Cats, Felines & Kittens
Cats, you either love or hate them.
They are currently the most popular pets in the world. Highly valued by humans for their companionship, they are something of a mystery even to their owners.
For cat lovers, these lovely furry creatures are gifts from heaven such is their adorable, cute and playful nature especially when they are kittens.
There is one thing all cat owners know deep in their hearts, you will never truly own a cat, and rather it will be your cat that owns you.
The domestic cat is also known scientifically as felis catus or felis silvestris catus is a small and usually furry mammal that has been domesticated. It is known to all as a housecat. It is a carnivore with highly evolved hunting skills and anatomy similar to their bigger cousins, the felids.
Cats have a much better sense of hearing and sense of smell than human beings. They are able to hear sounds too soft or too high in frequency for the human ear to detect. They are also able to smell much better than us. Besides that, they are also able to see in the dark. All these traits made them formidable hunters.
Cats are very sociable and they communicated with others and their own species using a variety of vocalizations such as growling, grunting, hissing, meowing, purring and trilling. They also made use of cat pheromones as well as cat specific body language to communicate.
A domestic cat typically weighs around 4kg to 5 kg, which is around 9 to 10 pounds for most cat breeds. However, certain cat breeds such as the Maine Coon and Savannah can exceed 11kg (25 lb). On the other hand, there are cat breeds such as the Singapura that are exceedingly small as well. Cats from these small cat breeds can be around 3kg (5 lb) in weight. There have been reported cases of very small cats of less than 2kg (4 lb) and the largest cat ever recorded is around 21kg (50lb).
Like most mammals, cats have seven cervical vertebrae and three sacral vertebrae. They also have thirteen thoracic vertebrae, seven lumbar vertebrae and a number of caudal vertebrae in the tail. The cat’s spinal mobility and flexibility is due to the extra lumbar and thoracic vertebrae that it has as compared to humans which has five and twelve respectively. The spine acts as the platform for the pelvis, 13 ribs and the shoulder to anchor to. The forelimbs of cats are attached to the shoulder by means of free-floating clavicle bones which allow cats to squeeze through any space as long as their cats can go through.
The cat skull has very large eye sockets and a specialized jaw that is strong and powerful. It is very different from other mammals which makes it very unusual. The teeth of a cat are highly adapted for killing and tearing meat off preys. Compared to felines, domestic cats have a narrower set of teeth. This is in response to the smaller preys such as rodents that domestic cats prey on. A cat will use its two long canine teeth to deliver the killing blow to its prey by inserting them between the prey’s vertebrae to severe its spinal cord causing instant paralysis and death. On each side of the mouth is a pair of premolar and first molar which make up the carnassial pair which helps to cut meat into small pieces for easier ingestion of food. This is because cats can’t chew food effectively or incapable of mastication due to their small molars. Generally, cats tend to have less dental problems than humans as the teeth has a thicker protective layer of enamel, less damaging saliva, food particles are less likely to get stuck in the teeth and last but not least a sugar free diet.
Similar to dogs, cats are digitigrades. This means they walk directly on their toes. This explains why cats are able to move around silently, without noise and visible tracks. When a cat walks, it uses a pacing gait similar to that of camels and giraffes. That means cats walk by moving the two legs on one side first before moving the other two legs on the other side. However, once a cat starts to speed up, this pacing gait will be replaced by a diagonal gait which is similar to most mammals. A diagonal gait refers to moving the diagonally opposite fore and hind legs simultaneously. This change of gait is what makes cats so unusual, even among mammals.
Cats can protract or retract their claws at will. The claws on the forefeet are usually sharper than those on the hind feet. Normally, the claws are sheath within the skin and fur around the paw’s toe pad. This helps to prevent the claws from being damaged and from other wear and tear. It also allows a cat to stalk its prey silently. Cats will only extend their claws when climbing, defending themselves, hunting preys, kneading or for extra traction on certain surfaces. A typical cat will have five claws on the front paws and four on the hind paws. The extra or fifth claw is proximal to the other claws. There is also a protrusion which is known as the sixth claw or the carpal pad which are also found on the paws of big cats and dogs. This carpal pad has no particular function, but is thought to be an anti-skidding device used while jumping. There are some cat breeds which are prone to polydactyly which means these cats have extra toes and claws. This situation is more common along cats along the northeast coast of North America.
Domestic cats are believed to have descended from African wildcats around 8000 BC in West Asia. A recent genetic study in 2007 published in the research journal “Science” has shown this to be true.
Cats are once believed to be domesticated around 4000 years ago in Egypt. They are widely depicted in paintings as well as revered as “gods” in Ancient Egypt. Their status as “gods” made them sacred animals worshiped and feared by the masses. Anyone who is convicted of killing a cat in Ancient Egypt will be sentenced to death.
However, in recent years, found in a Neolithic grave in Shillourokambos, Cyprus, the skeletons of a human and a cat together. The grave is estimated to be around 9,500 years old and this pushes back the previously known earliest domestication date.
Some researchers speculate that cats may have been domesticated around 12,000 years. This estimation may have some truth in it. Humans are still predominantly hunters around that time. When humans started to establish agricultural settlements, cats are used for pest control purposes. Humans have started storing surplus corps and mice became a big problem.
Wildcats that wandered into these settlements are overjoyed with the abundance of mice at the storage places. As these wild cats help to get rid of the mice, humans have no problem letting them stay. Over time, the cats sort of domesticated themselves.
The Romans are often credited for introducing domestic cats to Europe. However, this notion has been dispelled by historians who said cats are already present in Britain in the late Iron Age around 1200 BC.
Domestic cats were further spread to the rest of the world via sailing ships during the Age of Discovery in the early 15th century when European countries started with global exploration programs.
Cats were sacred animals in ancient Egypt. They are held in high regard by the everyone from the commoners to the royalty as one of the gods the ancient Egyptians worship, the goddess Bastet is often represented by cats in various forms.
Besides the ancient Egyptians, cats are highly revered by Muslims, although the cat is not considered sacred in Islam. Other ancient religions across the world held cats in high regard as well and believed cats to be auspicious animals from heaven given to humans as companions and guides.
In Japan, the cat is a symbol of good luck in the form of the Maneki-Neko cat. It is a figurine in the form of a cat and is believed to bring good luck to whoever owned it. It is often displayed in places of business to attract money luck for the owners.
While there is no lack of cultures and religions that held cats in high regard, there is also negative superstitions about cats in many cultures. Cats are often depicted as companions or familars to witches to argument their powers and practice of magic. Another superstition is the belief that a black cat crossing one’s path will lead to bad luck is highly ingrained in many cultures as well.
Cats are believed to have multiple lives in many cultures. The number of lives can vary widely from six to nine lives in many countries. This myth is most likely due to the agility and speed of cats in escaping life threatening situations. However, this is known to be false as cats can still be injured or killed by a high fall.