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This article deals with the domestic cat. For other species of the cat family, please see Felidae.

For other uses of cat please see the end of this article.

Typical short-haired domestic cat
Scientific classification

The cat, Felis silvestris catus, is a small feline carnivore that has been domesticated for several millennia. The term cat most commonly means a domestic cat, although it can also be used to refer to the other members of the feline family. For example lions, tigers, jaguars and the like are often referred to as the big cats.

Table of contents
1 Characteristics
2 History and mythology
3 Domestication
4 Varieties of domestic cat
5 Cats as food
6 Quotations
7 Related Topics
8 External Links


Cats typically weigh somewhere in the range of 5 to 7 kg (10 to 15 pounds), rarely over 9 kg (20 pounds). In captivity cats typically live 10 to 15 years, though the oldest known cat lived to age 34. Domestic cats, on average, live longer if they are not permitted to go outdoors, and if they are spayed or neutered.

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 flehman response.

Cats have a third eyelid, which is a thin cover that appears when you open the cat's eyelid. This called the Nictating 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 wild 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 the ancestors of todays domesticated breeds.

Baby cats are known as kittens, which is the same term used for baby squirrels.

The sound a cat makes is written "meow" in American English, "miaow" in British English and "mjŠ" in Icelandic. 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.

History and mythology

The cat was first domesticated by the Ancient Egyptians in 4000 BC, to keep mice and rats away from their grain stores. They 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 durring 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 which appear in the Vietnamese zodiac related to the Chinese calendar.


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 collonies 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.

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

There are many named breeds, each with distinct features and heritage. However, 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.

Calico (US) or tortoiseshell (UK) cats have multiple colors. Bicolor cats are partly white. A tabby cat is a striped cat.

A male cat is usually called a tom cat, a female cat is called a queen. A young cat is called a kitten. A cat whose ancestry is officially registered is called a purebred cat or 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. Less than one percent of the total feline population are purebred cats - the remaining 99% have mixed ancestry and are generally known as moggies, or more properly domestic longhairs and domestic shorthairs.

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, like many other animals, are also occasionally prepared in Cantonese cuisine.


Related Topics

External Links