E5500 battery), especially if they imprint on them at a very young age and are treated with consistent affection. It has been suggested that, ethologically, the human keeper of a cat functions as a sort of surrogate for the cat's mother, and that adult domestic cats live their lives in a kind of extended kittenhood, a form of behavioral neoteny. Conversely, the high-pitched purrs cats make to solicit food may mimic the cries of a hungry human infant, making them particularly hard for humans to ignore. (Dell Latitude E6400 battery)
The hooked papillae on a cat's tongue act like a hairbrush to help clean and detangle fur.
Cats intimidate opponents by arching their backs, raising their fur, turning sideways, and hissing.
Cats are known for their cleanliness, spending many hours licking their coats. The cat's tongue has backwards-facing spines about 500 micrometers long, which are called papillae. These are quite rigid, as they contain keratin. (Dell Latitude E6500 battery) These spines allow cats to groom themselves by licking their fur, with the rows of papillae acting 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 two to three centimeters long. Hairballs can be prevented with remedies that ease elimination of the hair through the gut(Dell Inspiron Mini 12 battery), as well as regular grooming of the coat with a comb or stiff brush. Some cats can develop a compulsive behavior known as psychogenic alopecia, or excessive grooming.
With domestic cats, males are more likely to fight than females. With feral cats, the most common reason for cat fighting is competition between two males to mate with a female: here most fights will be won by the heavier male. (Dell XPS M140 battery) Another possible reason for fighting in domestic cats is the difficulty of establishing territories within a small home. Female cats will also fight over territory or to defend their kittens. Spaying females and neutering males will decrease or eliminate this behavior in many cases, suggesting that the behavior is linked to sex hormones(Dell XPS 13 battery).
When fighting, cats make themselves appear more impressive and threatening by raising their fur and arching their backs, thus increasing their apparent size. 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. Attacks usually comprise powerful slaps to the face and body with the forepaws as well as bites(Dell XPS 16 battery), but serious damage is rare; usually the loser runs away with little more than a few scratches to the face, and sometimes the ears. Cats will also throw themselves to the ground in a defensive posture to rake their opponent's belly with their powerful hind legs.
Normally, serious injuries from fighting will be 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 (FIV). (Dell XPS 1640 battery) Sexually active males will usually be involved in many fights during their lives, and often have decidedly battered faces with obvious scars and cuts to the ears and nose.
Hunting and feeding
Cats feed on small prey, primarily birds and rodents. Feral cats and house cats that are free-fed 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(Dell XPS 1645 battery), or waiting in ambush until an animal comes close enough to be captured. Although it is not certain, the type of strategy used may depend on the prey species in the area, with for example, cats waiting in ambush outside burrows, but tending to actively stalk birds.:153
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 such a perch as a tree branch, as does a leopard. (Dell XPS 1647 battery) Other possible explanations include that height gives the cat a better observation point, allowing it to survey its territory. During a fall from a high place, a cat can reflexively twist its body and right itself using its acute sense of balance and flexibility. This is known as the cat's "righting reflex". It always rights itself in the same way, provided it has the time to do so, during a fall(Dell Latitude 131L battery). The height required for this to occur is around 90 cm (3 feet). Cats without a tail also have this ability, since a cat mostly moves its hind legs and relies on conservation of angular momentum to set up for landing, and the tail is in fact little used for this feat. This leads to the proverb "a cat always lands on its feet".
Eating a house sparrow.
