See Article History Alternative Titles: Felis catus, domestic cat, house cat Cat, Felis catus , also called house cat or domestic cat, domesticated member of the family Felidae , order Carnivora , and the smallest member of that family.
Like all felids, domestic cats are characterized by supple low-slung bodies, finely molded heads, long tails that aid in balance, and specialized teeth and claws that adapt them admirably to a life of active hunting. Cats possess other features of their wild relatives in being basically carnivorous, remarkably agile and powerful, and finely coordinated in movement.
The cat, however, has not yielded as readily to subjugation. Consequently, the house cat is able to revert to complete self-reliance more quickly and more successfully than most domesticated dogs. For an account of the relationship of the family of cats to other carnivores, see carnivore.
They first appeared in the early Pliocene Epoch 5. Domestication Although the origin of the domesticated cat is hidden in antiquity, studies involving mitochondrial DNA mtDNA suggest that there have been two lineages of Felis catus. Cats of both lineages continued to breed with the African wildcat F. Limestone ostracon with a drawing of a cat bringing a boy before a mouse magistrate, New Kingdom Egypt, 20th dynasty — bc ; in the Oriental Institute, University of Chicago.
Courtesy of The Oriental Institute of The University of Chicago The earliest known association between cats and humans dates possibly as far back as the origins of agriculture in the Middle East , about 9, years ago. A cat skeleton accompanying that of a human dated to that time was discovered in southern Cyprus.
Although some sources note that this finding suggests that cats had undergone some degree of domestication in that location, other sources citing evidence that the cat genome did not differ that much from that of the African wildcat during this period argue that cats may have domesticated themselves by choosing to live in human-altered landscapes.
Fossil evidence found in China dating to approximately 5, years ago revealed that cats similar in size to modern domestic cats fed on small grain-eating animals , such as rodents , and millet in agricultural settings. Although research suggests that these cats were actually leopard cats Prionailurus bengalensis , which were replaced by modern domestic cats F.
Although the cat was proclaimed a sacred animal in Egypt in the 5th and 6th dynasties c. It is probable that the ancient Egyptians partnered with the cat because they realized its value in protecting granaries from rodents. Their affection and respect for this predator led to the development of religious cat cults and temple worship of cats. There are no authentic records of domestication earlier than bce, however. Cats have long been known to other cultures. Wall tiles in Crete dating from bce depict hunting cats.
Evidence from art and literature indicates that the cat was present in Greece from the 5th century bce, and tiles featuring cats appeared in China from bce.
In India cats were mentioned in Sanskrit writings around bce, while the Arabs and the Japanese were not introduced to the cat until about ce. The earliest record of cats in Britain dates to about ce, when Howel Dda, prince of south-central Wales , enacted laws for their protection.
Even though all cats are similar in appearance, it is difficult to trace the ancestry of individual breeds. Since tabbylike markings appear in the drawings and mummies of ancient Egyptian cats, present-day tabbies may be descendants of the sacred cats of Egypt. The Abyssinian also resembles pictures and statues of Egyptian cats.
The Persian , whose colouring is often the same as that of mixed breeds although the length of hair and the body conformation are distinctive , was probably crossed at various times with other breeds. The tailless Manx cat, like the hairless Sphynx cat and curly-coated Devon Rex, is a mutation. The ancestry of Persian and Siamese cats may well be distinct from that of other domestic breeds, representing a domestication of an Asian wild cat.
In fact, nothing is known of the ancestry of the Siamese types, and there is no living species of Asian cat that could have served as ancestor. Abyssinian, red, or sorrel. Persian, cream and white bicolour. The cat figured prominently in the religions of Egypt, the Norse countries, and various parts of Asia. The Egyptians had a cat-headed goddess named Bast or Bastet. Thousands of cat mummies have been discovered in Egypt , and there were even mouse mummies, presumably to provide food for the cats.
Often the cat has been associated with sorcery and witchcraft , and the superstitions regarding cats are innumerable. Throughout the ages, cats have been more cruelly mistreated than perhaps any other animal. Black cats in particular have long been regarded as having occult powers and as being the familiars of witches.
Egyptian cat statue representing the goddess Bastet. The English legend of Dick Whittington and his cat is a particular favourite. Supposed portrait of Dick Whittington and his cat, engraving by Renold Renier Elstracke, early 17th century. Courtesy of the trustees of the British Museum; photograph, J. General features and special adaptations The average weight of the household cat varies from 2.
Average lengths are In keeping with a carnivorous habit, the cat has a simple gut; the small intestine is only about three times the length of the body.
AdstockRF The skin of the cat, composed of dermis and epidermis , regenerates and fights off infection quickly. Tiny erector muscles , attached to hair follicles, enable the cat to bristle all over. Thus, although the cat is a relatively small animal, it can frighten enemies by arching its back, bristling, and hissing.
