Felis catus can be found on every continent except Antarctica, generally in human populated areas. This species can be found on a large number islands as well. Their nearly global distribution can be attributed their domestication by humans; however, there is a large global feral population as well.
Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Introduced ); palearctic (Introduced ); oriental (Native ); ethiopian (Native ); neotropical (Introduced ); australian (Introduced ); oceanic islands (Introduced )
Other Geographic Terms: holarctic ; cosmopolitan
- Wilkins, K. 2007. Cats. Neptune City, NJ: T.F.H. Publications, Inc..
occurs (regularly, as a native taxon) in multiple nations
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Type of Residency: Year-round
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Type of Residency: Year-round
Global Range: Feral populations occur worldwide in terrestrial habitats, including all main Hawaiian Islands, though populations are small or absent where winter climate severe. The Old World wild cat, from which the domestic cat originated, ranges widely throughout the Palearctic region, from Scotland to South Africa and from Morocco to central and southern China.
Felis catus most likely originated from African wild cats or Asian desert cats. Although both species have the same number of chromosomes as Felis catus, Asian desert cats are common around human settlements and are easily tamed. There are over 100 breeds of domestic cats but all have a very similar body shape and size. Adult mass ranges from 4.1 to 5.4 kg, and average length is 76.2 cm. Interbreed variation is defined based on coat type and coloration or patterning of the fur. Domestic cat have approximately 244 bones in their body, of which about 30 are vertebrae (the number can vary depending upon the length of cat). With so many vertebrae in their spine, cats are very flexible and can rotate half of their spine 180°. They are capable of jumped five times their own height and are able to slip through narrow spaces because they have no collar bone and their scapula lie medially on their body. Each forelimb (i.e., manus) has five digits and the hindlimbs (i.e., pes) have four. Polydactyly is not uncommon among house cats. They have retractable claws on each paw, which typically do not extend when the animal walks. They have 26 teeth that usually develop within the first year. The dental formula for this species is 3/3, 1/1, 2/2, 1/1. When kittens are about two weeks old they develop deciduous or milk teeth above the gums. By the end of the fourth month the milk incisors are replaced by permanent teeth.
Range mass: 4.1 to 5.4 kg.
Average length: 76.2 cm.
Other Physical Features: endothermic ; homoiothermic; bilateral symmetry ; polymorphic
- Davison, A. 1947. Mammalian Anatomy With Special Reference To The Cat. Toronto: The Blackiston Company.
- Edwards, A. 2009. Cats, Cat Breeds, & Cat Care. London, England: Southwater, Anness Publishing Ltd..
Domestic cats primarily live in areas of human habitation and are somewhat constrained to developed areas. Most feral populations live in close proximity to current or past human settlements.
Habitat Regions: temperate ; terrestrial
Other Habitat Features: urban ; suburban ; agricultural
Comments: Mainly in or not far from areas inhabited by humans but also in natural habitats up to several miles from a village or town.
Non-Migrant: Yes. At least some populations of this species do not make significant seasonal migrations. Juvenile dispersal is not considered a migration.
Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make local extended movements (generally less than 200 km) at particular times of the year (e.g., to breeding or wintering grounds, to hibernation sites).
Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make annual migrations of over 200 km.
Domestic cats are carnivorous, and a healthy diet consists of about 30 to 35% muscle meat, 30% carbohydrates, and 8 to 10% fats, which promote growth and healthy skin and coat. Feral cats may hunt for rodents or birds. Most domestic cats depend on human supplied feed. Adult females require around 200 to 300 calories per day, whereas adult males need between 250 and 300 calories per day. In order to kill their prey, all felids bite the back of the neck at the base of the skull, thus, severing the spinal chord from the brain stem. Primary prey for feral animals includes small rodents, birds, fish, and some arthropods. Occasionally, domestic cats ingest plant material to fulfill fiber deficiencies.
Animal Foods: birds; mammals; fish; insects
Plant Foods: leaves
Primary Diet: carnivore (Eats terrestrial vertebrates)
Comments: Diet of feral populations dominated by rodents, rabbits, and/or birds; also eats lizards and arthropods.
Domestic cats are great pest control agents for rodents in and around areas of human habitation. Cats can become infected with hookworm (Ancylostoma and Uncinaria) larvae either from ingested food or from penetration through the skin. Once infection occurs, hookworms travel to the lungs and then to the intestines where they develop into adults and attach to the intestinal walls. Hookworm infestation can cause anemia and if left untreated can result in blood in the feces and eventually death. Roundworms (Toxascaris leonina and Toxocara cati), the most common parasites among house cats, may infect cats when they eat rodents. Approximately 25% to 75% of the global cat population is estimated to be infected with roundworms. Roundworms also live and develop in the intestine where females produce eggs that are excreted with feces. Infection can result in intestinal blockage and death. Sometimes, larvae from domestic cats can be passed onto humans causing visceral larval migrans and ocular larval migrans. Cats can become infected with tapeworms during grooming by ingesting larvae or eggs or by eating infected rodents. Controlling infection is highly successful with the aid of medications from veterinarians. Tapeworms rarely cause significant illness or death in domestic cats.
- humans, (Homo sapiens)
- fleas, (Siphonaptera)
- ticks, (Ixodida)
- ringworm, (Dermatophytosis)
- mites, (Acari)
- lice, (Pthiraptera)
- fly larvae, (Diptera)
- roundworms, (Nematoda)
- tapeworms, (Cestoda)
- hookworms, (Ancylostomatidae)
- coccidians, (Coccidia)
Domestic cats have no predators.