One poorly understood element of cat hunting behavior is the presentation of prey to human owners(Dell Latitude C400 battery). Ethologist Paul Leyhausen proposed that 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 are placed at or near the top. Anthropologist and animal scientist Desmond Morris, in his 1986 book Catwatching, suggests that when cats bring home mice or birds, they are teaching their human to hunt, or helping their human as if feeding "an elderly cat, or an inept kitten".(Dell Latitude C500 battery) Morris's theory is inconsistent with the fact that male cats also bring home prey, despite males having no involvement with raising kittens.:153
Domestic cats select food based on its temperature, smell and texture, strongly disliking chilled foods and responding 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. (Dell Latitude C510 battery) They may also avoid sugary foods and milk; since they are lactose intolerant, these sugars 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, paper, string, aluminum foil/Christmas tree tinsel, or even coal. This condition is called pica and can threaten their health, depending on the amount and toxicity of the items eaten. (Dell Latitude C540 battery)
Since cats cannot fully close their lips around something to create suction, they use a lapping method with the tongue to draw liquid upwards into their mouths. Lapping at a rate of four times a second, the cat touches the smooth tip of its tongue to the surface of the water, and quickly retracts it, drawing water upwards. (Dell Latitude C600 battery)
Main article: Cat play and toys
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 will 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. (Dell Latitude C610 battery)
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(Dell Latitude C640 battery), 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 and death. Owing to the risks posed by cats eating string, it is sometimes replaced with a laser pointer's dot, which cats may chase. While concerns have been raised about the safety of these lasers, Professor John Marshall(Dell Latitude C800 battery), an ophthalmologist at St Thomas' Hospital, has stated that it would be "virtually impossible" to blind a cat with a laser pointer.
A newborn kitten
When cats mate, the tomcat (male) bites the scruff of the female's neck as she assumes a position conducive to mating known as lordosis behavior.
Female cats are seasonally polyestrous, which means they may have many periods of heat over the course of a year(Dell Latitude C810 battery), 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 will reject the male, but eventually the female will allow the male to mate. The female will utter a loud yowl as the male pulls out of her(Dell Latitude C840 battery). This is because a male cat's penis has a band of about 120–150 backwards-pointing spines, which are about one millimeter long; upon withdrawal of the penis, the spines rake the walls of the female's vagina, which is a trigger for 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. (Dell Latitude CPI battery)
After mating, the female will wash 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. (Dell Latitude CPX battery) 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 for cats is between 64–67 days, with an average length of 66 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(Dell Latitude D410 battery), and cats normally reach sexual maturity at 5–10 months (females) and to 5–7 months (males), although this can vary depending on breed. Females can have two to three litters per year, so may produce up to 150 kittens in their breeding span of around ten years.
Cats are ready to go to new homes at about 12 weeks old, or when they are ready to leave their mother(Dell Latitude D420 battery). Cats can be surgically sterilized (spayed or castrated) as early as 7 weeks to limit unwanted reproduction. This surgery also prevents undesirable sex-related behavior, such as aggression, territory marking (spraying urine) in males and yowling (calling) in females. Traditionally, this surgery was performed at around six to nine months of age, but it is increasingly being performed prior to puberty, at about three to six months. (Dell Latitude D430 battery) In the USA approximately 80% of household cats are neutered.
A Black cat under the snow.
Cats are a cosmopolitan species and are found across much of the world. They are extremely adaptable and are now present on all continents except Antarctica, and on 118 of the 131 main groups of islands – even on sub-Antarctic islands such as the Kerguelen Islands. Feral cats can live in forests, grasslands, tundra, coastal areas, agricultural land, scrublands, urban areas and wetlands. (Dell Latitude D500 battery) Their habitats even include small oceanic islands with no human inhabitants. This ability to thrive in almost any terrestrial habitat has led to the cat's designation as one of the world's worst invasive species. Despite this general adaptability, the close relatives of domestic cats, the African Wildcat (Felis silvestris lybica) and the Arabian Sand Cat (Felis margarita) both inhabit desert environments, and domestic cats still show similar adaptations and behaviors. (Dell Latitude D505 battery)
Impact on prey species
Young feral cat eating a cottontail rabbit.
To date, there are few scientific data available to assess the impact of cat predation on prey populations. Even well-fed domestic cats may hunt and kill, mainly catching small mammals, but also birds, amphibians, reptiles, fish and invertebrates. Hunting by domestic cats may be contributing to the decline in the numbers of birds in urban areas, although the importance of this effect remains controversial. (Dell Latitude D510 battery) 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(Dell Latitude D520 battery), which also prey on birds' eggs and young, so in some cases eliminating a cat population can actually accelerate the decline of an endangered bird species in the presence of a mesopredator, controlled by cats.
