The cat, also called the domestic cat or house cat, is a small
carnivorous mammal of the subspecies Felis silvestris catus. Its
most immediate pre-domestication ancestor is believed to be the
African wild cat, Felis silvestris lybica. The cat has been living
in close association with humans for somewhere between 3,500 and
There are dozens of breeds of cat, some hairless or tailless as
a result of mutations, and they exist in a variety of different
colors. They are skilled predators and have been known to hunt over
one thousand different species for food. They are also intelligent
animals, and some can be trained or learn by themselves to manipulate
simple mechanisms such as lever-handled doors and flush toilets.
Cats typically weigh between 2.5 and 7 kg (5.516 pounds)
however, some breeds, such as the Maine Coon can exceed 11.3 kg
(25 pounds). Some have been known to reach up to 23 kg (50 pounds)
due to overfeeding. This is very unhealthy for the cat, and should
be prevented through diet and exercise (playing), especially for
cats living exclusively indoors.
In captivity, indoor cats typically live 14 to 20 years, though
the oldest-known cat lived to age 36. Domestic cats tend to live
longer if they are not permitted to go outdoors (reducing the risk
of injury from fights or accidents and exposure to diseases) and
if they are spayed or neutered. Spaying and neutering a cat also
decreases the risk of testicular and ovarian cancer, and female
cats spayed before their first litter benefit from reduced risk
of mammary cancer. Feral cats living in modern urban environments
often live only two years, or less. Feral cats in maintained colonies
can live much longer; the British Cat Action Trust reported a 19-year-old
feral female. The oldest feral cat was Mark who was maintained by
the British charity Cats Protection and who reached 26 years of
Cats can also produce a purring noise that typically indicates
that the cat is happy, but also can mean that it feels distress.
Cats purr among other catsfor example, when a mother meets
her kittens. Until recently, there were many competing theories
to explain how cats purr, including vibration of the cat's false
vocal cords when inhaling and exhaling, the sound of blood hitting
the aorta, vibration of the hyoid apparatus, or resonation directly
in the lungs. Currently, though, it is believed that purring is
a result of rhythmic impulses to the cat's larynx.
They communicate by calling ("meow"/"miaou"),
purring, hissing, growling, chirping, clicking, grunting, and about
a hundred other vocalizations and body language. Cats in colonies
use a mix of vocalizations and body language to communicate with
It is possible for a cat to call out and purr simultaneously, although
this is typical only in very vocal cats. In addition to purring,
happy cats may blink slowly or partially close their eyes to break
any possible stares and communicate their ease in the situation.
However, purring may also be a way for the cat to calm itself down.
For example, cats have been known to purr when injured. Although
not proven, research has suggested that the frequency of the vibration
produced by purring may promote healing of bones and organs in cats,
explaining why cats may purr when hurt.
Cats are notoriously hygienic animals, grooming themselves with
their tongues several times a day. In addition to being a social
habit (cats living communally will sometimes groom one another,
as well as their human companions), grooming is thought to aid cats
in their naturally solitary hunting habits. Unfortunately, the dried
residue of cat saliva is an allergic trigger in sensitive individuals,
something which can usually be alleviated through medication, by
bathing or shaving the cat, or by adopting a breed with shorter
fur (such as a Siamese) or little to no hair at all (such as the
Cornish Rex or Sphinx.)
Cats are seasonally polyestrous, which means they may have many
periods of heat over the course of a year. A heat period lasts about
4 to 7 days if the female is bred; if she is not, the heat period
The male cat's penis has spines which point backwards. Upon withdrawal
of the penis, the spines rake the walls of the female's vagina.
The female needs this stimulation for ovulation to begin. Because
this does not always occur, females are rarely impregnated by the
first male with which they mate. Furthermore, cats are superfecund;
that is, a female may mate with more than one male when she is in
heat, meaning different kittens in a litter may have different fathers.
The reproduction process can be very loud, as both cats vocalize
loudly. If one is not used to the sounds of cats mating, it sounds
very much like a cat fight.
The gestation period for cats is approximately 63-65 days. The
size of a litter averages three to five kittens, with the first
litter usually smaller than subsequent litters. Kittens are weaned
at between six and seven weeks, and cats normally reach sexual maturity
at 4-10 months (females) and to 5-7 months (males.)
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