solitary or confluent gymnothecium of Arachniotus ruber is saprobic in/on dung or excretions of dung of Felis domesticus
Animal / parasite / ectoparasite / blood sucker
adult of Ctenocephalides canis sucks the blood of skin (esp face, ears) of Felis domesticus
Animal / parasite / ectoparasite / blood sucker
adult of Ctenocephalides felis felis sucks the blood of Felis domesticus
Other: major host/prey
Animal / parasite / endoparasite
usually solitary tapeworm of Dipylidium caninum endoparasitises ilium of Felis domesticus
Animal / parasite / endoparasite
multiple tapeworm of Echinococcus granulosus endoparasitises ilium of Felis domesticus
Other: unusual host/prey
In Great Britain and/or Ireland:
Animal / parasite
colony of Engyodontium anamorph of Engyodontium album parasitises Felis domesticus
Animal / dung saprobe
usually clumped gymnothecium of Gymnascella confluens is saprobic in/on dung or excretions of dung of Felis domesticus
Animal / parasite
Microsporum canis parasitises skin of Felis domesticus
Animal / parasite / ectoparasite
Notoedres cati ectoparasitises ear, then rest of body of Felis domesticus
Other: major host/prey
Animal / parasite / ectoparasite
swarming mite of Otodectes cynotis ectoparasitises ear of Felis domesticus
Other: major host/prey
Animal / dung saprobe
sporangiophore of Phycomyces nitens is saprobic in/on dung or excretions of dung of Felis domesticus
Animal / parasite / endoparasite
usually solitary tapeworm of Taenia taeniaeformis endoparasitises small intestine of Felis domesticus
Other: major host/prey
Animal / parasite / endoparasite
larva of Toxascaris leonina endoparasitises duodenum wall of Felis domesticus
Animal / parasite / endoparasite
adult of Toxocara cati endoparasitises ilium of Felis domesticus
Animal / parasite / endoparasite
coccidium of Toxoplasma endoparasitises gut of Felis domesticus
Animal / parasite / ectoparasite
Trichodectes canis ectoparasitises skin of Felis domesticus
Other: minor host/prey
Known prey organisms
Based on studies in:
Puerto Rico, El Verde (Rainforest)
This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
- Waide RB, Reagan WB (eds) (1996) The food web of a tropical rainforest. University of Chicago Press, Chicago
See Turner and Bateson (1988) for information on social behavior. In Brooklyn, New York, cat distribution varied with availability of shelter, not dependent on food supply (Calhoon and Haspel 1989); home range averaged 2-3 ha (Haspel and Calhoon 1989). Feral populations may attain densities of up to a few hundred per sq. km (Kitchener 1991). Coleman (1992) estimated a density of 33/sq. km in rural sections of one Wisconsin county.
See Tomich (1986) for brief overview of literature regarding feral cat populations throughout the world.
Life History and Behavior
Body language and vocalizations are ways in which domestic cats communicate with conspecifics. Relaxed individuals often have their ears forward and whiskers relaxed. Adults display contentedness via purring. Kittens also purr and knead or prod when content and suckling their mother. Domestic cats also "meow", which changes meaning in relation to posture. If a cat is upset it will likely growl, hiss, or even spit at another cat or animal. In general , cats have advanced auditory perception. Their pinna can rotate 180° to either face frontward or be flattened back or any direction in between. With three inner ear cannals in each of the three dimensional planes, domestic cats have a great sense of balance. Their ears are sensitive enough to hear ten octaves, which is two more than a human can hear. Domestic cats can hear a broad range of frequencies, from 50 to 65 kilohertz, versus humans which can only hear sounds between 18 and 20 kilohertz. They have vabrissae on the muzzle, eyebrows, and elbows which function as haptic receptors. These touch receptors allow house cats to navigate their way around obstacles in low light conditions by sensing changes in air flow around an object as it approaches it.
Peripheral vision in domestic cats is very good but their eyes are also farsighted (an adaptation for hunting), which doesn't allow them to focus on objects within a 2 feet. A reflective membrane in the back of the eye, called the tapetum lucidum, reflects light from behind the eye's retina and intensifies it. Species possessing tapetum lucidum are able to see exceptionally well in low light. Cats cannot see most colors, although some researchers believe that they may be able to see red and blue. The third eyelid, or haw, is a semi-transparent protective lid which typically retracts into the inner corner of the eye.
With about 200 million olfactory cells, the domestic cat's nose is about thirty times more sensitive than that of humans. Jacobson's organ (i.e., the vomeronasal organ) is located immediately dorsal to the hard palate and is particularly exposed to scent molecules when an individual inhales via the mouth.
A domestic cat's tongue is covered in hundreds of papillae; hook-like structures, which face backwards and are used to comb and clean the fur. Domestic cats sometimes socially groom, but typically grooming is a singular task unless the cat is the individual's mother. Taste buds are located on the sides, tip, and back of the tongue and allow domestic cats to perceive bitter, acidic and salty flavors but not sweet.
Communication Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical
Other Communication Modes: mimicry ; pheromones ; scent marks
Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; vibrations ; chemical
Comments: In Brooklyn, New York, nighttime activity peaked at 0100 h and at sunrise; activity levels declined throughout fall and increased in spring (Haspel and Calhoon 1993).
There is no information available regarding the average lifespan of domestic cats in the wild. Captive individuals, however, are expected to live for approximately 14 years.
Status: captivity: 14 years.
Lifespan, longevity, and ageing
For outdoor and indoor cats
My children want to know if it's true that domestic cats that are allowed to go outdoors have a shorter lifespan than those that are kept indoors for their whole lives.
House cats are polygynandrous, as both males and females have multiple mates throughout the year.
Mating System: polygynandrous (promiscuous)
Unless pregnant, female house cats go into estrus approximately every 21 days during breeding season, which occurs from March to September in the Northern hemisphere and from October to March in the southern hemisphere. Male house cats patrol territories in search of estrus females during mating season. Estrus females call loudly to potential mates, while continually rolling on the ground. When a potential mate arrives, females present their rumps, which lets the male know they are in estrus. When a pair meets, they may mate many times over a few hours before parting ways. Females have induced ovulation which is stimulated by copulation. Gestation ranges from 60 to 67 days. Average litter size has not been documented for this species; however, as many as 18 kittens in a single litter has been reported. Neonate mass ranges from 110 to 125 g. Most kittens are weaned by 7 to 8 weeks after birth and are completely independent by 12 weeks. Females are reproductively mature by 6 months, and males are reproductively mature by 8 months.
Breeding interval: Females go into oestrus approximately every 21 days during the breeding season unless mated.
Breeding season: March to September in the Northern Hemishpere or October to March in the Southern Hemisphere
Range number of offspring: 18 (high) .
Range gestation period: 60 to 67 days.
Range weaning age: 7 to 8 weeks.
Average time to independence: 12 weeks.
Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 6 months.
Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 8 months.
Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; year-round breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; induced ovulation ; viviparous
House cat kittens are cared for by their mothers, and paternal care is virtually non-existent. In some cases, unrelated females may aid new mothers by caring for and nursing her kittens while she hunts. This behavior is rare, however, and often mothers are forced to leave their kittens unguarded while hunting. Mothers also purr to their kittends, which is thought to kitten stress levels. Females nurse their kittens until around 8 weeks after birth, when weaning is completed. Prior to independence, kittens learn how to hunt by mimicking their mother. Mothers also take an active role in teaching their young how to hunt by allowing them to hunt only very small animals, such as small mice. Kittens are not permitted to hunt larger prey, such as rats, right away. Weaning is usually complete by 7 to 8 weeks; however, kittens do not leave their mother until they are 6 to 8 months old, depending on sex.
