Domestic Cat

Felis catus

Summary 4

The domestic cat (Felis catus or Felis silvestris catus) is a small, usually furry, domesticated, and carnivorous mammal. It is often called the housecat when kept as an indoor pet, or simply the cat when there is no need to distinguish it from other felids and felines. Cats are often valued by humans for companionship and their ability to hunt vermin and household pests.

Associations 5

Domestic cats are great pest control agents for rodents in and around areas of human habitation. Cats can become infected with hookworm (Ancylostoma and Uncinaria) larvae either from ingested food or from penetration through the skin. Once infection occurs, hookworms travel to the lungs and then to the intestines where they develop into adults and attach to the intestinal walls. Hookworm infestation can cause anemia and if left untreated can result in blood in the feces and eventually death. Roundworms (Toxascaris leonina and Toxocara cati), the most common parasites among house cats, may infect cats when they eat rodents. Approximately 25% to 75% of the global cat population is estimated to be infected with roundworms. Roundworms also live and develop in the intestine where females produce eggs that are excreted with feces. Infection can result in intestinal blockage and death. Sometimes, larvae from domestic cats can be passed onto humans causing visceral larval migrans and ocular larval migrans. Cats can become infected with tapeworms during grooming by ingesting larvae or eggs or by eating infected rodents. Controlling infection is highly successful with the aid of medications from veterinarians. Tapeworms rarely cause significant illness or death in domestic cats.

Mutualist Species:

  • humans, (Homo sapiens)

Commensal/Parasitic Species:

  • fleas, (Siphonaptera)
  • ticks, (Ixodida)
  • ringworm, (Dermatophytosis)
  • mites, (Acari)
  • lice, (Pthiraptera)
  • fly larvae, (Diptera)
  • roundworms, (Nematoda)
  • tapeworms, (Cestoda)
  • hookworms, (Ancylostomatidae)
  • coccidians, (Coccidia)

Associations 6

Domestic cats have no predators.

Associations 7

Association between Felis catus and human caregivers has occurred for perhaps 4,000 years.Invasion History: Domestication of Felis silvestris and possibly Felis lybica began around 4,000 years ago in Egypt. Domesticated Felis cattus can readily interbreed with both of these to form viable (fertile) offspring. In fact, recent mitochondrial DNA studies suggest that both F. lybica and F. cattus shuld be considered subspecies of F. silvestris.Human-aided spread of Felis cattus was facilitated both by the animals' beneficial mousing skills and the fact that Egypt was an important trading port in the ancient world. The Egyptians took cats with them on shipping vessels to keep rodent populations in check, and they likely introduced domestic cats to Europe in this manner. In turn, expansion of the Roman Empire and, later, European missionary zeal facilitated the spread of domestic cats into Asia and beyond.Modern house cats keep feral cat numbers high through escapes and through high fecundity and multiple estrous cycles of females. Potential to Compete With Natives: La Bruna (2001) estimates that over a half-billion birds a year are killed in the U.S. by a combined feral and outdoor-kept cat population estimated at more than 90-million animals. Dewey (2005) notes Felis cattushas been directly responsible for declines in a number of bird and mammal populations, especially small, island populations. Possible Economic Consequences of Invasion: Domestic house cats have significant positive economic value for companionship and for vermin control. In the feral Felis catus population, however, these positives are outweighed by the ecoolgical damage these animals can cause.In addition to the ecological impacts, Felis cattus carries a number of diseases that are transmissible to humans, including rabies, cat-scratch fever, and various parasitic infections (Dewey, 2005). Efforts to manage feral cat populations are costly, and the partial solution of TNR feral cat colonies is controversial.F. cattus species has been nominated as among 100 of the "World's Worst" invaders by the Invasive Species Specialist Group (ISSG).