In the Southern Hemisphere, cats are a particular problem in landmasses such as Australasia, where cat species have never been native and there were few equivalent native medium-sized mammalian predators. (Dell Latitude D600 battery) Native species such as the New Zealand Kakapo and the Australian Bettong, for example, tend to be more ecologically vulnerable and behaviorally "naive" to predation by feral 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. (Dell Latitude D610 battery)
Cat numbers in the UK are growing annually and their abundance is far above the "natural" carrying capacity, because their population sizes are independent of their prey's dynamics: i.e. cats are "recreational" hunters. Population densities can be as high as 2,000 individuals per km2 and the current trend is an increase of 0.5 million cats annually(Dell Latitude D620 battery).
Impact on birds
The domestic cat is probably a significant predator of birds. Current UK assessments indicate that they may be accountable for an estimated 64.8 million bird deaths each year. 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 and dunnocks(Dell Latitude D630 battery), it was also concluded that 31% of deaths were a result of cat predation. 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(Dell Latitude D800 battery).
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(Dell Latitude D810 battery). 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 Islands Rail, the Auckland Islands Merganser, and the common diving petrel are a few from a long list, with the most extreme case being the flightless Stephens Island Wren, which was driven to extinction only a few years after its discovery(Dell Latitude D820 battery).
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 inherent 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. (Dell Latitude D830 battery)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, behavioural traits exhibited by island species, such as "predatory naivety" and ground-nesting, have also contributed to their susceptibility(Dell Latitude 2100 battery).
Cats and humans
It has been suggested that this section be split into a new article. (Discuss) Proposed since March 2012.
Girl with young cat
Cats are a common companion animal in Europe and North America, and their worldwide population exceeds 500 million. In 1998 there were around 43 million cats in Western Europe, 33 million in Eastern Europe, seven million in Japan and three million in Australia. (Dell Latitude 2110 battery) 2007 report stated that about 37 million US households owned cats, with an average of 2.2 cats per household giving a total population of around 82 million. In contrast, there are about 72 million pet dogs in that country. Although cat ownership has commonly been associated with women, a 2007 Gallup poll reported that men and women were equally likely to own a cat. (Dell Latitude E4300 battery) The ratio of pedigree/purebred cats to random-bred cats varies from country to country. However, generally speaking, purebreds are less than 10% of the total population.
According to the Humane Society of the United States, as well as being kept as pets, cats are also used in the international fur trade. Cat fur is used in coats, gloves, hats, shoes, blankets and stuffed toys. About 24 cats are needed to make a cat fur coat. (Dell Vostro 1310 battery) This use has now been outlawed in several countries, including the United States, Australia and the European Union. However, some cat furs are still made into blankets in Switzerland as folk remedies that are believed to help rheumatism.
It has long been common for cats to be eaten in some parts of China and in some other Asian countries and it is estimated that in southern China's Guangdong province people eat 10,000 cats per day. (Dell Vostro 1320 battery)Animal People estimates that 4 million cats are killed and consumed in Asia every year.
Main article: Cat breed
Domesticated Indian cats sleeping
The concept of a cat breed appeared in Britain during the late 19th century.:224 The current list of cat breeds is quite large: with the Cat Fanciers' Association recognizing 41 breeds, of which 16 are "natural breeds" that probably emerged before humans began breeding pedigree cats, while the others were developed over the latter half of the 20th century. (Dell Vostro 1510 battery) The owners and breeders of show cats compete to see whose animal bears the closest resemblance to the "ideal" definition and standard of the breed (see selective breeding). Because of 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 Australasia(Dell Vostro 1520 battery), non-purebred cats are referred in slang as moggies (derived from "Maggie", short for Margaret, reputed to have been a common name for cows and calves in 18th century England and latter applied to housecats during the Vic
A purebred chocolate Persian
Cats come in a variety of colors and patterns. These are physical properties and should not be confused with a breed of cat. Furthermore, cats may show the color and/or pattern particular to a certain breed without actually being of that breed. For example, cats may have point coloration, but not be Siamese(Dell Vostro 1014 battery).
