Welcome to this comprehensive fact sheet on one of the most popular and beloved animals in the world: the domestic cat (Felis catus). Cats have been enchanting humans for thousands of years with their grace, independence, and mysterious demeanor.
We don’t usually talk about pet animals on this website but I found it interesting to learn more about cats as they are fascinating animals, and it’s interesting to compare them with wild cats.
Whether you’re a cat owner, a feline enthusiast, or just curious, this article aims to provide a deep dive into the biology, behavior, and fascinating facts about this remarkable creature.
The Cat at a Glance
|Average Size:||9–10 inches (23–25 cm) height|
|Average Weight:||5–20 lbs (2.3–9 kg)|
|Average Lifespan:||13–17 years|
|Geographical Range:||Worldwide (domesticated)|
Species and Subspecies
The domestic cat belongs to the species Felis catus. While there are no formally recognized subspecies, there are numerous breeds with varying characteristics.
These breeds can be categorized based on features like coat length (e.g., Siamese, Persian), pattern (e.g., Tabby, Calico), or other physical attributes (e.g., Scottish Fold, Sphynx). Each breed may have its unique traits, behavior, and care requirements, but all fall under the classification of Felis catus.
In addition, domestic cats are closely related to some other members of the Felis genus, such as the African wildcat (Felis lybica), from which they are believed to have been domesticated.
Domestic cats exhibit a wide variety of colors, patterns, and sizes, largely influenced by their breed. However, certain characteristics are universal among all cats.
They generally have slender, muscular bodies that allow for agility and speed. Their distinctive features include sharp retractable claws, keen eyes adapted for low-light vision, and whiskers that serve as touch receptors.
- Body size: Generally between 9–10 inches (23–25 cm) at the shoulder
- Weight: 5–20 lbs (2.3–9 kg), depending on breed and health
- Coat: Varies widely by breed (short-haired, long-haired, hairless)
Cats possess a highly flexible skeletal structure, allowing them to fit through spaces that seem impossibly narrow. Their keen sense of balance is attributed to a specialized structure in their inner ear.
Males are generally larger and have a more robust build compared to females. Male cats, especially those that are not neutered, have broader heads and may develop jowls.
Habitat and Distribution
Cats are highly adaptable creatures and can be found in a wide range of habitats across the world. While originally domesticated in the Near East, they have since spread to nearly all corners of the globe.
They are commonly found in human households but also thrive in environments like farms, where they control rodent populations. Feral populations often inhabit urban and suburban areas, demonstrating the cat’s remarkable adaptability.
Cats are generally crepuscular, which means they are most active during the dawn and dusk. This behavior is believed to coincide with the activity patterns of their natural prey.
While domestic cats have adapted to social living with humans and can get along with other pets, they tend to be solitary hunters. Hierarchies may form in multi-cat households or feral colonies.
Cats communicate through a variety of means including vocalizations (meows, purrs, hisses), body language (ear position, tail movement), and scent marking. They also have a complex set of facial expressions and will “knead” as a form of comfort and affection.
Cats have a specialized grooming behavior known as allogrooming, where they clean other cats in social bonding rituals. They are also known to display problem-solving abilities and are capable of learning through observation and experience.
Diet and Feeding Behavior
Cats are obligate carnivores, meaning their diet must consist primarily of meat. Their digestive systems are specifically adapted to metabolize animal proteins and fats.
Typical Food Items:
- Small rodents (mice, rats)
- Commercial cat food (wet and dry)
Cats are solitary hunters and employ a stalk-and-pounce method when hunting. They rely heavily on their keen senses of sight and hearing. Domestic cats that are well-fed will often engage in “play hunting,” a behavior believed to be a form of practice or instinctual drive.
Domestic cats face few natural predators due to their close association with human environments; however, kittens and less robust adult cats can fall prey to:
- Larger predatory birds like eagles or hawks
- Larger feral and domestic dogs
- Snakes in some regions
- Humans, via vehicles, abuse, or neglect
Reproduction and Life Cycle
Cats can breed year-round but are most active in the spring and summer. Unspayed females will go into heat multiple times a year, during which they will vocalize loudly and display restless behavior. The gestation period lasts between 58 and 67 days, averaging around 63 days.
Litters typically contain 3 to 5 kittens, though this can vary. The mother is solely responsible for the care of the young, including feeding and teaching them to hunt. The kittens are weaned at around 8 weeks of age, after which they can consume solid food and gradually become more independent.
Conservation and Threats
Domestic cats (Felis catus) are not endangered and are, in fact, one of the most widespread species globally, thanks to their close relationship with humans. However, their wild counterparts and certain specific breeds may be less abundant and face specific challenges.
- Loss of habitat (for wild relatives)
- Abuse and neglect
- Overpopulation leading to strays and feral cats
Various organizations work to spay and neuter domestic cats to prevent overpopulation. Programs also exist to adopt strays and provide them with medical care. For wild and endangered species related to the domestic cat, there are conservation programs aimed at habitat preservation.
- Cats have five toes on their front paws but only four on their back paws.
- A group of cats is called a “clowder,” and a group of kittens is known as a “kindle.”
- Cats can rotate their ears 180 degrees and move them independently.
- A cat’s nose is as unique as a human’s fingerprint.
- Cats can make over 100 different sounds.
Frequently Asked Questions
How long do cats typically live?
The average lifespan of a domestic cat ranges from 13 to 17 years, although many cats live into their early 20s and some even reach their 30s.
Why do cats purr?
Cats purr for various reasons, including relaxation, self-healing, and communication. Some also purr when they are in pain, anxious, or frightened.
Do cats really have nine lives?
The saying that cats have nine lives is just a myth. However, their agility and reflexes often allow them to escape situations that could be dangerous, giving the impression of having multiple lives.
Is it true that cats hate water?
Not all cats hate water. Some breeds, like the Turkish Van, actually enjoy swimming. However, most domestic cats are not fond of water, possibly because their fur doesn’t dry quickly and can become heavy when wet.
Why do cats knead?
Kneading is a behavior thought to be comforting for cats. They usually do this when they are relaxed and content, often while being petted. The behavior is thought to originate from kittenhood when kneading their mother’s belly stimulates milk flow.