Parental Investment: precocial ; female parental care ; pre-hatching/birth (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); pre-independence (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); extended period of juvenile learning
- Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. 2011. "Health Topics" (On-line). Accessed April 23, 2011 at https://jeppesen.augsburg.edu/atmail/parse.php?redirect=http://www.vet.cornell.edu/fhc/healthinfo/healthtopics.cfm.
- Leyhausen, P. 1979. Cat Behavior The Predatory and Social Behavior of Domestic and Wild Cats. New York, New York: Garland STPM Press.
- Morris, D. 1987. Cat Watching: Why cats purr and everything else you ever wanted to know.. New York, NY: Crown Publishers, Inc..
- Wilkins, K. 2007. Cats. Neptune City, NJ: T.F.H. Publications, Inc..
Evolution and Systematics
The tongue of the cat pulls liquid into its mouth by exploiting fluid inertia to beat gravity.
"Animals have developed a range of drinking strategies depending on physiological and environmental constraints. Vertebrates with incomplete cheeks use their tongue to drink; the most common example is the lapping of cats and dogs. We show that the domestic cat (Felis catus) laps by a subtle mechanism based on water adhesion to the dorsal side of the tongue. A combined experimental and theoretical analysis reveals that Felis catus exploits fluid inertia to defeat gravity and pull liquid into the mouth. This competition between inertia and gravity sets the lapping frequency and yields a prediction for the dependence of frequency on animal mass. Measurements of lapping frequency across the family Felidae support this prediction, which suggests that the lapping mechanism is conserved among felines." (Reis et al. 2010)
Learn more about this functional adaptation.
- Reis PM; Jung S; Aristoff JM; Stocker R. 2010. How cats lap: water uptake by Felis catus. Science. Online November 11: http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/abstract/science.1195421:
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Barcode data: Felis catus
Below is a sequence of the barcode region Cytochrome oxidase subunit 1 (COI or COX1) from a member of the species.
See the BOLD taxonomy browser for more complete information about this specimen and other sequences.
-- end --
Download FASTA File
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Felis catus
Public Records: 7
Specimens with Barcodes: 18
Species With Barcodes: 1
Domestic cats are extremely abundant, and overpopulation is a major issue throughout various parts of their global distribution. Large population numbers and their natural predatory instincts has lead to the decline of numerous species of small vertebrates, including many species of bird
US Federal List: no special status
CITES: no special status
State of Michigan List: no special status
National NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded National Status Rank: NNA - Not Applicable
Rounded National Status Rank: NNA - Not Applicable
NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded Global Status Rank: GNA - Not Applicable
Management Requirements: Courchamp and Sugihara (1999) discussed the potential use of Feline Immunodeficinecy Virus and Feline Leukemia Virus to control feral cat populations (e.g., on islands where cats are a threat to native species). Both were deemed potentially useful, and culling may be more efficient when combined with virus introduction.
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
Domestic cats are extremely abundant and are overpopulated in many urban areas. Overpopulation is a major problem, and has become a significant economic burden in some locations. Feral cats can be a nuisance, and have decreased the abundance and diversity of bird communities at various locations across the globe. Feral cats have also been known to spread parasites and disease to domesticated individuals. Cats can also transmit parasites and disease to humans. For example, domestic cats can pass tapeworms, hookworms and possibly roundworms to humans.
Negative Impacts: causes or carries domestic animal disease
Aside from the benefit that humans receive from domestic cats as pets, domestic cats are used as model organisms for various biomedical research efforts and have been used as rodent pest control agents for thousands of years. It is likely that cats were first domesticated due to their usefulness as pest control agents. There has been a great deal of effort put into mapping the genome of domestic cats.
Positive Impacts: pet trade ; research and education; controls pest population
Species Impact: Identified as serious threat to nesting Newell's shearwater and Hawaiian (dark-rumped) petrel in Hawaii (Simons 1984). On western Mauna Kea, Hawaii, Amarasekare (1994) found no evidence that this species preys on eggs, young, or adults of endemic birds. Cats apparently have exterminated one (probably 2) endemic birds on Isla Socorro (Mexico); also preying on Townsend's shearwater (Jehl 1984).
The domestic cat (Felis catus or Felis silvestris catus) is a small, usually furry, domesticated, and carnivorous mammal. They are often called a housecat when kept as an indoor pet, or simply a cat when there is no need to distinguish them from other felids and felines. Cats are often valued by humans for companionship, and their ability to hunt vermin and household pests.
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. Cat senses fit a crepuscular and predatory ecological niche. Cats can hear sounds too faint or too high in frequency for human ears, such as those made by mice and other small animals. They can see in near darkness. Like most other mammals, cats have poorer color vision and a better sense of smell than humans.
Despite being solitary hunters, cats are a social species, and cat communication includes the use of a variety of vocalizations (mewing, purring, trilling, hissing, growling, and grunting), as well as cat pheromones, and types of cat-specific body language.
Cats have a high breeding rate. Under controlled breeding, they can be bred and shown as registered pedigree pets, a hobby known as cat fancy. Failure to control the breeding of pet cats by neutering, and the abandonment of former household pets, has resulted in large numbers of feral cats worldwide, requiring population control.
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 from around 9500 years ago (7500 BC). A genetic study in 2007 concluded that domestic cats are descended from African wildcats (Felis silvestris lybica), having diverged around 8000 BC in West Asia. Cats are the most popular pet in the world, and are now found in almost every place where humans live.
- 1 Nomenclature and etymology
- 2 Taxonomy and evolution
- 3 Genetics
- 4 Anatomy
- 5 Physiology
- 6 Senses
- 7 Health
- 8 Behavior
- 9 Ecology
- 10 Cats and humans
- 11 History and mythology
- 12 See also
- 13 References
- 14 External links
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 κάττα, including Portuguese and Spanish gato, French chat, German Katze, Lithuanian katė and Old Church Slavonic kotka, among others. The ultimate source of the word is Afroasiatic, presumably from Late Egyptian čaute, the feminine of čaus "wildcat". The word was introduced, together with the domestic animal itself, to the Roman Republic by the first century BC. 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, related to Swedish kattepus, or Norwegian pus, pusekatt. Similar forms exist in Lithuanian puižė and Irish puiscín. The etymology of this word is unknown, but it may have simply arisen from a sound used to attract a cat.
A group of cats is referred to as a "clowder" or a "glaring", a male cat is called a "tom" or "tomcat" (or a "gib", if neutered), an unaltered female is called a "queen", and a prepubescent juvenile is referred to as a "kitten". Although spayed females have no commonly used name, in some rare instances, an immature or spayed female is referred to as a "molly". The male progenitor of a cat, especially a pedigreed cat, is its "sire", and its female progenitor is its "dam". In Early Modern English, the word 'kitten' was interchangeable with the now-obsolete word 'catling'.
