Today, I would like to take a break from all of the series that I've been writing for the past couple of weeks. Let's talk about the cat, and since in biology, "cat" is a broad term which described a few others such as tiger, lion, leopard and even cheetah, today Iwe are going to explore some of the interesting pieces of information regarding house cat (Felis catus). It's been a hectic week since my final exam is approaching, but let's forget about that and immerse ourselves in the world od domestic cat.
Felis catus is the smallest member of Felidae, a family which consists of a few carnivorans, which usually referred to as a cat. Like any members of the family, this particular creature possessed the same characteristics such as:
- Flexible, low-slung body
- A long tail which is vital in balance
- A sharp set of teeth and claws
All of the features listed above make domestic cats adapted to the life of hunting. Have you ever saw how a cat tries to catch a bird. Their movement is coordinated, agile and powerful. Compared to the other kind of conventional household pet (a dog), a domestic cat doesn't yield to human's subjugation. A dog is a social animal which prefers to live in a pack which is lead by a leader. When an individual dog is raised in a household, the nature of allegiance was transferred to the master (human). If a domesticated dog is thrown away by their master, it would be difficult for them to be entirely self-reliance.
Throughout the article, I'll be using the term "cat" which should be understood as a domestic cat.
Domestication and Association With Human's Culture
The history of this particular creature being raised as a domestic animal is fuzzy, but some studies suggested that domestic cats have existed in the Middle East since the dawn of agriculture approximately 9500 years ago. A skeleton of a domestic cat was found in southern Cyprus along with a human which proved that this animal had been kept as a pet in that location since then.
In China, some fossil evidence suggested that domestic cats have been preying on small animals which consumed grains such as millets, 5300 years ago. This evidence is an important discovery which suggests that cats have been used by humans to hunt rodents which could potentially threaten the integrity of the grain stores. Possibly after a long day at work, chasing mice and threatening some other rodents, the cat would be rewarded with some leftover foods.
In the 5th to the 6th dynasty in China, domestic cats weren't kept as pets. They are thought to be sacred so any form of domestication is viewed as a crime, but for an Egyptian, they recognised the importance of protecting their granaries from the rodent's invasion hence cats have been kept as a domesticated animal. There are a few shreds of evidence which suggested the popularity of this animal among other cultures.
- Around 1600 BCE, pictures of hunting cats have been depicted onto the wall tiles in Crete
- The existence of domestic cats has been illustrated by some arts and literature in China and Greece back in 500 BCE.
- Domestic cats were thought to exist in India back in 100 BCE based on the Sanskrit writings.
- It was presumed that Japan and Arab were introduced to this domestic animal since 600 CE.
- In 936 CE, the prince of South-Central Wales, Howel Dda has enacted some laws regarding the protection of this particular domesticated animal.
Some people like cats, some people don't, but generally, we knew that there are a lot of breeds, and it is quite difficult to trace the ancestor of an individual cat.
- The tabbies have been thought as the living descendant of a domestic cat in the ancient Egyptian which is considered sacred. This conclusion was made after a careful examination of the mummified remains of the old Egyptian cats along with some drawings which look tabby-like.
- Another breed of cat which is called Abyssinian is thought to be originated from the Ancient Egyptian based on the statues and some pictures.
- Some hairless and tailless cat are the results of mutations. These include the Manx cat and the Sphynx cat.
- The Persian cat and the Siamese cat is thought to be originated from the Asian cat descendent (The Egyptian cat came from Africa). There are no known facts or any history that could prove the ancestry of a Siamese cat.
In some cultures and religions, a cat is a symbol of prominent and witchcraft. There are quite a significant number of mummified cats found in Egypt along with some mummified rats (potentially food sources for all the cats). In Ancient Egyptian, there is a lot of religion which incorporate cat as a prominent figure. Bast, which is one of the goddesses worshipped by the Ancient Egyptian has a cat head.
Some cats are related to numerous form of superstition and witchcraft. A black cat was long thought to have some form of occult powers due to their connection with witches. There are some other fictional stories, legends if you will that depicted cat as a prominent character.