Some original or natural breeds of cat that have a distinct phenotype that is the main type occurring naturally as the dominant domesticated cat type in their region of origin are sometimes considered as subspecies and also have received names as such in nomenclature, although this is not supported by feline biologists. Some of these cat breeds are(Dell Inspiron 1410 battery):
Manx – a stocky, solid natural breed of cat originating on the Isle of Man, characterized primarily by lack of a tail or presence of a short tail, with a dense double coat (long or short), a compact body, short, rounded back, hind legs that are visibly longer than the front legs, big bones, a wide chest, and greater depth of flank (sides of the cat nearest the rear) than other cats. (Dell Vostro 1014N battery) A female Manx usually does not weigh more than 10 pounds (4.5 kg) and a male does not weigh over 12 pounds (5.4 kg). Specific to this breed is the way their ears appear as a "cradle" when looked at from behind. Because of the genetic mutation of these cats they are susceptible of developing what is colloquially called "Manx Syndrome", a condition that could be fatal for a kitten. Although the gene normally affects only the tail, there is the risk of developmental damage to the spine, such as fused vertebrae(Dell Vostro 1015 battery).
Siamese – among the firstly recognized Oriental cats, a type of cat with a long body but an elegant posture. The length is the main characteristic based on which these cats are distinguished. Their body, legs and tail are all long and still Siamese cats are known for their grace. Also, they are famous because of their blue almond eyes and they are also called "people cats" because of the affection they show to their owners. (Dell Vostro 1015N battery)
Chartreux is a natural French breed, which is easily recognized by its size, grayish color and double coat. These cats are also famous because of the contrast between their massively built body juxtaposed with their seemingly smiling expression and sweet voice.
Cat coat genetics can produce a variety of coat patterns. Some of the most common are(Dell Inspiron 1088 battery):
Blue (grey) and white bicolor cat
Bicolor, Tuxedo and Van
This pattern varies between the tuxedo cat which is mostly black with a white chest, and possibly markings on the face and paws/legs, all the way to the Van pattern (so named after the Lake Van area in Turkey, which gave rise to the Turkish Van breed), where the only colored parts of the cat are the tail (usually including the base of the tail proper) (Dell Inspiron 1088N battery), and the top of the head (often including the ears). There are several other terms for amounts of white between these two extremes, such as Harlequin or jellicle cat. Bicolor cats can have as their primary (non-white) color black, red, any dilution thereof, and tortoiseshell (see below for definition) (Dell Vostro A840 battery).
Mackerel tabby, showing the characteristic "M" on its forehead.
Striped, with a variety of patterns. The classic blotched tabby (or marbled) pattern is the most common and consists of butterflies and bullseyes. The mackerel or striped tabby is a series of vertical stripes down the cat's side (resembling the fish). This pattern broken into spots is referred to as a spotted tabby. Finally, the tabby markings may look like a series of ticks on the fur(Dell Vostro A860 battery), thus the ticked tabby, which is almost exclusively associated with the Abyssinian breed of cats. 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(Dell Vostro A860N battery).
Female tortoiseshell-and-white cat
Tortoiseshell and calico
This cat is also known as a calimanco cat or clouded tiger cat, and by the abbreviation 'tortie'. In the cat fancy, a tortoiseshell cat is patched over with red (or its dilute form, cream) and black (or its dilute blue) mottled throughout the coat. Additionally, the cat may have white spots in its fur, which make it a 'tortoiseshell and white' cat; if there is a significant amount of white in the fur and the red and black colors form a patchwork rather than a mottled aspect(Dell Inspiron Mini 1012 battery), in North America the cat will be called a calico. All calicos are tortoiseshell (as they carry both black and red), but not all tortoiseshells are calicos (which requires a significant amount of white in the fur and patching rather than mottling of the colors). The calico is also sometimes called a tricolor cat. The Japanese refer to this pattern as mi-ke (meaning "triple fur"), while the Dutch call these cats lapjeskat (SONY PCG-5G2L battery) (meaning "patches cat"). A true tricolor must consist of three colors: a reddish color, dark or light; white; and one other color, typically a brown, black, or blue. 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) (SONY PCG-5G3L battery). Conversely, cats where the overall color is ginger (orange) are commonly male (roughly in a 3:1 ratio). In a litter sired by a ginger tom, the females will be tortoiseshell or ginger. Male tortoiseshells can occur as a result of chromosomal abnormalities (often linked to sterility) or by a phenomenon known as mosaicism, where two early stage embryos are merged into a single kitten(SONY PCG-F305 battery).