A pedigreed cat is one whose ancestry is recorded by a cat fancier organization. A purebred cat is one whose ancestry contains only individuals of the same breed. Many pedigreed and especially purebred cats are exhibited as show cats. Cats of unrecorded, mixed ancestry are referred to as domestic short-haired or domestic long-haired cats, by coat type, or commonly as random-bred, moggies (chiefly British), or (using terms borrowed from dog breeding) mongrels or mutt-cats.
While the African wildcat is the ancestral subspecies from which domestic cats are descended, and wildcats and domestic cats can completely interbreed, several intermediate stages occur between domestic pet and pedigree cats on one hand and those entirely wild animals on the other. The semiferal cat, a mostly outdoor cat, is not owned by any one individual, but is generally friendly to people and may be fed by several households. Feral cats are associated with human habitation areas and may be fed by people or forage in rubbish, but are typically wary of human interaction.
Taxonomy and evolution
The felids are a rapidly evolving family of mammals that share a common ancestor only 10–15 million years ago and include lions, tigers, cougars and many others. Within this family, domestic cats (Felis catus) are part of the genus Felis, which is a group of small cats containing about seven species (depending upon classification scheme). Members of the genus are found worldwide and include the jungle cat (Felis chaus) of southeast Asia, European wildcat (F. silvestris silvestris), African wildcat (F. s. lybica), the Chinese mountain cat (F. bieti), and the Arabian sand cat (F. margarita), among others.
The domestic cat was first classified as Felis catus by Carolus Linnaeus in the 10th edition of his Systema Naturae in 1758. Because of modern phylogenetics, domestic cats are usually regarded as another subspecies of the wildcat, F. silvestris. This has resulted in mixed usage of the terms, as the domestic cat can be called by its subspecies name, Felis silvestris catus. Wildcats have also been referred to as various subspecies of F. catus, but in 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. Sometimes, the domestic cat has been called Felis domesticus or Felis domestica, as proposed by German naturalist J. C. P. Erxleben in 1777 but these are not valid taxonomic names and have been used only rarely in scientific literature, because Linnaeus's binomial takes precedence. A population of Transcaucasian black feral cats was once classified as Felis daemon (Satunin 1904) but now this population is considered to be a part of domestic cat.
All the cats in this genus share a common ancestor that probably lived around 6–7 million years ago in Asia. The exact relationships within the Felidae are close but still uncertain, e.g. the Chinese mountain cat is sometimes classified (under the name Felis silvestris bieti) as a subspecies of the wildcat, like the North African variety F. s. lybica.
In comparison to dogs cats have not undergone major changes during the domestication process, as the form and behavior of the domestic cat is not radically different from those of wildcats and domestic cats are perfectly capable of surviving in the wild. Fully domesticated house cats often interbreed with feral F. catus populations. This limited evolution during domestication, means that hybridisation can occur with many other felids notably the Asian leopard cat. Several natural behaviors and characteristics of wildcats may have preadapted them for domestication as pets. These traits include their small size, social nature, obvious body language, love of play and relatively high intelligence;:12–17 they may also have an inborn tendency towards tameness.
Cats have either a mutualistic or commensal relationship with humans. Two main theories are given about how cats were domesticated. In one, people deliberately tamed cats in a process of artificial selection, as they were useful predators of vermin. This has been criticized as implausible, because the reward for such an effort may have been too little; cats generally do not carry out commands and although they do eat rodents, other species such as ferrets or terriers may be better at controlling these pests. The alternative idea is that cats were simply tolerated by people and gradually diverged from their wild relatives through natural selection, as they adapted to hunting the vermin found around humans in towns and villages.
The domesticated cat and its closest wild ancestor are both diploid organisms that possess 38 chromosomes and roughly 20,000 genes. About 250 heritable genetic disorders have been identified in cats, many similar to human inborn errors. The high level of similarity among the metabolism of mammals allows many of these feline diseases to be diagnosed using genetic tests that were originally developed for use in humans, as well as the use of cats as animal models in the study of the human diseases.
Domestic cats are similar in size to the other members of the genus Felis, typically weighing between 4 and 5 kg (8.8 and 11.0 lb). However, some breeds, such as the Maine Coon, can occasionally exceed 11 kg (25 lb). Conversely, very small cats (less than 1.8 kg (4.0 lb)) have been reported. The world record for the largest cat is 21.3 kg (47 lb). The smallest adult cat ever officially recorded weighed around 1.36 kg (3.0 lb). Feral cats tend to be lighter as they have more limited access to food than house cats. In the Boston area, the average feral adult male will weigh 3.9 kg (8.6 lb) and average feral female 3.3 kg (7.3 lb). Cats average about 23–25 cm (9–10 in) in height and 46 cm (18.1 in) in head/body length (males being larger than females), with tails averaging 30 cm (11.8 in) in length.
Cats have seven cervical vertebrae, as do almost all mammals; 13 thoracic vertebrae (humans have 12); seven lumbar vertebrae (humans have five); three sacral vertebrae like most mammals (humans have five); and a variable number of caudal vertebrae in the tail (humans retain three to five caudal vertebrae, fused into an internal coccyx).:11 The extra lumbar and thoracic vertebrae account for the cat's spinal mobility and flexibility. Attached to the spine are 13 ribs, the shoulder, and the pelvis. :16 Unlike human arms, cat forelimbs are attached to the shoulder by free-floating clavicle bones which allow them to pass their bodies 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, a cat delivers a lethal neck bite with its two long canine teeth, inserting them between two of the prey's vertebrae and severing its spinal cord, causing irreversible paralysis and death. Compared to other felines, domestic cats have narrowly spaced canine teeth, which is an adaptation to their preferred prey of small rodents, which have small vertebrae. The premolar and first molar together compose the carnassial pair on each side of the mouth, which efficiently shears meat into small pieces, like a pair of scissors. These are vital in feeding, since cats' small molars cannot chew food effectively.:37
Cats, like dogs, are digitigrades. They walk directly on their toes, with the bones of their feet making up the lower part of the visible leg. Cats are capable of walking very precisely, because like all felines, they directly register; that is, they place each hind paw (almost) directly in the print of the corresponding fore paw, minimizing noise and visible tracks. This also provides sure footing for their hind paws when they navigate rough terrain. Unlike most mammals, when cats walk, they use a "pacing" gait; that is, they move the two legs on one side of the body before the legs on the other side. This trait is shared with camels and giraffes. As a walk speeds up into a trot, a cat's gait changes to be a "diagonal" gait, similar to that of most other mammals (and many other land animals, such as lizards): the diagonally opposite hind and fore legs move simultaneously.
