Domestic Cat - Felis sylvestris
( Schreber, 1775 )



Domestic Cat Photo
Domestic Cat Location Map
Domestic Cat Photo Domestic Cat Location Map Worldwide

Est. World Population: > 100,000,000


Body Length: 15 - 22 in
Tail Length: 4 - 13 in
Shoulder Height: 7 -10 in
Weight: 4 - 20 lbs

Top Speed:
Jumping Ability: (Horizontal)

Life Span: Unknown in the Wild
Life Span: 12 - 15 yrs in Captivity

Sexual Maturity: 7 - 12 mo (Females)
Sexual Maturity: 8 - 10 mo (Males)
Litter Size: 1 - 8
Gestation Period: 63 - 66 days

The domestic cat is very strong and muscular for its size. The average height of an adult cat is about 20 - 25 cm at the shoulders. All cats have long powerful bodies and rounded heads with triangular ears. All but two breeds have a long tail, approximately 3/4 the length of the body. The tail is an extension of the backbone and is used for balance. In addition, cats have true fur; that is, they have both an undercoat as well as an outer coat. Coat length and colors vary depending on the breed. Although most coat colors vary among 30 different breeds, domestic cats are usually black, gray, yellow, white, or tabby, which is dark stripes or swirls on a paler background.

Domestic cats have five toes on each of their forepaws, but only four toes on each back paw. In addition, females have four pairs of mammae. Cats have claws that can be drawn back into their paws when not in use.

Cats have a well developed sense of smell and hearing. The ears of a cat can rotate rapidly to identify the source of a particular sound and are able to respond to frequencies up to 25,000 vibrations per second. Due to this ability cats can hear even ultrasonic noises made by small rodents. This sometimes allows them to locate and capture prey without even seeing it.

Their sight is good but probably not exceeding the capabilities of humans. The range of colors seen by cats is smaller than the human range. The eyes of cats are located on the front of the head. Although this allows them to have excellent depth perception, a useful tool in hunting, cats cannot see directly under their noses. They also have the ability to see the slightest movement, helping them locate prey. Their eyes are adapted for vision in dim light for hunting just after dusk or before dawn.

The teeth in cats are very specialized. The canines are excellent for stabbing and holding prey as the upper ones point almost straight down and the lower ones are curved. The molars are specialized for cutting. Since the cats lack any teeth for crushing, they eat their food by slicing it. The tongue is covered with tiny, curved projections called papillae. These are used for grooming and licking meat off bones.

Another notable feature that cats have are whiskers or vibrissae. Whiskers are special hairs that are used as highly sensitive touch organs. A cat uses its whiskers to determine if their bodies can fit through small openings such as small pipes, cans, and other various objects. They also use them to detect the movement of prey.

Although cats have whiskers, they lack eyelashes. They have a full inner eyelid, or nictitating membrane, which serves as protection from dryness and damage to the eye.

Cats live all over the world and can be found in a variety of habitats. There about 45 million cats living as pets in the United States alone and about 2 million live in Canada.

Biomes: tundra, tropical rainforest, taiga, tropical deciduous forest, temperate forest & rainforest, tropical scrub forest, temperate grassland, tropical savanna & grasslands, chaparral, mountains, desert

Palearctic, Nearctic, Oriental, Ethiopian, Neotropical, Australian: Domestic cats are pets to people all around the world. The domestic cat may be found throughout the world in urban and rural areas.

Life Cycle:
Males and females come together to mate in response to the female giving off certain scent and vocal signals to indicate that she is receptive. Strange males are initially driven off and must be persistent in following before a female will allow close contact, but familiar males may be allowed to mate almost immediately. Females are polyestrous, coming into oestrous three to four times a year. She is receptive for an average of three days, longer if she is not mated during this time. Two litters of one to eight, usually three to five, kittens per year are usually born, often in abandoned burrows, hollow logs, the bases of trees, or in rock shelters or thick vegetation. The gestation period averages 63 - 66 days, and the kittens weigh 85 - 110 grams when born. Their eyes open between seven and 20 days, and they begin to walk between nine and 15 days. Kittens begin to eat solid food at four weeks of age, and are weaned around eight to ten weeks. Independence is gained around six months, and sexual maturity is reached around 10 - 12 months.

Food & Hunting:
Cats are primarily carnivores. They eat a variety of food. Usually, they don't eat organisms larger than a rat or pigeon, but they are capable of catching animals that are almost as large as they are. They tend to avoid organisms with shells, spines or offensive smells.

Occasionally, cats eat grass in order to clear their stomach of indigestible food, like bones, fur, and feathers. In domestic cats, the large intestine is bigger than it is in wild species. This allows the domestic cat to eat more vegetation.

When humans keep domestic cats as pets, they often feed them commercial cat food. Even so, these cats may supplement their diet by hunting small prey such as rodents and birds.

Domestic cats are basically solitary, but individuals in a given area do have a social organization and hierarchy. In areas of high prey density or other reliable food sources, there can be a dense population of cats that tolerate and interact with one another. Cats in any one area are familiar with one another, mostly through olfactory signs, such as areas where they have sprayed urine, marked with scrapes and fecal material, and rubbed their scent glands.

Another interesting phenomenon is the response of domestic cats to catnip, or catmint. This is a plant that produces an active ingredient that causes many cats to roll or rub in it, or sometimes shake their heads. These actions are similar to some of the motor actions of a female cat in oestrous. The reaction of a cat to catnip is apparently governed by the presence or absence of a certain dominant autosomal gene. Cats that donít inherit this gene do not react to catnip.

There is no significant threat to this species. In fact, it is pointedly excluded from some pieces of legislation designed to protect other species of cats.

Other Details:
Domestic cats are primarily descendants of the wild cat of Africa and extreme southwestern Asia (Felis silvestris libyca). The cat family split from other mammals about 40 million years ago, making them one of the oldest mammalian families. The family can be traced back to the Late Eocene Epoch.

The domestic cat was probably first tamed in Africa, but the earliest known records of domestication date back to 1500 BC in ancient Egypt. The domestication of cats most likely came about when cats began to protect the Egyptian granaries from rodents. After that domestic cats spread to other cultures. The first record of domestic cats in Britain dates to 936 AD when a law was passed in Wales for their protection, and by the mid-18th century they were present in the United States.

Cats have AB blood groups just like humans.

Tortoiseshell marking, which is a piebald mix of black, white and yellow, is normally found only in female cats. If a male is born with this color pattern, it is almost always sterile.

Cats that have blue or mixed color eyes and a white coat sometimes are deaf due to an inherited defect.

A form of AIDS exists in domestic cats. It is called Feline Immunodeficiency Virus, FIV.

People who are allergic to cats are probably reacting to the animal's dander or saliva. If the cat is given a bath regularly, it is less likely to cause these allergic reactions.

Older cats can get cancer just like humans and can be successfully treated in many cases. Cats with white fur and skin on their ears are prone to sunburn and this can also lead to cancer.

Pregnant women or individuals with a depressed immune system should not touch the cat litter box due to a protozoan disease called Toxoplasmosis. Toxoplasmosis is caused by eating raw or rare beef. This is a disease that can cause illness in those individuals with a depressed immune system, but even worse it can cause birth defects in unborn children.

Nowak, Ronald. Walker's Mammals Of The World. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999

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Database Last Updated: 31 Dec 1969

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