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Cats Cat, small, mainly carnivorous animal, Felis catus, member of the family Felidae, popular as a household pet, and valuable for killing mice and rats. Like other members of the cat family, the domestic cat has retractile claws; keen hearing and smell; remarkable night vision; and a compact, muscular, and highly supple body. Cats possess excellent memory and exhibit considerable aptitude for learning by observation and experience. The natural life span of a domestic cat is about 15 years Learn more about cat care here..


Most authorities believe that the shorthaired breeds of domestic cat are derived from the Caffre cat, Felis libyca, a species of African wildcat domesticated by the ancient Egyptians perhaps as early as 2500 bc and transported by the Crusaders to Europe, where it interbred with the indigenous smaller wildcats. The longhaired breeds may have sprung from the Asian wildcat, Felis manul. Over the centuries, cats have remained virtually the same in size, weighing about 3.6 kg (about 8 lb) when full-grown, and have preserved their instinct for solitary hunting.


The body of a domestic cat is extremely flexible; its skeleton contains more than 230 bones (the human skeleton, although much larger, contains 206 bones), and its pelvis and shoulders are more loosely attached to its spine than in most other quadrupeds. The cat's great leaping ability and speed are due in part to its powerful musculature. Its tail provides balance when jumping or falling.

The cat's claws are designed for catching and holding prey. The sharp, hooked, retractile claws are sheathed in a soft, leathery pocket at the end of each toe, and are extended for fighting, hunting, and climbing. The cat marks its territory by scratching and scenting trees or other objects; its claws leave visible scratch marks, and the scent glands on its paw pads leave a scent mark.

The cat's teeth are designed for biting, not for chewing. Its powerful jaw muscles and sharp teeth enable the cat to deliver a killing bite to its prey.


The cat's vision is exceptionally well adapted for hunting, especially at night. It has excellent night vision; extensive peripheral vision; and binocular vision, which enables it to accurately judge distances. The cat's daylight vision is not as good as that of humans; cats see movement much more easily than detail, and are thought to see only a limited range of colors.

The cat's hearing is extremely sensitive. It can hear a wide range of sounds, including those in the ultrasonic range. Its ears are less sensitive to lower frequencies, which may explain why some domestic cats are more responsive to female voices than to male voices. The cat can turn its ears to focus on different sounds.

The cat has a highly developed sense of smell, which plays a vital role in finding food and in reproduction. Many of the social signals of domestic cats take the form of scents; for example, male cats can apparently smell a female cat that is receptive to male cats from a distance of hundreds of meters or yards.

The cat's sense of taste is peculiarly specialized: it has little ability to detect sweetness, but is extremely sensitive to slight variations in the taste of water. The cat's tongue is covered with rough protuberances, or papillae, that it uses to rasp meat from bones. It also uses its tongue to groom itself.

The cat's whiskers, or vibrissae, are extremely sensitive to the slightest touch, and are used for testing obstacles and sensing changes in the environment. In extremely dim light, a cat may feel its way by using its whiskers.


The domestic cat usually reaches puberty at around nine or ten months of age. A sexually mature female cat goes into heat, or estrus, several times a year; during estrus, she is both receptive to, and attractive to, male cats. The gestation period of the cat is about 65 days; the average litter consists of 4 kittens. Kittens are born blind, deaf, and helpless. Their eyes open at 8 to 10 days of age, and they begin to be weaned about 6 weeks after birth.


The domestic cat's original coat color was probably grayish-brown with darker tabby stripes, a color that provides excellent camouflage in a variety of environments. All other coat colors and patterns are the result of genetic mutations; for example, solid coat colors such as black and blue are the result of a gene that suppresses tabby stripes; an orange coat is the result of a gene that transforms black pigment to orange; and a solid white coat is the result of a gene that completely suppresses all formation of pigment.

Two pigments, black and orange, form the basis for all coat colors in the modern domestic cat. These pigments may be combined with each other or with white (the absence of pigment). A single gene, the O (Orange) gene, determines whether a cat's coat contains black or orange pigment. The O gene can be thought of as a switch that is either on (orange) or off (black). The gene is located on the X chromosome, so its inheritance is sex-linked.

Cat Breeds

About 40 varieties, or breeds, of domestic cats are recognized internationally. Although the various cat breeds often differ dramatically in coat length and overall look, they vary less in size than do dog breeds. The smallest cat breeds weigh about 2 to 3 kg (about 5 to 7 lb) when full-grown; the largest weigh about 7 to 9 kg (about 15 to 20 lb). So far, attempts to develop miniature or giant domestic cat breeds have been unsuccessful.

Breed Origins

Many domestic cat breeds, including the Maine coon, Manx, Russian blue, and Siamese, began as a naturally occurring variety of domestic cat native to a specific geographic area. Others, such as the Himalayan, are artificially created breeds, the result of generations of careful breeding for a desired look. Some relatively new breeds, including the curly-coated Rex breeds, the hairless Sphynx, the fold-eared Scottish fold, and the curl-eared American curl, began with a genetic mutation and were then developed by selective breeding into a distinct breed.

Breed Standards

For each domestic cat breed, there is an official standard of perfection registered with different cat associations that describes the ideal cat of that breed and its distinctive features; lists desirable and undesirable characteristics; and mentions faults that, in a cat show, could result in penalty or disqualification. For example, in the Siamese breed standard, the eyes are described as almond-shaped and slanting toward the nose; a tendency to squint is penalized, and crossed eyes are a disqualifying fault.

Breed standards differ slightly from cat association to cat association, and not all cat associations recognize every breed. To become recognized in a particular cat association, a breed must first be accepted for provisional status by that association. To become recognized for championship competition, the breed must complete a rigorous set of requirements that differ from association to association.

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