Like almost all members of the Felidae, cats have protractable and retractable claws. In their normal, relaxed position, the claws are sheathed with the skin and fur around the paw's toe pads. This keeps the claws sharp by preventing wear from contact with the ground and allows the silent stalking of prey. The claws on the fore feet are typically sharper than those on the hind feet. Cats can voluntarily extend their claws on one or more paws. They may extend their claws in hunting or self-defense, climbing, kneading, or for extra traction on soft surfaces. Most cats have five claws on their front paws, and four on their rear paws. The fifth front claw (the dewclaw) is proximal to the other claws. More proximally is a protrusion which appears to be a sixth "finger". This special feature of the front paws, on the inside of the wrists, is the carpal pad, also found on the paws of big cats and of dogs. It has no function in normal walking, but is thought to be an antiskidding device used while jumping. Some breeds of cats are prone to polydactyly (extra toes and claws). These are particularly common along the northeast coast of North America.
|Body temperature||38.6 °C (101.5 °F)|
|Heart rate||120–140 beats per minute|
|Breathing rate||16–40 breaths per minute|
Cats are familiar and easily kept animals, and their physiology has been particularly well studied; it generally resembles 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 38 °C (100 °F), but cats show no discomfort until their skin reaches around 52 °C (126 °F),:46 and can tolerate temperatures of up to 56 °C (133 °F) if they have access to water.
Cats conserve heat by reducing the flow of blood to their skin and lose heat by evaporation through their mouths. Cats have minimal ability to sweat, with glands located primarily in their paw pads, and pant for heat relief only at very high temperatures (but may also pant when stressed). A cat's body temperature does not vary throughout the day; this is part of cats' general lack of circadian rhythms and may reflect their tendency to be active both during the day and at night.:1 Cats' feces are comparatively dry and their urine is highly concentrated, both of which are adaptations to allow cats to retain as much water as possible. Their kidneys are so efficient, they can survive on a diet consisting only of meat, with no additional water, and can even rehydrate by drinking seawater.:29
Cats are obligate carnivores: their physiology has evolved to efficiently process meat, and they have difficulty digesting plant matter. In contrast to omnivores such as rats, which only require about 4% protein in their diet, about 20% of a cat's diet must be protein. Cats are unusually dependent on a constant supply of the amino acid arginine, and a diet lacking arginine causes marked weight loss and can be rapidly fatal. Another unusual feature is that the cat cannot produce taurine, with taurine deficiency causing macular degeneration, wherein the cat's retina slowly degenerates, causing 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 gastrointestinal tract is adapted to meat eating, being much shorter than that of omnivores and having low levels of several of the digestive enzymes needed to digest carbohydrates. These traits severely limit the cat's ability to digest and use plant-derived nutrients, as well as certain fatty acids. Despite the cat's meat-oriented physiology, several vegetarian or vegan cat foods have been marketed that are supplemented with chemically synthesized taurine and other nutrients, in attempts to produce a complete diet. However, some of these products still fail to provide all the nutrients cats require, and diets containing no animal products pose the risk of causing severe nutritional deficiencies.
Cats have excellent night vision and can see at only one-sixth the light level required for human vision.:43 This is partly the result of cat eyes having a tapetum lucidum, which reflects any light that passes through the retina back into the eye, thereby increasing the eye's sensitivity to dim light. Another adaptation to dim light is the large pupils of cats' eyes. Unlike some big cats, such as tigers, domestic cats have slit pupils. These slit pupils can focus bright light without chromatic aberration, and are needed since the domestic cat's pupils are much larger, relative to their eyes, than the pupils of the big cats. 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 nonprimate mammals) have only two types of cones, optimized for sensitivity to blue and yellowish green; they have limited ability to distinguish between red and green. A 1993 paper reported a response to middle wavelengths from a system other than the rods which might be due to a third type of cone. However, this appears to be an adaptation to low light levels rather than representing true trichromatic vision.
Cats have excellent hearing and can detect an extremely broad range of frequencies. They can hear higher-pitched sounds than either dogs or humans, detecting frequencies from 55 Hz to 79,000 Hz, a range of 10.5 octaves, while humans and dogs both have ranges of about 9 octaves. Cats can hear ultrasound, which is probably important in hunting rather than intra-specific communication because many species of rodents make ultrasonic calls. Cats' hearing is also sensitive and among the best of any mammal, being most acute in the range of 500 Hz to 32 kHz. This sensitivity is further enhanced by the cat's large movable outer ears (their pinnae), which both amplify sounds and help detect the direction of a noise.
Cats have an acute sense of smell, due in part to their well-developed olfactory bulb and a large surface of olfactory mucosa, about 5.8 cm2 (0.90 in2) in area, which is about twice that of humans. Cats are sensitive to pheromones such as 3-mercapto-3-methylbutan-1-ol, which they use to communicate through urine spraying and marking with scent glands. Many cats also respond strongly to plants that contain nepetalactone, especially catnip, as they can detect that substance at less than one part per billion. About 70—80% of cats are affected by nepetalactone. This response is also produced by other plants, such as silver vine (Actinidia polygama) and the herb valerian; it may be caused by the smell of these plants mimicking a pheromone and stimulating cats' social or sexual behaviors.
Cats have relatively few taste buds compared to humans. Domestic and wild cats share a gene mutation that keeps their sweet taste buds from binding to sugary molecules, leaving them with no ability to taste sweetness. Their taste buds instead respond to amino acids, bitter tastes, and acids.
To aid with navigation and sensation, cats have dozens of movable whiskers (vibrissae) over their bodies, especially their faces. These provide information on the width of gaps and on the location of objects in the dark, both by touching objects directly and by sensing air currents; they also trigger protective blink reflexes to protect the eyes from damage.:47
The average lifespan of pet cats has risen in recent years. In the early 1980s it was about seven years,:33 rising to 9.4 years in 1995:33 and 12.1 years in 2013. However, cats have been reported as surviving into their 30s, with the oldest known cat, Creme Puff, dying at a verified age of 38.
Spaying or neutering increases life expectancy: one study found neutered male cats live twice as long as intact males, while spayed female cats live 62% longer than intact females.:35 Non-neutered cats in the U.S. are four times as likely to be hit by a car as a neutered cat, and are three times more likely to require treatment for an animal bite. Having a cat neutered confers health benefits, because castrated males cannot develop testicular cancer, spayed females cannot develop uterine or ovarian cancer, and both have a reduced risk of mammary cancer.