Behaviour 8

Body language and vocalizations are ways in which domestic cats communicate with conspecifics. Relaxed individuals often have their ears forward and whiskers relaxed. Adults display contentedness via purring. Kittens also purr and knead or prod when content and suckling their mother. Domestic cats also "meow", which changes meaning in relation to posture. If a cat is upset it will likely growl, hiss, or even spit at another cat or animal. In general , cats have advanced auditory perception. Their pinna can rotate 180° to either face frontward or be flattened back or any direction in between. With three inner ear cannals in each of the three dimensional planes, domestic cats have a great sense of balance. Their ears are sensitive enough to hear ten octaves, which is two more than a human can hear. Domestic cats can hear a broad range of frequencies, from 50 to 65 kilohertz, versus humans which can only hear sounds between 18 and 20 kilohertz. They have vabrissae on the muzzle, eyebrows, and elbows which function as haptic receptors. These touch receptors allow house cats to navigate their way around obstacles in low light conditions by sensing changes in air flow around an object as it approaches it.

Peripheral vision in domestic cats is very good but their eyes are also farsighted (an adaptation for hunting), which doesn't allow them to focus on objects within a 2 feet. A reflective membrane in the back of the eye, called the tapetum lucidum, reflects light from behind the eye's retina and intensifies it. Species possessing tapetum lucidum are able to see exceptionally well in low light. Cats cannot see most colors, although some researchers believe that they may be able to see red and blue. The third eyelid, or haw, is a semi-transparent protective lid which typically retracts into the inner corner of the eye.

With about 200 million olfactory cells, the domestic cat's nose is about thirty times more sensitive than that of humans. Jacobson's organ (i.e., the vomeronasal organ) is located immediately dorsal to the hard palate and is particularly exposed to scent molecules when an individual inhales via the mouth.

A domestic cat's tongue is covered in hundreds of papillae; hook-like structures, which face backwards and are used to comb and clean the fur. Domestic cats sometimes socially groom, but typically grooming is a singular task unless the cat is the individual's mother. Taste buds are located on the sides, tip, and back of the tongue and allow domestic cats to perceive bitter, acidic and salty flavors but not sweet.

Communication Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical

Other Communication Modes: mimicry ; pheromones ; scent marks

Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; vibrations ; chemical

Cyclicity 9

Comments: In Brooklyn, New York, nighttime activity peaked at 0100 h and at sunrise; activity levels declined throughout fall and increased in spring (Haspel and Calhoon 1993).

Description 10

Feral house cats, Felis catus, are often overlooked in discussions of exotic nuisance animals due to their ubiquity and our familiarity with them as companion animals. They are, however, among the most ecologically damaging introduced animals worldwide.Domestic cats are characterized by a number of well-known physical characteristics. These include a flexible and compact body, keen eyesight and adaptations for visual acuity at night, retractable claws, sharp teeth and a reduction in numbers of teeth (e.g., the hind chewing teeth) reflecting adaptation as a carnivore, long vibrissae (whiskers), and a long and flexible tail important as an aid to balance (LaBruna 2001, ISSG).F. catus is among the smaller members of the felid family, but shares with other family members the trait of being an agile and efficient predator.

Distribution 11

Felis catus can be found on every continent except Antarctica, generally in human populated areas. This species can be found on a large number islands as well. Their nearly global distribution can be attributed their domestication by humans; however, there is a large global feral population as well.

Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Introduced ); palearctic (Introduced ); oriental (Native ); ethiopian (Native ); neotropical (Introduced ); australian (Introduced ); oceanic islands (Introduced )

Other Geographic Terms: holarctic ; cosmopolitan

Distribution 12

occurs (regularly, as a native taxon) in multiple nations

Distribution 13

Global Range: Feral populations occur worldwide in terrestrial habitats, including all main Hawaiian Islands, though populations are small or absent where winter climate severe. The Old World wild cat, from which the domestic cat originated, ranges widely throughout the Palearctic region, from Scotland to South Africa and from Morocco to central and southern China.