Siamese cat, classical colorpoint pattern
The colorpoint pattern is most commonly associated with Siamese cats, but may also appear in any domesticated cat. A colorpointed cat has dark colors on the face, ears, feet, and tail, with a lighter version of the same color on the rest of the body, and possibly some white. The exact name of the colorpoint pattern depends on the actual color, so there are seal points (dark brown) (SONY PCG-5J1L battery), chocolate points (warm lighter brown), blue points (dark gray), lilac or frost points (silvery gray-pink), red or flame points (orange), and tortie (tortoiseshell mottling) points, among others. This pattern is the result of a temperature sensitive mutation in one of the enzymes in the metabolic pathway from tyrosine to pigment, such as melanin; thus, little or no pigment is produced except in the extremities or points where the skin is slightly cooler(SONY PCG-5J2L battery). For this reason, colorpointed cats tend to darken with age as bodily temperature drops; also, the fur over a significant injury may sometimes darken or lighten as a result of temperature change.
The tyrosine pathway also produces neurotransmitters, thus mutations in the early parts of that pathway may affect not only pigment, but also neurological development. This results in a higher frequency of cross-eyes among colorpointed cats, as well as the high frequency of cross-eyes in white tigers(SONY PCG-5K2L battery).
True albinism (a mutation of the tyrosinase gene) is quite rare in cats. Much more common is the appearance of white coat color that is caused by a lack of melanocytes in the skin. A higher frequency of deafness in white cats is due to a reduction in the population and survival of melanoblast stem cells, which in addition to creating pigment-producing cells(SONY PCG-5L1L battery), develop into a variety of neurological cell types. White cats with one or two blue eyes have a particularly high likelihood of being deaf.
The bottom eighth of each hair is white or creamy-white, with the rest of the hair being a solid color. Genetically this color is a non-agouti cat with the dominant inhibitor gene; a non-agouti version of the silver tabby. Smoke cats will look solid colored until they move, when the white undercoat becomes apparent. It is mostly found in pedigreed cats (especially longhair breeds) but also present in some domestic longhaired cats(SONY PCG-6S2L battery).
Cats can also come in several body types, ranging between two extremes:
Not a specific breed, but any cat with an elongated slender build, almond-shaped eyes, long nose, large ears (the Siamese and Oriental Shorthair breeds are examples of this).
Less slender than the oriental type, but nevertheless a cat with a slight build and generally athletic look. Typical example breeds would be the Abyssinian cat and the Turkish Angora. Some people consider the foreign and oriental body types as being the same, however(SONY PCG-6S3L battery).
More or less the middle range of body conformation types, this type of cat is less slender without being stocky. Example breeds would be the Devon Rex and the Egyptian Mau.
These cats look more rounded without looking too stocky. Example breeds would be the American Shorthair and British Shorthair.
Any cat with a short, muscular, compact build, roundish eyes, short nose, and small ears. Persian cats and Exotic cats are two prime examples of such a body type(SONY PCG-6V1L battery).
Effects on human health
Because of their small size, domesticated house cats pose little physical danger to adult humans. However, in the USA cats inflict about 400,000 bites per year. This number represents about one in ten of all animal bites. Many cat bites will become infected, sometimes with serious consequences such as cat-scratch disease, or, more rarely, rabies. (SONY PCG-6W1L battery) Cats may also pose a danger to pregnant women and immunosuppressed individuals, since their feces can transmit toxoplasmosis. A large percentage of cats are infected with this parasite, with infection rates ranging from around 40 to 60% in both domestic and stray cats worldwide. (SONY PCG-7111L battery)
Allergic reactions to cat dander and/or cat saliva are common. Some humans 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. Whether the risk of developing allergic diseases such as asthma is increased or decreased by cat ownership is uncertain. (SONY PCG-71511M battery) Some owners cope with this problem by taking allergy medicine, along with bathing their cats frequently, since weekly bathing will reduce the amount of dander shed by a cat. There have also been attempts to breed hypoallergenic cats, which would be less likely to provoke an allergic reaction. (SONY PCG-6W3L battery)
As well as posing health risks, interactions with cats may improve health and reduce physical responses to stress: for example the presence of cats may moderate increased blood pressure. Cat ownership may also improve psychological health by providing emotional support and dispelling feelings of depression, anxiety and loneliness. (SONY PCG-7113L battery)Their ability to provide companionship and friendship are common reasons given for owning a cat.