Measuring about 20 to 28 inches in length, this animal is a common household pet. They can weigh up to 15 kg, but an average cat would weigh around 3 - 5 kg. The length of their intestines is about 60 - 84 inches, and it was simpler compared to any other mammals. Their skins are made up of epidermis and dermis layer which has the capabilities to regenerate in a quick phase, keeping infections at bay. They were able to bristle all over because their erector muscles are attached to the hair follicles. Make no mistake. Even though they are small, they would able to threaten any potential enemies into submission by bristling, hissing and sometimes arching their back to look bigger.
This animal is a digitigrade creature, meaning they were using their toes instead of the entire feet during walking. They have a large and well-developed brain which suggest this creature is quite intelligent. The pattern of their movement resembles a camel or a giraffe. They walk by stepping out the front and back legs on one side and then the others. This pattern is different when we compare it with the way, a dog or a horse moved.
Their spinal column is not held by ligaments as in a human. It is owned by a group of muscles which allow them to either elongate or to shorten its back by contracting it. It also can move its back along the vertebral line (oscillate) or make an upward curve. Their foreleg can turn freely into any direction attributed to the unique design of its shoulder joints which allow such movements. Their coordination is good compared to the other animal. If they fall or dropped from any height, most of the times, they will land on their feet, instead of their back or head.
Claw and Teeth
The mechanism of this animal retracting its ultimate weapon, the claw, is the same as any other members of the Felidae except for cheetah. Blood capillaries are present in the innermost part of the claw. When they were threatened by enemies or any potential predators, they will unsheath their claw which came up between the toes, making its feet broader than usual. When the claw is not in used, it will be retracted and kept off the edge of the bone.
Cats never chew their foods. This is because they lack the flat-crowned teeth which can crush foods in their mouth. Their teeth perform three functions:
Most of their teeth are not used and act like some decoration. When their mouth is closed, most of the upper and lower cheek teeth are not in contact with each other. There is only two type of teeth that matter; the molars and the canines. Cat's teeth are arranged in a specific manner for either side of the upper and lower jaws:
- Incisors (3/3)
- Canines (1/1)
- Premolars (3/2)
- Molars (1/1)
*The arrangement of teeth for one side of upper and lower jaw (upper/lower)
The total number of the upper jaw's teeth on both sides are 16, and the lower jaw is filled with 14 teeth. Pretty neat don't you think? Their primary teeth would be replaced by a set of permanent teeth by the age of five months.
Have you ever wonder why cat's eyes shone at night when we exposed them to a light source? Well, their eyes have an extra layer added to the retina which caused them to become sensitive to light. This layer is made up of guanine. The most intriguing things about the cat's eye are they are equipped with an extra eyelid which is known as the haw. This particular membrane is used to indicates the cat's overall state of health.
The sense of smell is essential to cats in which without them, they will lose the ability to evaluate food. They will lose appetite entirely if they have some problems with distinguishing smell; this can be observed in a cat with a clogged nasal passage. They are particularly sensitive to the smell of any nitrogenous substances which make them keen towards fish.
Cats have an acute sense of touch. They are sensitive to vibratory stimulation which can be detected by:
- The eyebrows
- The whiskers
- The hairs on the cheek
- The hairs on the ear
The whisker is a mysterious appendage. Its function is partially known, but if it were cut off, the cat would become incapacitated temporarily. Its paws and nose were also sensitive to the sense of touch.
Regarding hearing, they have five times more muscle in their ears compared to humans. These will allow them to turn their ears to the direction of sound quicker. They can hear up to 85,000 vibrations per second which surpassed the hearing capacity of a dog which can only hear up to 35,000 vibrations per second.
I've mentioned above that cats is relatively intelligent. They have a set of behaviours that they would utilise to communicate their feelings. These include vocal sounds, body and tail postures and certain facial expressions. It's easy to feel pity if you've encountered a wildcat on the street. All of these behaviours are ways that they utilise to either maintain, increase or decrease social distance. If you have a cat, then you should realise sometimes, your cat would rub its head, chin or tail against the furniture or you. It is to establish some form of scent to get familiar with the environment.
