Domestic cat, or felis catus, is the smaller member of the family known as Felidae. While the domestic cat is felis catus, the feral cat is referred to as felis silvestris catus. Domestic or feral, cats are usually small and furry carnivores. Currently, there are over 70 kinds of cats worldwide. No consensus has been reached as to the exact number of cat breeds, owing primarily to the difference in opinion between the various associations that catalogue cats.
There are many kinds of cats across the world. With a wide variety in coat texture and color, cats of a particular breed might vary greatly from another. Though the domestic cat, or felis catus, has ancestors in the African and European wild cats, domestication has altered many things. When considered along with their ancestors, domestic cats have comparatively smaller teeth, brains as well as jaws. Also, selective breeding over the years has led to more variety in coat lengths and colors than were ever seen in their ancestors.
The classification of cats on the basis of their size would include:
Big cats, such as –
- Snow Leopard
Small cats which include, among others –
- African Golden Cat
- Canada Lynx
- Fishing Cat
- Jungle cat
- Sand cat
The domestic cat, sharing similarities with other bigger members of its family, have certain characteristics that mark them out as a hunter, that is – flexible and compact body, long tail and whiskers, retractable claws, keen eyesight and sharp teeth.
When attempting to understand the incredible cat, there are some features that have to be considered. These are:
I. Physical features
Each cat is said to have its own unique personality. The physical traits of a cat are in keeping with their hunting instincts. Other physical features that make the cat a good hunter include:
1. Legs – with as many as 250 bones in the body, as against 206 bones of a human, a cat is anatomically qualified to bend and twist in more ways and places than we humans can ever manage. The legs of a cat are especially powerful, with thighs designed for pouncing.
2. Fur – the skin of a cat is more sensitive than that of a human. The hair on the body of a cat can be either guard hair, the long and thick coarse hair ending in a tip that insulates the body; somewhat thinner hair, called awn hair, within the outer coarse coat; secondary hair that is the thinnest, making up the downy undercoat controlling temperature; and whiskers which are wiry sensory hair on the face.
3. Tail – the tails of cats are quite long and help in balancing the body at the time of attempting a jump.
4. Spine – with remarkably flexible bodies, cats can twist, curl, stretch and roll in almost any direction
5. Ears – with as many as 32 muscles controlling the outer ear, a cat’s hearing is much more sensitive when compared to dogs or humans. A cat can independently rotate either of his ears to an angle of 180 degrees. Resembling the movement of a satellite dish, the ear that is rotated can be then targeted to the source. In terms of speed of response, the ears of a cat fare much better than the ears of dogs, turning to the source of the sound around 10 times quicker than the ears of a good watchdog.
6. Eyes – with more rod cells than humans, cats are gifted with perfect night vision as well. The eyes of cats also glow at night.
7. Whiskers – whiskers of a cat are embedded much more deeply as compared to the other hair on the body. This makes the whiskers of a cat the perfect receptors of touch, gathering information from the environment and transmitting straightaway to the sensory nerves. More like a radar than anything else, the whiskers are what makes a cat more attuned to its immediate surroundings.
8. Tongue – all cats have sandpaper tongues which help to scrape off the meat from the bones of their prey
9. Paws – With five toes on front paws and four toes on back paws, cats usually have a total of 18 toes in all. The paws of a cat are extremely sensitive, picking up even the smallest of vibrations from the ground. All cats, except the cheetah, have retractable claws. These retractable claws are extended at the time of making a kill. Offering a great grip, these claws mark cats as born hunters.
II. Behavioral features
There are many behavioral features commonly witnessed in cats. Some of the usually observed behaviors include:
1. Nail-biting – a cat might either bite its nails as a signal for you to clip them or simply as a way to cope with nervous agitation
2. Eye of the tiger – a cat that is giving the so-called “eye of the tiger”, that is, looking intently at something, is, in all probability, just about to pounce.
3. Random sprinting – a cat that just speeds up for no reason is simply exercising.
4. Unladylike sitting – lying on its back with its belly exposed, all that the cat wants to do is to get real comfortable.
5. Rubbing against a person – when a cat rubs against a human, it is to stamp the human with the mark of ownership. Pheromones that release from the head are deposited onto the human.
6. Uncovered poop – cats have a natural instinct for covering up their poop. If a cat does not cover his poop, it is to signal anger at something.
7. Hissing – a cat might hiss to show either fear or anger.
8. Twitching ears – a cat twitches ears when agitated or under stress. Twitching of ears is meant to be a way for asking the threat to back off, so to speak.
9. Pointed ears – fully upright and slightly pointed ears signify alertness.
10. A small meow – when a cat gives a small meow, it is to be interpreted as a greeting. A feline ‘hi’.
While cats show many different kinds of behaviors, the above-mentioned are some of the most commonly observed across the various breeds.
Cats are mysterious and majestic creatures. Distinctive physical and behavioral features make cats – both wild cats and domestic cats – hunters to the core. With perfect flexibility and agility, cats are probably one of the most energetic mammals on earth.