The Cat Essay

This essay has a total of 3211 words and 14 pages.

The Cat

Cat, Domestic, small, mainly carnivorous animal, Felis catus, member of the family
Felidae, popular as a household pet, and valuable for killing mice and rats. Like other
members of the cat family, the domestic cat has retractile claws; keen hearing and smell;
remarkable night vision; and a compact, muscular, and highly supple body. Cats possess
excellent memory and exhibit considerable aptitude for learning by observation and
experience. The natural life span of a domestic cat is about 15 years.

IIORIGIN OF SPECIES Most authorities believe that the shorthaired breeds of domestic cat
are derived from the Caffre cat, F. libyca, a species of African wildcat domesticated by
the ancient Egyptians perhaps as early as 2500 BC and transported by the Crusaders to
Europe, where it interbred with the indigenous smaller wildcats. The longhaired breeds may
have sprung from the Asian wildcat, F. manul. Over the centuries, cats have remained
virtually the same in size, weighing about 3.6 kg (about 8 lb) when full-grown, and have
preserved their instinct for solitary hunting.

APhysiology of the Cat The body of a domestic cat is extremely flexible; its skeleton
contains more than 230 bones (the human skeleton, although much larger, contains 206
bones), and its pelvis and shoulders are more loosely attached to its spine than in most
other quadrupeds. The cat's great leaping ability and speed are due in part to its
powerful musculature. Its tail provides balance when jumping or falling.

The cat's claws are designed for catching and holding prey. The sharp, hooked, retractile
claws are sheathed in a soft, leathery pocket at the end of each toe, and are extended for
fighting, hunting, and climbing. The cat marks its territory by scratching and scenting
trees or other objects; its claws leave visible scratch marks, and the scent glands on its
paw pads leave a scent mark.

The cat's teeth are designed for biting, not for chewing. Its powerful jaw muscles and
sharp teeth enable the cat to deliver a killing bite to its prey.

BSenses The cat's vision is exceptionally well adapted for hunting, especially at night.
It has excellent night vision; extensive peripheral vision; and binocular vision, which
enables it to accurately judge distances. The cat's daylight vision is not as good as that
of humans; cats see movement much more easily than detail, and are thought to see only a
limited range of colors.

The cat's hearing is extremely sensitive. It can hear a wide range of sounds, including
those in the ultrasonic range. Its ears are less sensitive to lower frequencies, which may
explain why some domestic cats are more responsive to female voices than to male voices.
The cat can turn its ears to focus on different sounds.

The cat has a highly developed sense of smell, which plays a vital role in finding food
and in reproduction. Many of the social signals of domestic cats take the form of scents;
for example, male cats can apparently smell a female cat who is receptive to male cats
from a distance of hundreds of meters or yards.

The cat's sense of taste is peculiarly specialized: it has little ability to detect
sweetness, but is extremely sensitive to slight variations in the taste of water. The
cat's tongue is covered with rough protuberances, or papillae, that it uses to rasp meat
from bones. It also uses its tongue to groom itself.

The cat's whiskers, or vibrissae, are extremely sensitive to the slightest touch, and are
used for testing obstacles and sensing changes in the environment. In extremely dim light,
a cat may feel its way by using its whiskers.

CReproduction The domestic cat usually reaches puberty at around nine or ten months of
age. A sexually mature female cat goes into heat, or estrus, several times a year; during
estrus, she is both receptive to, and attractive to, male cats. The gestation period of
the cat is about 65 days; the average litter consists of 4 kittens. Kittens are born
blind, deaf, and helpless. Their eyes open at 8 to 10 days of age, and they begin to be
weaned about 6 weeks after birth.

DCoat Colors The domestic cat's original coat color was probably greyish-brown with darker
tabby stripes, a color that provides excellent camouflage in a variety of environments.
All other coat colors and patterns are the result of genetic mutations; for example, solid
coat colors such as black and blue are the result of a gene that suppresses tabby stripes;
an orange coat is the result of a gene that transforms black pigment to orange; and a
solid white coat is the result of a gene that completely suppresses all formation of

Two pigments, black and orange, form the basis for all coat colors in the modern domestic
cat. These pigments may be combined with each other or with white (the absence of
pigment). A single gene, the O (Orange) gene, determines whether a cat's coat contains
black or orange pigment. The O gene can be thought of as a switch that is either on
(orange) or off (black). The gene is located on the X chromosome, so its inheritance is

IIICAT BREEDS About 40 varieties, or breeds, of domestic cats are recognized
internationally. Although the various cat breeds often differ dramatically in coat length
and overall look, they vary less in size than do dog breeds. The smallest cat breeds weigh
about 2 to 3 kg (about 5 to 7 lb) when full grown; the largest weigh about 7 to 9 kg
(about 15 to 20 lb). So far, attempts to develop miniature or giant domestic cat breeds
have been unsuccessful.