Have you ever how it felt when your cat lick you? It was coarse and sometimes, dry. It is because their tongue is equipped with multiple spines which are directed backwards called the filiform papillae. This particular papillae function as a tool that will be used by the cat to groom itself. They do love to lick themselves, especially after a meal.
Domestic cats can't roar, but it will purr.
Purring has been described as a low, continuous, rattling hum and often is interpreted as an expression of pleasure or contentment.
A cat can also purr when it is in pain. It serves as an enchantment which makes them relaxed and reduces some of their sufferings.
Some Problems With Their Behaviour
Well, raising a cat is not easy. Sometimes, as an owner, we have to deal with a lot of peeing crisis which causes emotional stress. Well, you should know that, when we domesticate an animal, it will show some abnormal behaviour to indicate their difficulty in adjusting to the new environment. Let's see some of them:
- They defecate and urinate outside the litter box: This can be caused by two factors. One is emotional stress and the second one is organic. When you bought a new cat, or any new family members stay in the house, it will urinate and defecate to mark its territory. The behaviour indicates that the cat felt insecure. It is a creature of habit so any changes imposed will cause some emotional distress to them. "Feline urologic syndrome" is common among domestic cats. It is one of the possible organic causes which can make them constipated.
They rake any furniture they could get: There are a few reasons why cat loves to rake. They need to either sharpen their weapon or clean their weapon or mark their territory. The last is a bummer. Since surgical removal of the claw can be unacceptable especially to a cat lover, the owner should train their cat to use the scratching post to satisfy their urges to scratch.
Social licking and sucking: Some cats love to lick and suck the finger of its own master. It is one form of natural behaviour to show some affection and seeking attention. Well, some owners may like it, but some might hate it. Well, there is nothing much you can do about it. This behaviour seems to be more prominent on any cats that weaned early during kittenhood.
- Pica eating: There are a few reasons why they crave for a substance which can be considered inedible. It can be due to some health problems, or they just need some fibres in their diet. Don't be afraid if you saw your cat was eating some grass or something. They will immediately vomit after the pica-eating.
If you've decided to send them to a market because you're frustrated with them, it is pointless. It will come back. It has the reputation of travelling hundreds of kilometres in search of their owners in a new home which they have never been before. It is something which can't be explained yet. The cat loves their owner that much.
When a female cat has reached seven months old, they have been considered mature sexually. Domestic cats which are kept as pets can reproduce three times a year relative to the which lives on the street which reproduces once a year. Their gestation period lasts for 65 days, and the birthing process which is called kittening took about 3 hours. The average number of kittens which will be born is around four. However, it will vary between the different breed of cats.
Each kitten is born through different sacs. The placenta will be eaten by the mother to induce lactation. Like any other members of the Felidae, kittens are born blind and helpless. They began to see after ten days of birth. After the kittening, the mother cat will immediately lick its kitten to stimulate blood circulation and clean them of the amniotic fluid.
Sometimes, there are just too many cats in a specific area. It could be bad especially if the place they were staying in, is a frequently visited place, so some population control should be taken. In the past, some kitten will be killed which is cruel and can impose emotional distress upon the mother cat. Now, most of us opt for sterilization; a relatively simple operation can be done.
Base on a few recent studies, sterilised cats live longer than the non-sterilised cat. The lifespan of a domestic cat is around 10 to 15 years, but the oldest cat is about 34 years.
Reference And Further Reading Materials
- David Zax. Smithsonian. A Brief History of House Cats. Retrieved March 23, 2018, from https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/a-brief-history-of-house-cats-158390681/
- Michael W. Fox. Encyclopaedia Britannica. Domestic cat. Retrieved March 23, 2018, from https://www.britannica.com/animal/cat
- National Geographic. Domestic cat. Retrieved March 23, 2018, from https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/d/domestic-cat/
- Wikipedia. Cat. Retrieved March 23, 2018, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cat