Despite widespread concern about the welfare of free-roaming cats, the lifespans of neutered feral cats in managed colonies compare favourably with those of pet cats.:45:1358 Neutered cats in managed colonies can also live long lives.
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 herbicides, cats may be poisoned by many chemicals usually considered safe by their human guardians, because their livers are less effective at some forms of detoxification than those of many other animals, including humans and dogs. Some of the most common causes of poisoning in cats are antifreeze and rodent baits. Cats may be particularly sensitive to environmental pollutants. When a cat has a sudden or prolonged serious illness without any obvious cause, it has possibly been exposed to a toxin.
Many human medicines should never be given to cats. For example, the painkiller paracetamol (or acetaminophen, sold as Tylenol and Panadol) is extremely toxic to cats: even very small doses need immediate treatment and can be fatal. Even aspirin, which is sometimes used to treat arthritis in cats, is much more toxic to them than to humans and must be administered cautiously. Similarly, application of minoxidil (Rogaine) to the skin of cats, either accidentally or by well-meaning guardians attempting to counter loss of fur, has sometimes been fatal. Essential oils can be toxic to cats and cases have been reported of serious illnesses caused by tea tree oil, including flea treatments and shampoos containing it.
Other common household substances that should be used with caution around cats include mothballs and other naphthalene products. Phenol-based products (e.g. 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. Some human foods are toxic to cats; for example chocolate can cause theobromine poisoning, although (unlike dogs) few cats will eat chocolate. Large amounts of onions or garlic are also poisonous to cats. Many houseplants are also dangerous, such as Philodendron species and the leaves of the Easter lily (Lilium longiflorum), which can cause permanent and life-threatening kidney damage.
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 house cats may be more active in the morning and evening (crepuscular behavior), as a response to greater human activity at these times. Although they spend the majority of their time in the vicinity of their home, housecats can range many hundreds of meters from this central point, and are known to establish territories that vary considerably in size, in one study ranging from 7 to 28 hectares (17–69 acres).
Cats conserve energy by sleeping more than most animals, especially as they grow older. The daily duration of sleep varies, usually 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" for a short rest refers to the cat's tendency to fall asleep (lightly) for a brief period. While asleep, cats experience short periods of rapid eye movement sleep often accompanied by muscle twitches, which suggests they are dreaming.
Although wildcats are solitary, the social behavior of domestic cats is much more variable and ranges from widely dispersed individuals to feral cat colonies that form around a food source, based on groups of co-operating females. Within such groups, one cat is usually dominant over the others. Each cat in a colony holds a distinct territory, with sexually active males having the largest territories, which are about 10 times larger than those of female cats and may overlap with several females' territories. These territories are marked by urine spraying, by rubbing objects at head height with secretions from facial glands, and by defecation. Between these territories are neutral areas where cats watch and greet one another without territorial conflicts. Outside these neutral areas, territory holders usually chase away stranger cats, at first by staring, hissing, and growling, and if that does not work, by short but noisy and violent attacks. Despite some cats cohabiting in colonies, they do not have a social survival strategy, or a pack mentality, and always hunt alone.
Domestic cats use many vocalizations for communication, including purring, trilling, hissing, growling/snarling, grunting, and several different forms of meowing. By contrast, feral cats are generally silent.:208 Their types of body language, including position of ears and tail, relaxation of whole body, and kneading of paws, are all indicators of mood. The tail and ears are particularly important social signal mechanisms in cats, e.g. with a raised tail acting as a friendly greeting, and flattened ears indicating hostility. Tail-raising also indicates the cat's position in the group's social hierarchy, with dominant individuals raising their tails less often than subordinate animals. Nose-to-nose touching is also a common greeting and may be followed by social grooming, which is solicited by one of the cats raising and tilting its head.
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 to humans and other animals kept by them amounts to a symbiotic social adaptation. They may express great affection towards their human (and even other) companions, especially if they psychologically imprint on them at a very young age and are treated with consistent affection. Ethologically, the human keeper of a cat may function as a sort of surrogate for the cat's mother, and adult housecats live their lives in a kind of extended kittenhood, a form of behavioral neoteny. The high-pitched sounds housecats make to solicit food may mimic the cries of a hungry human infant, making them particularly hard for humans to ignore.
Cats are known for spending considerable amounts of time licking their coat to keep it clean. The cat's tongue has backwards-facing spines about 500 μm long, which are called papillae. These contain keratin which makes them quite rigid so the papillae act like a hairbrush. Some cats, particularly longhaired cats, occasionally regurgitate hairballs of fur that have collected in their stomachs from grooming. These clumps of fur are usually sausage-shaped and about 2–3 cm long. Hairballs can be prevented with remedies that ease elimination of the hair through the gut, as well as regular grooming of the coat with a comb or stiff brush. Some cats can develop a compulsive behavior known as psychogenic alopecia, or excessive grooming.[clarification needed]
Among domestic cats, males are more likely to fight than females. Among feral cats, the most common reason for cat fighting is competition between two males to mate with a female. In such cases, most fights are won by the heavier male. Another common reason for fighting in domestic cats is the difficulty of establishing territories within a small home. Female cats also fight over territory or to defend their kittens. Neutering will decrease or eliminate this behavior in many cases, suggesting that the behavior is linked to sex hormones.
When cats become aggressive, they try to make themselves appear larger and more threatening by raising their fur, arching their backs, turning sideways and hissing or spitting. Often, the ears are pointed down and back to avoid damage to the inner ear and potentially listen for any changes behind them while focused forward. They may also vocalize loudly and bare their teeth in an effort to further intimidate their opponent. Fights usually consist of grappling and delivering powerful slaps to the face and body with the forepaws as well as bites. Cats also throw themselves to the ground in a defensive posture to rake their opponent's belly with their powerful hind legs.
Serious damage is rare, as the fights are usually short in duration, with the loser running away with little more than a few scratches to the face and ears. However, fights for mating rights are typically more severe and injuries may include deep puncture wounds and lacerations. Normally, serious injuries from fighting are limited to infections of scratches and bites, though these can occasionally kill cats if untreated. In addition, bites are probably the main route of transmission of feline immunodeficiency virus. Sexually active males are usually involved in many fights during their lives, and often have decidedly battered faces with obvious scars and cuts to their ears and noses.