ABreed Origins Many domestic cat breeds, including the Maine coon, Manx, Russian blue, and
Siamese, began as a naturally-occurring variety of domestic cat native to a specific
geographic area. Others, such as the Himalayan, are man-made breeds, the result of
generations of careful breeding for a desired look. Some relatively new breeds, including
the curly-coated Rex breeds, the hairless Sphynx, the fold-eared Scottish fold, and the
curl-eared American curl, began with a genetic mutation and were then developed by
selective breeding into a distinct breed.

BBreed Standards For each domestic cat breed, there is an official standard of perfection
registered with different cat associations that describes the ideal cat of that breed and
its distinctive features; lists desirable and undesirable characteristics; and mentions
faults that, in a cat show, could result in penalty or disqualification. For example, in
the Siamese breed standard, the eyes are described as almond-shaped and slanting toward
the nose; a tendency to squint is penalized, and crossed eyes are a disqualifying fault.

Breed standards differ slightly from cat association to cat association, and not all cat
associations recognize every breed. To become recognized in a particular cat association,
a breed must first be accepted for provisional status by that association. To become
recognized for championship competition, the breed must complete a rigorous set of
requirements that differ from association to association.

IVTHE CARE OF CATS Cats are known for their ability to fend for themselves in the wild,
but household pets, dependent on human beings for care and feeding, require considerable
attention. Educational materials on the care of cats and responsible cat ownership are
available through bookstores and local humane societies.

AGeneral Care Although cats have a reputation for being relatively independent, domestic
cats require love and attention from their owners. A balanced daily diet, such as that
provided by high-quality commercial cat food, is essential for health and longevity, as is
a regular supply of fresh water. Regular cleaning of litter pans is necessary to prevent
disease; some cats will refuse to use a badly soiled litter pan. Cats' claws should be
trimmed frequently. To prevent damage to furniture, cats that live indoors should be
provided with a scratching post, preferably covered with a rough material such as sisal
rope. Cats use their tongues to clean their coats, and they normally swallow any loose
hair. All cats, including shorthairs, should be brushed weekly to remove loose hair; this
will help prevent hairballs from forming in their stomachs. A few longhaired breeds, such
as the Persian and the Himalayan, require daily combing to prevent their long, soft fur
from matting.

BNeutering or Spaying Every year hundreds of thousands of unwanted domestic cats and
kittens are destroyed because homes cannot be found for them. To avoid contributing to
this problem, a cat should be altered (surgically treated to make it incapable of
reproducing) unless it is a registered, pedigreed member of a responsible breeding
program. A female cat is spayed (altered by removing the uterus and ovaries); a male cat
is neutered (altered by removing the testicles). Cats that have been altered are healthier
and easier to live with. Unaltered females may be susceptible to uterine infections and
ovarian cysts; unaltered cats of both sexes may mark their territory by spraying urine.
Some veterinarians recommend altering cats as young as 12 weeks of age, while others
recommend waiting until the animal reaches sexual maturity (at six to ten months of age).
Current veterinary research indicates that early altering has little negative effect on a
cat's health; a low-quality diet, however, can cause serious urinary tract problems.

CIndoors vs. Outdoors Some domestic cat owners choose to keep their cats indoors; others
permit their cats to go outdoors some or all of the time. The decision of whether to allow
a cat outdoors is a personal one; cats that have been declawed, however, and those that
have not been altered, should not be allowed outdoors unless confined to a covered

Cats that are allowed outside have some degree of freedom and independence, and may enjoy
hunting small animals and interacting with other cats; they get plenty of exercise and are
unlikely to become bored or lonely. The outdoors, however, poses many hazards to cats,
even in rural areas. An outdoor cat may be struck by a car, poisoned by common pesticides,
or injured by other animals (other cats, dogs, and, in some areas, wild animals such as
coyotes). In addition, the cat may be exposed to the fatal feline diseases that are
endemic in the stray cat population. According to some authorities, a cat that is
permitted outdoors has an average life expectancy of two to three years; conversely, the
average life expectancy of an indoor cat is about 15 years.
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