From another point of view, cats are thought to be able to improve the general mood of their owners by alleviating negative attitudes. According to a Swiss study carried out in 2003, cats may change the overall psychological state of their owner as their company's effect appears to be comparable to that of a human partner. (SONY PCG-7133L battery) The researchers concluded that, while cats were not shown to promote positive moods, they do alleviate negative ones.
One study found that cat ownership is associated with a reduced risk of heart attacks and strokes at the 95% confidence interval.
Several studies have shown that cats develop affection towards their owners. However, the effect of these pets on human health is closely related to the time and effort the cat owner is able to invest in it, in terms of bonding and playing. (SONY PCG-7Z1L battery)
A natural behavior in cats is to periodically hook their front claws into suitable surfaces and pull backwards. This marks their territory and exercises their legs, in addition to cleaning and sharpening their claws. Indoor cats benefit from being provided with a scratching post so that they are less likely to use carpet or furniture which they can easily ruin. (SONY PCG-7Z2L battery) Commercial scratching posts typically are covered in carpeting or upholstery, but some authorities[who?] advise against this practice, as not making it clear to the cat which surfaces are permissible and which are not; they suggest using a plain wooden surface, or reversing the carpeting on the posts so that the rougher texture of the carpet backing is a more attractive alternative to the cat than the floor covering(SONY PCG-8Y1L battery). Scratching posts made of sisal rope or corrugated cardboard are also common.
Close-up of a cat's claw, with the quick clearly visible
Although scratching can serve cats to keep their claws from growing excessively long, their nails can be trimmed if necessary. Another response to indoor scratching is onychectomy, commonly known as declawing. This is a surgical procedure to remove the claw and first bone of each digit of a cat's paws. Declawing is most commonly only performed on the front feet(SONY PCG-8Y2L battery). A related procedure is tendonectomy, which involves cutting a tendon needed for cats to extend their claws. Declawing is a major surgical procedure and can produce pain, infections and permanent lameness.
Since this surgery is almost always performed for the benefit of owners, it is controversial and remains uncommon outside of North America. In many countries, declawing is prohibited by animal welfare laws and it is ethically controversial within the veterinary community. (SONY PCG-8Z2L battery) While both the Humane Society of the United States and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals strongly discourage or condemn the procedure, the American Veterinary Medical Association supports the procedure under certain guidelines and finds "no scientific evidence that declawing leads to behavioral abnormalities when the behavior of declawed cats is compared with that of cats in control groups." (SONY PCG-8Z1L battery) They further argue that many cats would be given up and euthanized were declawing not performed. Nevertheless, many veterinarians refuse to perform the procedure.
A toilet-trained house cat
Cats bury their urine and feces. Indoor cats are usually provided with a box containing litter, typically bentonite, but sometimes other absorbent material such as shredded paper or wood chips, or sometimes sand or similar material. It should be cleaned daily and changed often, depending on the number of cats in a household and the type of litter(SONY PCG-7112L battery); if it is not kept clean, a cat may be fastidious enough to find other locations in the house for urination or defecation. This may also happen for other reasons; for instance, if a cat becomes constipated and defecation is uncomfortable, it may associate the discomfort with the litter box and avoid it in favor of another location(SONY PCG-6W2L battery).