Hunting and feeding
Cats hunt small prey, primarily birds and rodents, and are often used as a form of pest control. Domestic cats are a major predator of wildlife in the United States, killing an estimated 1.4–3.7 billion birds and 6.9–20.7 billion mammals annually. The bulk of predation in the United States is done by 80 million feral and stray cats. Effective measures to reduce this population are elusive, meeting opposition from cat enthusiasts. In the case of free-ranging pets, equipping cats with bells and not letting them out at night will reduce wildlife predation. Cats wearing one type of device killed 19 times fewer birds than uncollared cats. Free-fed feral cats and house cats tend to consume many small meals in a single day, although the frequency and size of meals varies between individuals. Cats use two hunting strategies, either stalking prey actively, or waiting in ambush until an animal comes close enough to be captured. Although it is not certain, the strategy used may depend on the prey species in the area, with cats waiting in ambush outside burrows, but tending to actively stalk birds.:153
Most breeds of cat have a noted fondness for settling in high places, or perching. In the wild, a higher place may serve as a concealed site from which to hunt; domestic cats may strike prey by pouncing from a perch such as a tree branch, as does a leopard.[clarification needed] Another possible explanations is that height gives the cat a better observation point, allowing it to survey its territory. During a fall from a high place, a cat can reflexively twist its body and right itself using its acute sense of balance and flexibility.[clarification needed] This is known as the cat righting reflex. An individual cat always rights itself in the same way, provided it has the time to do so, during a fall. The height required for this to occur is around 90 cm (3 ft). Cats without a tail (e.g. Manx cats) also have this ability, since a cat mostly moves its hind legs and relies on conservation of angular momentum to set up for landing, and the tail is little used for this feat. This leads to the proverb "a cat always lands on its feet".
One poorly understood element of cat hunting behavior is the presentation of prey to human guardians. Ethologist Paul Leyhausen proposed that cats adopt humans into their social group and share excess kill with others in the group according to the dominance hierarchy, in which humans are reacted to as if they are at, or near, the top. Anthropologist and zoologist Desmond Morris, in his 1986 book Catwatching, suggests, when cats bring home mice or birds, they are attempting to teach their human to hunt, or trying to help their human as if feeding "an elderly cat, or an inept kitten". Morris's 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. 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, pica, can threaten their health, depending on the amount and toxicity of the items eaten.
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.
Domestic cats, especially young kittens, are known for their love of play. This behavior mimics hunting and is important in helping kittens learn to stalk, capture, and kill prey. Cats also engage in play fighting, with each other and with humans. This behavior may be a way for cats to practice the skills needed for real combat, and might also reduce any fear they associate with launching attacks on other animals.
Owing to the close similarity between play and hunting, cats prefer to play with objects that resemble prey, such as small furry toys that move rapidly, but rapidly lose interest (they become habituated) in a toy they have played with before. Cats also tend to play with toys more when they are hungry. String is often used as a toy, but if it is eaten, it can become caught at the base of the cat's tongue and then move into the intestines, a medical emergency which can cause serious illness, even death. Owing to the risks posed by cats eating string, it is sometimes replaced with a laser pointer's dot, which cats may chase. While concerns have been raised about the safety of playing with lasers, John Marshall, an ophthalmologist at St Thomas' Hospital, has stated it would be "virtually impossible" to blind a cat with a laser pointer.
Female cats are seasonally polyestrous, which means they may have many periods of heat over the course of a year, the season beginning in spring and ending in late autumn. Heat periods occur about every two weeks and last about 4 to 7 days. Multiple males will be attracted to a female in heat. The males will fight over her, and the victor wins the right to mate. At first, the female rejects the male, but eventually the female allows the male to mate. The female utters a loud yowl as the male pulls out of her because a male cat's penis has a band of about 120–150 backwards-pointing penile spines, which are about 1 mm long; upon withdrawal of the penis, the spines rake the walls of the female's vagina, which 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.
After mating, the female washes her vulva thoroughly. If a male attempts to mate with her at this point, the female will attack him. After about 20 to 30 minutes, once the female is finished grooming, the cycle will repeat.
Because ovulation is not always triggered by a single mating, females may not be impregnated by the first male with which they mate. Furthermore, cats are superfecund; that is, a female may mate with more than one male when she is in heat, with the result that different kittens in a litter may have different fathers.
The gestation period for cats is between 64 and 67 days, with an average of 66 days. The size of a litter usually is three to five kittens, with the first litter usually smaller than subsequent litters. Kittens are weaned between six and seven weeks old, and cats normally reach sexual maturity at 5–10 months (females) and to 5–7 months (males), although this can vary depending on breed. Females can have two to three litters per year, so may produce up to 150 kittens in their breeding span of around ten years.
Cats are ready to go to new homes at about 12 weeks of age, when they are ready to leave their mother. They can be surgically sterilized (spayed or castrated) as early as 7 weeks to limit unwanted reproduction. This surgery also prevents undesirable sex-related behavior, such as aggression, territory marking (spraying urine) in males and yowling (calling) in females. Traditionally, this surgery was performed at around six to nine months of age, but it is increasingly being performed prior to puberty, at about three to six months. In the US, about 80% of household cats are neutered.
The cat is a very vocal animal. Known for its trademark purring, it also produces a wide variety of other sounds.
The mechanism by which cats purr is elusive. The cat has no unique anatomical feature that is clearly responsible for the sound. It was, until recent times, believed that only the cats of the Felis genus could purr. However, felids of the Panthera genus (tiger, lion, jaguar and leopard) also produce sounds similar to purring, but only when exhaling.
Cats are a cosmopolitan species and are found across much of the world. Geneticist Stephen James O'Brien, of the National Cancer Institute in Frederick, Maryland, remarked on how successful cats have been in evolutionary terms: "Cats are one of evolution's most charismatic creatures. They can live on the highest mountains and in the hottest deserts." They are extremely adaptable and are now present on all continents except Antarctica, and on 118 of the 131 main groups of islands—even on 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. Their habitats even include small oceanic islands with no human inhabitants. Further, the close relatives of domestic cats, the African wildcat (Felis silvestris lybica) and the Arabian sand cat (Felis margarita) both inhabit desert environments, and domestic cats still show similar adaptations and behaviors. The cat's ability to thrive in almost any terrestrial habitat has led to its designation as one of the world's worst invasive species.
As domestic cats are little altered from wildcats, they can readily interbreed. This hybridization poses a danger to the genetic distinctiveness of some wildcat populations, particularly in Scotland and Hungary and possibly also the Iberian Peninsula.
Feral cats are domestic cats that were born in or have reverted to a wild state. They are unfamiliar with and wary of humans and roam freely in urban and rural areas. The numbers of feral cats is not known, but estimates of the US feral population range from 25 to 60 million. Feral cats may live alone, but most are found in large colonies, which occupy a specific territory and are usually associated with a source of food. Famous feral cat colonies are found in Rome around the Colosseum and Forum Romanum, with cats at some of these sites being fed and given medical attention by volunteers.
