domesticated feline
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Cats, also called domestic cats (Felis catus), are small, carnivorous (meat eating) mammals, of the family Felidae.[3][4][5] Cats have been domesticated (tamed) for nearly 10,000 years.[6]

Felis catus
Various types of domestic cat
Scientific classification Edit this classification
Domain: Eukaryota
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Suborder: Feliformia
Family: Felidae
Subfamily: Felinae
Genus: Felis
F. catus[1]
Binomial name
Felis catus[1]
  • F. catus domesticus Erxleben, 1777[2]
  • F. angorensis Gmelin, 1788
  • F. vulgaris Fischer, 1829

Domestic cats may be called 'house cats' when kept as indoor pets.[7] They are one of the most popular pets in the world. Humans keep them for hunting mice and rats, and as friends. There are also farm cats, which keep mice and rats away; and feral cats, which are domestic cats that live away from humans.[8] In 2021, there were about 220 million pet cats and 480 million feral cats in the world.[9][10][11]

There are about 92 breeds of cat.[12] Domestic cats are found in shorthair, longhair, and hairless breeds. Cats which are not specific breeds can be referred to as 'domestic shorthair' (DSH) or 'domestic longhair' (DLH).

The word 'cat' is also used for other felines, like lions, tigers, leopards, jaguars, pumas, and cheetahs.

History of cats

Past range of Felis silvestris.

In the past, mostly in Egypt, people kept cats because the cats hunted and ate mice and rats. The oldest evidence of cats kept as pets is from the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, around 7500 BC. Ancient Egyptians worshipped cats as gods, and often mummified them so they could be with their owners "for all of eternity".

Today, people often keep cats as pets. There are also domestic cats which live without being cared for by people. These cats are called "feral cats" or "stray cats".

The cats started becoming pets when the ancient Egyptians were around.

Cat anatomy


Cats have anatomy similar to the other members of the genus Felis. The genus has extra lumbar (lower back) and thoracic (chest) vertebrae. This helps explain why cats are very flexible. Unlike human arms, cat's front paws are attached to the shoulder by free-floating clavicle bones. These allow cats to pass their body through any space into which they can fit their heads.[13]

The cat skull, unlike most mammals, has very large eye sockets and a powerful jaw.[14]: 35  Compared to other felines, domestic cats have narrowly spaced canine teeth: this is an adaptation to their preferred prey of small rodents.[15] Cats, like dogs, walk directly on their toes, with the bones of their feet making up the lower part of the visible leg.[16]

Cats walk very precisely. Unlike most mammals, when cats walk, they use a "pacing" gait (walking style); that is, they move the two legs on one side of the body before the legs on the other side. This trait is shared with camels and giraffes. As a walk speeds up into a trot, a cat's gait will change to be a "diagonal" gait, similar to that of most other mammals: the diagonally opposite hind and forelegs will move at the same time.[17] Most cats have five claws on their front paws, and four on their rear paws.[18] On the inside of the front paws there is something which looks like a sixth "finger". This special feature on the inside of the wrists is the carpal pad. The carpal pad is also found on other cats and on dogs.


The cat in the middle is angry at the cat on the bottom. It is displaying a warning.
The stripes on this standard tabby cat help it hide in long grass and bushes. It's a kind of camouflage.

Cats are active carnivores, meaning that in the wild they hunt live animals. They mostly hunt small mammals (like mice). They will also sometimes hunt birds. Cats eat a wide variety of animals, including insects such as flies and grasshoppers.[19] Their main method of hunting is stalk and pounce.

The basic cat coat colouring, tabby (see top photo), makes it easy for the cat to hide in grass and woodland. The cat moves towards the animal it wants to hunt, keeping its body flat and near the ground so that it cannot be seen easily. When it is close enough, it runs towards the animal it is hunting and tries to jump on it. Cats, especially kittens, practice these instinctive behaviours in play with each other or on small toys.

Cats can catch fish. They try to flip the fish out of the water and over the cat's shoulders using their front paw. Dutch research showed this to be an innate (inherited) behaviour pattern which developed early and without the mother teaching it.[20]

Cats are quiet and well-behaved animals, making them popular pets. Young kittens are playful. They can easily entertain themselves with a variety of store-bought or homemade toys. House cats have also been known to teach themselves to use lever-type doorknobs and toilet handles.[21]

Cats are independent animals. They can look after themselves and do not need as much attention as dogs do.