Daily attention to the litter box also serves as a monitor of the cat's health. Bentonite or clumping litter is a variation which absorbs urine into clumps which can be sifted out along with feces, and thus stays cleaner longer with regular sifting, but has sometimes been reported to cause health problems in some cats. (SONY PCG-5K1L battery)
Some cats can be trained to use the human toilet, eliminating the litter box and its attendant expense, unpleasant odor, and the need to use landfill space for disposal. Training may involve four to six weeks of incremental moves, such as moving and elevating the litter box until it is near the toilet, as well as employing an adapter such as a bowl or small box to suspend the litter above the toilet bowl. (SONY VGP-BPS8 battery) When training is complete, the cat uses the toilet by squatting on the toilet seat over the bowl.
Main article: Feral cat
American feral farm cat
Feral cats are domestics 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 are 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 groups called feral colonies(SONY VGP-BPS8A battery), 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 vetted by volunteers.
Public attitudes towards feral cats vary widely: ranging from seeing them as free-ranging pets, to regarding them as vermin. (SONY VGP-BPL8 battery) One common approach to reducing the feral cat population is termed trap-neuter-return, where the cats are trapped, neutered, immunized against rabies and the feline leukemia virus, and then released. Before releasing them back into their feral colonies, the attending veterinarian often nips the tip off one ear to mark the feral as neutered and inoculated, since these cats may be trapped again(SONY VGP-BPS9 battery). Volunteers continue to feed and give care to these cats throughout their lives. Given this support, their lifespan is increased, and behavior and nuisance problems caused by competition for food are reduced.
History and mythology
Main articles: Cultural depictions of cats and Cats in ancient Egypt
Egyptian sculpture at the Louvre
Traditionally, historians tended to think that ancient Egypt was the site of cat domestication, owing to the clear depictions of house cats in Egyptian paintings about 3,600 years old. However, in 2004, a Neolithic grave was excavated in Shillourokambos(SONY VGP-BPS9/S battery), Cyprus, that contained the skeletons, laid close to one another, of both a human and a cat. The grave is estimated to be 9,500 years old, pushing back the earliest known feline-human association significantly. The cat specimen is large and closely resembles the African wildcat (Felis silvestris lybica), rather than present-day domestic cats. This discovery, combined with genetic studies(SONY VGP-BPS9A battery), suggest that cats were probably domesticated in the Middle East, in the Fertile Crescent around the time of the development of agriculture and then they were brought to Cyprus and Egypt.
In ancient Egypt cats were sacred animals, with Bast often depicted in cat form, sometimes taking on the warlike aspect of a lioness.:220 The Romans are often credited with introducing the domestic cat from Egypt to Europe; (SONY VGP-BPS9A/B battery) in Roman Aquitaine, a 1st or 2nd century epitaph of a young girl holding a cat is one of two earliest depictions of the Roman domesticated cat. However, it is possible that cats were already kept in Europe prior to the Roman Empire, as they may have already been present in Britain in the late Iron Age. Domestic cats were spread throughout much of the rest of the world during the Age of Discovery(SONY VGP-BPS9/B battery), as they were carried on sailing ships to control shipboard rodents and as good-luck charms.:223
Freyja and her cats
Several ancient religions believed that cats are exalted souls, companions or guides for humans, that they are all-knowing but are mute so they cannot influence decisions made by humans. In Japan, the maneki neko is a cat that is a symbol of good fortune. Although there are no sacred species in Islam, some writers have stated that Muhammad had a favorite cat, Muezza. (SONY VGP-BPS9A/S battery) He is reported to have loved cats so much that "he would do without his cloak rather than disturb one that was sleeping on it".
Freyja—the goddess of love, beauty, and fertility in Norse mythology—is depicted as riding a chariot drawn by cats.
Many cultures have negative superstitions about cats. An example would be the belief that a black cat "crossing your path" leads to bad luck, or that cats are witches' familiars used to augment a witch's powers and skills(SONY VGP-BPL9 battery). This led to the widespread extermination of cats in Europe in medieval times. The Black Plague was spread by fleas carried by infected rats, and the killing of cats ostensibly caused an increase in the rat population. The killing of cats in Medieval Ypres is commemorated in the innocuous present-day Kattenstoet (cat parade) (SONY VGP-BPS10 battery).
According to a myth in many cultures, cats have multiple lives. In many countries, they are believed to have nine lives, but in 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. (SONY VGP-BPL10 battery)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.