Public attitudes towards feral cats vary widely, ranging from seeing them as free-ranging pets, to regarding them as vermin. One common approach to reducing the feral cat population is termed 'trap-neuter-return', where the cats are trapped, neutered, immunized against 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 it as neutered and inoculated, since these cats may be trapped again. Volunteers continue to feed and give care to these cats throughout their lives. Given this support, their lifespans are increased, and behavior and nuisance problems caused by competition for food are reduced.
Impact on prey species
To date, few scientific data are available to assess the impact of cat predation on prey populations. Even well-fed domestic cats may hunt and kill, mainly catching small mammals, but also birds, amphibians, reptiles, fish, and invertebrates. Hunting by domestic cats may be contributing to the decline in the numbers of birds in urban areas, although the importance of this effect remains controversial. In the wild, the introduction of feral cats during human settlement can threaten native species with extinction. In many cases, controlling or eliminating the populations of non-native cats can produce a rapid recovery in native animals. However, the ecological role of introduced cats can be more complicated. For example, cats can control the numbers of rats, which also prey on birds' eggs and young, so a cat population can protect an endangered bird species by suppressing mesopredators.
In the Southern Hemisphere, cats are a particular problem in landmasses such as Australasia, where cat species have never been native and few equivalent native medium-sized mammalian predators occurred. 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.
Cat numbers in the UK are growing 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, with other food sources. Population densities can be as high as 2,000 individuals per km2 and the trend is an increase of 0.5 million cats annually.
Impact on birds
The domestic cat is probably a significant predator of birds. UK assessments indicate 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 (Erithacus rubecula) and dunnocks (Prunella modularis), 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. However, a new study suggests cats are a much greater menace than previously thought and feral cats kill several billion birds each year in the United States.
On islands, birds can contribute as much as 60% of a cat's diet. In nearly all cases, however, the cat cannot be identified as the sole cause for reducing the numbers of island birds, and in some instances, eradication of cats has caused a 'mesopredator release' effect; where the suppression of top carnivores creates an abundance of smaller predators that cause a severe decline in their shared prey. Domestic cats are, however, known to be a contributing factor to the decline of many species, a factor that has ultimately led, in some cases, to extinction. The South Island piopio, Chatham 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.
Some of the same factors that have promoted adaptive radiation of island avifauna over evolutionary time appear to promote vulnerability to non-native species in modern time. The susceptibility of many island birds is undoubtedly due to evolution in the absence of mainland predators, competitors, diseases, and parasites, in addition to lower reproductive rates and extended incubation periods. The loss of flight, or reduced flying ability is also characteristic of many island endemics. These biological aspects have increased vulnerability to extinction in the presence of introduced species, such as the domestic cat. Equally, behavioral traits exhibited by island species, such as "predatory naivety" and ground-nesting, have also contributed to their susceptibility.
Cats and humans
Cats are common pets in Europe and North America, and their worldwide population exceeds 500 million. Although cat guardianship has commonly been associated with women, a 2007 Gallup poll reported that men and women were equally likely to own a cat.
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, for making coats, gloves, hats, shoes, blankets, and stuffed toys. About 24 cats are needed to make a cat fur coat. This use has now been outlawed in the United States, Australia, and the European Union. However, some cat furs are still made into blankets in Switzerland as folk remedies believed to help rheumatism.
A few attempts to build a cat census have been made over the years, both through associations or national and international organizations (such as the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies's one) and over the net, but such a task does not seem simple to achieve. General estimates for the global population of domestic cats range widely from anywhere between 200 million to 600 million.
History and mythology
Traditionally, historians tended to think ancient Egypt was the site of cat domestication, owing to the clear depictions of house cats in Egyptian paintings about 3,600 years old. However, in 2004, a Neolithic grave excavated in Shillourokambos, Cyprus, contained the skeletons, laid close to one another, of both a human and a cat. The grave is estimated to be 9,500 years old, pushing back the earliest known feline–human association significantly. The cat specimen is large and closely resembles the African wildcat (F. s. lybica), rather than present-day domestic cats. This discovery, combined with genetic studies, suggests 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.
Direct evidence for the domestication of cats 5,300 years ago in Quanhucun in China has been published. The cats are believed to have been attracted to the village by rodents, which in turn were attracted by grain cultivated and stored by humans.
In ancient Egypt, cats were sacred animals, with the goddess Bastet often depicted in cat form, sometimes taking on the war-like aspect of a lioness.:220 The Romans are often credited with introducing the domestic cat from Egypt to Europe;:223 in Roman Aquitaine, a first- or second-century epitaph of a young girl holding a cat is one of two earliest depictions of the Roman domesticated cat. However, cats possibly were already kept in Europe prior to the Roman Empire, as they may have been present in Britain in the late Iron Age. Domestic cats were spread throughout much of the rest of the world during the Age of Discovery, as they were carried on sailing ships to control shipboard rodents and as good-luck charms.:223
Several ancient religions believed cats are exalted souls, companions or guides for humans, that are all-knowing but mute so they cannot influence decisions made by humans. In Japan, the maneki neko cat is a symbol of good fortune.
Although no species are sacred in Islam, cats are revered by Muslims. Some Western writers have stated Muhammad had a favorite cat, Muezza. He is reported to have loved cats so much, "he would do without his cloak rather than disturb one that was sleeping on it". The story has no origin in early Muslim writers, and seems to confuse a story of a later Sufi saint, Ahmed ar-Rifa'i centuries after Muhammad.
Many cultures have negative superstitions about cats. An example would be the belief that a black cat "crossing one's path" leads to bad luck, or that cats are witches' familiars used to augment a witch's powers and skills. The killing of cats in Medieval Ypres, Belgium, is commemorated in the innocuous present-day Kattenstoet (cat parade).
According to a myth in many cultures, cats have multiple lives. In many countries, they are believed to have nine lives, but in Italy, Germany, Greece, and some Spanish-speaking regions, they are said to have seven lives, while in Turkish and Arabic traditions, the number of lives is six. The myth is attributed to the natural suppleness and swiftness cats exhibit to escape life-threatening situations. Also lending credence to this myth is the fact that falling cats often land on their feet, using an instinctive righting reflex to twist their bodies around. Nonetheless, cats can still be injured or killed by a high fall.
- Cats by location
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Names and Taxonomy
Comments: The domestic cat is treated by different authors as either a distinct species (Felis catus) or as a subspecies (Felis sylvestris catus). For convenience, it is treated here as Felis catus to distinguish it from the wild populations of Felis sylvestris. Wozencraft (in Wilson and Reeder 2005) discussed the taxonomy of catus and sylvestris and listed Felis catus and Felis sylvestris as distinct species. Baker et al. (2003) also listed the domestic cat as Felis catus.
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