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For alternative meanings see cat (disambiguation).


Scientific classification
Domain: Eukaryota
Kingdom: Animalia
Subkingdom: Metazoa
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family: Felidae
Genus: Felis
Species: silvestris
Subspecies: catus or domesticus
Trinomial name
Felis silvestris catus
Schreber, 1775
The cat (also called domestic cat, or house cat) is a small feline carnivorous mammal that has been domesticated for approximately 7000 years. Its scientific name is Felis silvestris catus or Felis silvestris domesticus.

A male cat is usually called a tom cat, a female cat is called a queen. A young cat is called a kitten (as are baby rats, rabbits, hedgehogs and squirrels). A cat whose ancestry is officially registered is called a purebred cat, a pedigreed cat or a show cat. The owners and breeders of show cats compete to see who can breed the cat with the closest resemblance to the "ideal" definition of the breed (see selective breeding). Less than one percent of the total feline population are purebred cats—the remaining 99% have mixed ancestry and are generally known in the UK and elsewhere as moggies, or more properly domestic longhairs and domestic shorthairs.

Table of contents
1 Characteristics
2 History and mythology
3 Domestication
4 Varieties of domestic cat
5 Cats as food
6 Cats and the Black Death
7 Quotations
8 See also
9 External links


The Wild Cat ancestor of the cat is believed to have been from a desert climate, and cats display behaviours associated with such creatures. They enjoy heat and sunning themselves. Their feces are usually very dry and cats prefer to bury them in sandy places. They are able to stay unmoving in one place for long periods of time, usually when observing prey. In North Africa there are still small wildcats that are probably closely related to the ancestors of today's domesticated breeds.

Cats typically weigh 4 to 7 kg (9 to 15 pounds), rarely over 10 kg (22 pounds). In captivity cats typically live 15 to 20 years, though the oldest known cat lived to age 36. Domestic cats, on average, live longer if they are not permitted to go outdoors (thus avoiding fights and accidents), and if they are spayed or neutered. Indoor cats must be provided a litterbox containing sand or similar commercial material for their bathroom use.

Cats (including domesticated cats) have a scent organ in the roof of their mouths called the vomeronasal, or Jacobson's organ. When a cat wrinkles its muzzle, raises its chin, and lets its tongue hang a bit, it is opening the passage to the vomeronasal. This is called the Flehmen response.

Cats have excellent nocturnal and diurnal vision; an organ called the tapetum lucidum is responsible for their strong low-light vision, as well as for the varied colours of cats' eyes in flash photographs. As with most carnivores their eyes are both forward facing affording depth perception at the expense of field of view. Cats are weakly trichromatic.

Cats have a third eyelid, which is a thin cover that appears when you open the cat's eyelid. This is called the nictitating membrane. If a cat is sick, this membrane will partially close. This is a sign that the cat needs immediate veterinary attention. Sometimes, however, if your cat is very sleepy and happy, they will show this membrane.

The sound a cat makes is written "meow" in American English, "miaow" in British English and various other ways in other languages. Cats can also produce a purring noise that is immensely pleasurable to many humans. Some cats growl or hiss when they see other cats on their territory.

Virtually all cats have straight upward ears. Unlike dogs, flap-eared breeds are very rare. Scottish Folds is one such exceptional genetic mutation.

History and mythology

The earliest written records of cat domestication date to ancient Egypt circa 4000 BC, to keep mice and rats away from their grain stores. However, a recently discovered gravesite in Shillourokambos, Cyprus, dating to 7500 BC contains the skeletons of a ceremonially buried human and a young cat, although cats are not native to Cyprus. This is thought to indicate that cats were domesticated (or perhaps just tamed) at least this early. class="external">[1 The cat found in the Cyprus grave was more similar to the ancestral wildcat species than to modern housecats.

Ancient Egyptians regarded cats as embodiments of the goddess Bast, also known as Bastet or Thet; the penalty for killing a cat was death, and when a cat died it was sometimes mummified in the same way as a human. In the Middle Ages, though, cats were often thought to be witches' familiars, and during festivities were sometimes burnt alive or thrown off tall buildings. Today some people believe that white cats are unlucky, or that it is unlucky if a black cat crosses your path, but others believe that black cats are lucky.