Cats use many different sounds for communication, including meowing, purring, trilling, hissing, growling, squeaking, chirping, clicking and grunting.[22] Feral cats are usually silent.[23]: 208 

Body posture is also used to communicate. The position of their ears and tail are especially important in communication. A raised tail is usually friendly, and flattened ears are angry.[24] Cats will often touch noses when they meet each other.[25]



Cats only mate when the female cat is "in heat". Heat periods happen about every two weeks and last four to six days.[26] Several male cats may be attracted to a female cat in heat. The males will fight over her, and the winner wins the right to mate. At first, the female will reject the male, but eventually the female will allow the male to mate. The female will utter a loud yowl as the male pulls out of her. This is because a male cat's penis has a band of about 120-150 backwards-pointing spines, which are about one millimeter long.[27] When the penis is withdrawn, the spines rake the walls of the female's vagina, which is a trigger for ovulation.[28] After mating, the female will wash her vulva thoroughly. If a male attempts to breed with her at this point, the female will attack him. After about 20 to 30 minutes, once the female is finished grooming, the cycle will repeat.[26]

Because ovulation is not always triggered, females may not get pregnant by the first cat which mates with them.[29] A female cat may mate with more than one cat when she is in heat, and different kittens in a litter may have different fathers.[26] The cycle ceases when the female cat is pregnant.

The gestation period for cats is about two months, with an average length of 66 days.[30] The size of a litter is usually three to five kittens. Kittens are weaned at between six and seven weeks, and cats normally reach sexual maturity at 5–10 months (females) and to 5–7 months (males).[26] Females can have two to three litters per year, so might have up to 150 kittens in their breeding life of about ten years.[26]

Birth and after


Pregnant females ("queens") deliver their litters by themselves, guided by instinct. The queen finds the safest place she can. Then she will clean it thoroughly, with her tongue, if necessary. Here she will quietly give birth. She licks the newborn kits clean. In the wild, leaving a scent is risking a dangerous encounter with other animals. The kits are born blind and with closed eyes. They suckle on her teats, and sleep a good deal. After two weeks or so, their eyes open. At that stage they have blue eyes, but not the best sight. A bit later, the best developed kit will totter out of the nest. The others follow. They will soon recognize you as a living thing: that is a great moment. At first, they go back to the nest to feed and sleep. After some more days they leave the nest for good, but still they may sleep together in a 'kitten heap'.[31]

Kitten with string

Kittens play endlessly. It is how they do their learning. They will play their favourite games, such as 'hide and pounce', with almost anyone or anything. Soft balls on strings are a standard toy; so is a scratching post.

With cats there is a limit to how far you can train them. They are at least as intelligent as dogs, but they are not pack animals. They like to do their own thing, and owners do best by fitting in.[32]



Cats are very clean animals. They groom themselves by licking their fur. The cat's tongue can act as a hairbrush and can clean and untangle a cat's fur. Still, owners may buy grooming products to help the cat care for itself. After licking their fur, cats sometimes get hairballs. A hairball is a small amount of fur that is vomited up by animals when it becomes too big. Owners brush their cats to try to prevent a lot of hairballs. Cats have four toes on their back feet, while their front feet have five. There are 12 hairs on the right and left side of the cat's face.

Many house cats eat food which their owners give them. This food is manufactured, and designed to contain the proper nutrients for cats. There are many different types of cat food. These come in many different flavors and costs are often very small.

There is moist canned food and also dry cat food which comes in different sized cans or bags and formulas. There are all kinds of formulae. It seems obvious that the food should be mostly meat, as that is most of a cat's natural diet. But remember, when they catch mice, they also eat the bones. So there is need for formulas to have more than just meat.

Cats should not be fed a daily diet of dog food. It could make the cat blind, as it has no taurine, which is a nutrient for the eyes that cats cannot make for themselves.

Cats cannot taste sweet foods (with sugar) because of a mutation (change) in their ancestors which removed the ability to taste sweet things.


A very young kitten. Its eyes are just open, but it cannot yet see properly.

In 2023, pet cats lived for, on average, 13 years.[33][34] This has increased from seven years in the 1980s.[35]: 33 [36] The oldest cat ever lived to 38.[37]

Cats that roam outside will get fleas at some time. Cat fleas will not live on people, but fleas will not hesitate to bite anyone nearby. Vets have a good product which they put just behind the cat's upper neck, where it can't be licked off.

Cats kept indoors most of the time are kept from danger from the outside. That is obvious, but its own nature is be free to wander.

House cats can become overweight through lack of exercise and over-feeding. When they get spayed or neutered ("fixed"), they tend to exercise less. If a male cat is not neutered, it develops a disgusting smell. Neutering can make cats live longer.[38]

Kittens are sometimes born with unusual traits. Some are serious problems, many of which are similar to human genetic disorders. Others are harmless, like polydactyly. Most cats have only four to five toes on each paw. Polydactyl cats have six, seven, or sometimes even more. These cats can also be called Hemingway cats because author Ernest Hemingway owned cats like these.


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