Coordination and musculature Cats are among the most highly specialized of the flesh-eating mammals. Their brains are large and well developed. Cats are digitigrade ; that is, they walk on their toes. Unlike the dog and horse , the cat walks or runs by moving first the front and back legs on one side, then the front and back legs on the other side; only the camel and the giraffe move in a similar way. Because the vertebrae of the spinal column are held together by muscles rather than by ligaments , as in humans , the cat can elongate or contract its back, curve it upward, or oscillate it along the vertebral line.
The construction of the shoulder joints permits the cat to turn its foreleg in almost any direction. Cats are powerfully built animals and are so well coordinated that they almost invariably land on their feet if they fall or are dropped. Cats have no flat-crowned crushing teeth and therefore cannot chew their food; instead, they cut it up. The total number of teeth is 16 in the upper jaw and 14 in the lower.
Primary, or milk, teeth number 24; these are replaced by the permanent teeth at about five months. Each half of the jaw is hinged to the skull by a transverse roller that fits tightly into a trough on the underside of the skull, making grinding movements impossible even if the cat had teeth suitable for grinding.
The claw is retracted or extended by pivoting the end bone of the toe, which bears the claw, over the tip of the next bone. The action that unsheathes the claws also spreads the toes widely, making the foot more than twice as broad as it normally is and converting it into a truly formidable weapon. This claw-sheathing mechanism is present in all species of the cat family except the cheetah.
Although there are no nerve endings in the nail itself, blood capillaries are present in the inner part. Senses Cats are generally nocturnal in habit. The eyes themselves, large with pupils that expand or contract to mere slits according to the density of light, do not distinguish colours clearly.
Cats have a third eyelid , or nictitating membrane, commonly called the haw. Cats can distinguish the odour of nitrogenous substances e. The sense of touch is acute in cats.
The eyebrows, whiskers, hairs of the cheek, and fine tufts of hair on the ears are all extremely sensitive to vibratory stimulation. The functions of the whiskers vibrissae are only partially understood; however, it is known that, if they are cut off, the cat is temporarily incapacitated. The toes and paws, as well as the tip of the nose, are also very sensitive to touch. Cats also have an acute sense of hearing. Their ears contain almost 30 muscles compared with 6 in humans ; as a result, they can turn them many times more quickly in the direction of a sound than can a dog.
The ears of cats are receptive to ultrasonic frequencies up to 85, vibrations per second, greatly exceeding the hearing capabilities of dogs, which register 35, vibrations per second. Behaviour Special traits The cat has a subtle repertoire of facial expressions, vocal sounds , and tail and body postures that express its emotional state and intentions. These various signals serve to increase, decrease, or maintain social distance.
One distinctive social behaviour involves rubbing the side of the head, lips, chin, or tail against the owner and against furniture. The disposition to cleanliness is well established in cats, and they groom themselves at length, especially after meals.
While lions and other big cats roar, domestic cats and other Felis species purr. Purring has been described as a low, continuous, rattling hum and often is interpreted as an expression of pleasure or contentment. Some behaviours are not abnormal but are difficult for owners to accept. The most common behaviour problem in companion cats is that they sometimes urinate and defecate outside the litter box in the house. Organic causes include feline urologic syndrome urinary bladder inflammation and calculi, or stones, in the urinary tract , blocked or impacted anal glands , and constipation.
Emotional causes include the addition of a new family member—another cat, a child, or a spouse. Such changes may make the cat feel insecure, so that it deposits urine and feces around the house, possibly as territorial marks for security.
Cats are creatures of habit , and any change in the family structure or in daily routines—resulting, for example, from a move or even from rearranging furniture—can be stressful. Another common behaviour problem in cats is their natural desire to rake objects such as drapes and furniture with their claws.
Surgical removal of the front claws to prevent property damage is normally repugnant to cat lovers. Cats can be trained to use carpeted scratching posts in the house to satisfy this behavioral need, which may be a combination of claw cleaning and sharpening and of territorial marking.
Many cats engage in social licking and in the grooming of their feline and human companions, which is a natural display of affection and dependence. It is often more intense in cats weaned too early or in those malnourished in kittenhood.
For various emotional reasons some cats may groom themselves to the point of self-mutilation or become compulsive wool suckers and eaters. Pica—a hunger for nonnutritive substances—may be a symptom of the need for more roughage in the diet or of feline leukemia or other health problems. As with the dog, excessive eating and drinking is frequently associated with endocrine diseases such as diabetes and thyroid dysfunction. Cats often vomit soon after eating, which is most often caused by the accumulation of fur balls in the stomach , although a food allergy , feline leukemia, or other organic cause may be involved.
Active and healthy cats often race through the house as though they were crazed. In the domestic environment, this normal, instinctive behaviour often still occurs, to the consternation of some owners who fear that their cat may have rabies , a brain tumour , or an unstable personality.