The cat is one of the 12-year cycle of animals in the Vietnamese zodiac. It does not, however, appear in the Chinese zodiac. Legend states that the rat, who invited the animals to the Jade Emperor's palace to be chosen for the zodiac, forgot to invite the cat, so the cat declared the rat its natural enemy.


Cats are kept for companionship as pets, and to hunt mice and rats. Farms often have dozens of cats, living semi-wild in the barns. Hunting in the barns and the fields, they kill and eat rodents that would otherwise eat large parts of the grain crop. (Many pet cats successfully hunt and kill mice, birds and fish by instinct, but might not eat their prey). Feral cats may live alone or in large groups called colonies with communal nurseries, depending on resource availability.

Like many other domesticated animals, cats lived in a mutualistic arrangement with humans. The benefit of removing rats and mice from humans' food stores outweighed the cost of allowing a formerly-wild animal to enjoy the relative safety of a human settlement; hence, the relationship between cat and human has continued. However, unlike other domesticated species, housecats' ancestors did not hunt socially or enjoy the safety of a herd, as other domesticated animals did. This evolutionary history may be the reason cats do not "understand" the desires of humans in the same way that dogs do; before humans, cats had fewer social relationships to benefit from. This may also contribute to a sense common among pet owners that cats are both more aloof and more self-sufficient than other pets. However, cats can be very affectionate towards their humans, especially if they imprint on them at a very young age and are treated with consistent affection.

Some environmentalists claim that the domestication of cats is of harm to the environment. The reason they state is that due to feeding from humans, cats have reached population levels that are impossible for any natural carnivore. This is believed to result in the overhunting of many small animals in populated areas, possibly hurting the food chain.

For more information on the care of domestic cats, see How to choose your pet and take care of it, which has a section on cats.

Varieties of domestic cat

Typical domestic shorthair


The list of cat breeds lists the many cat breeds. Each breed has distinct features and heritage. Due to common cross-breeding 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.


Cats come in a variety of colors and patterns. However, these colors and patterns are physical properties and should not be confused with a breed of cat. Calico is white with distinct black or red (or blue and cream in the dilute variant) spots. The Japanese refer to this pattern as mi-ke. Tortoiseshell pattern is black with red and white mottled throughout the coat. The dilute of this pattern is referred to as blue-cream. Bicolor cats are partly white with areas of color. A tabby cat is a striped cat. The tabby pattern has a variety of patterns. The classic pattern is the most common and consists of butterflies and bullseyes. The mackeral tabby is a series of vertical stripes down the cat's side (resembling the fish). This pattern broken into spots is referred to as spotted tabby. (See also cat coat genetics).

Household cats are grouped into a smaller number of types according to basic physical appearance:

Some of the basic feline coloration patterns also have names:

Cats as food

In desperate times, people have been known to be reduced to cooking and eating cats. This occurred in Argentina in 1996.
[1] In some poor parts of Africa, there are no stray cats on the street, because every stray that is found gets caught and cooked. Cats are also occasionally prepared in Cantonese cuisine.

There is an Australian aboriginal desert tribe that hunts cats as their primary source of meat. These people believed the cats to be either indigenous or of ancient, non-European origin; recent DNA analysis has shown that they are in fact descendants of British shorthairs gone feral.

Sometimes the term "roof-hare" applies to a cat's meat presented as a hare. Subtracting the skin, feet, head and tail, hares and cats are practically identical. The only way to distinguish them is by looking at the processus hamatus of the feline scapula, which should have a proccessus suprahamatus.

Cats and the Black Death

The speed of spread of the Black Death in the 14th century had many people (religion being the way of life) believing that the Devil was in some way responsible for the disease. This thought led the Pope to declare that cats, who were known to roam freely, were in league with the devil. This declaration was aided by the belief that cats often acted as Witches' familiars. Because of the declaration, a great many cats were killed in the very religious Europe. The sudden decrease in cats led to a massive increase in rats - and the plague-carrying fleas that fed upon them.


See also

External links