Distribution 14

Domestic Felis catus are believed to be the results of several millennia of human domestication of one or both of two closely related wild species, the European wild cat, Felis silvestris (probable ancestral line), and the African wild cat Felis lybica. The area of original domestication is believed to be centered in or around Egypt.Domestic and escaped feral F. catus are now distributed worldwide, notwithstanding a few isolated islands where the species has either not been introduced by humans or has failed to become established (La Bruna 2001). Feral Felis catus are well-established throughout the state, including the 6 India River Lagoon watershed counties. A number of feral cat colonies comprised of often large numbers of so-called "TNR" cats (individuals that have been trapped, neutered or spayed, and released into the colony population) are also located in the India River Lagoon region.

Ecology 15

See Turner and Bateson (1988) for information on social behavior. In Brooklyn, New York, cat distribution varied with availability of shelter, not dependent on food supply (Calhoon and Haspel 1989); home range averaged 2-3 ha (Haspel and Calhoon 1989). Feral populations may attain densities of up to a few hundred per sq. km (Kitchener 1991). Coleman (1992) estimated a density of 33/sq. km in rural sections of one Wisconsin county.

See Tomich (1986) for brief overview of literature regarding feral cat populations throughout the world.

Functional adaptation 16

Tongue defeats gravity: cats

The tongue of the cat pulls liquid into its mouth by exploiting fluid inertia to beat gravity. 

  "Animals have developed a range of drinking strategies depending on physiological and environmental constraints. Vertebrates with incomplete cheeks use their tongue to drink; the most common example is the lapping of cats and dogs. We show that the domestic cat (Felis catus) laps by a subtle mechanism based on water adhesion to the dorsal side of the tongue. A combined experimental and theoretical analysis reveals that Felis catus exploits fluid inertia to defeat gravity and pull liquid into the mouth. This competition between inertia and gravity sets the lapping frequency and yields a prediction for the dependence of frequency on animal mass. Measurements of lapping frequency across the family Felidae support this prediction, which suggests that the lapping mechanism is conserved among felines." (Reis et al. 2010)

Watch video
  Learn more about this functional adaptation.

Growth 17

Gestation lasts for 63-65 days. Litter size typically averages 4-6 young ( O'Donnell 2001).

Habitat 18

Domestic cats primarily live in areas of human habitation and are somewhat constrained to developed areas. Most feral populations live in close proximity to current or past human settlements.

Habitat Regions: temperate ; terrestrial

Other Habitat Features: urban ; suburban ; agricultural

Habitat 19

Comments: Mainly in or not far from areas inhabited by humans but also in natural habitats up to several miles from a village or town.

Known prey organisms 20

Felis silvestris catus (Felis catus) preys on:
Anolis evermanni
Anolis gundlachi
Rattus rattus
Coereba flaveola
Geotrygon montana

Based on studies in:
Puerto Rico, El Verde (Rainforest)

This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.

Life expectancy 21

There is no information available regarding the average lifespan of domestic cats in the wild. Captive individuals, however, are expected to live for approximately 14 years.

Average lifespan
Status: captivity:
14 years.

Lifespan, longevity, and ageing 22

Maximum longevity: 30 years (captivity) Observations: Domestic cats descend from wild cats (*Felis silvestris*). There are conflicting reports concerning the longevity of cats and estimating their maximum longevity is difficult and error-prone. The oldest cat is reportedly "Creme Puff," a 37 year-old animal in Texas, USA (, but the accuracy of this record has not been confirmed. Cats do appear to occasionally live more than 30 years.

Look alikes 23

The only felids native to Florida are the bobcat, Lynx rufus and the highly endangered Florida panther, Puma concolor coryi. Bobcats grow to around twice as large as Felis catus, and their distinctive black bar-shaped markings on the forelegs and black-tipped, stump tail allow easy differentiation between the species. Confusing a feral domestic cat for a Florida panther is unlikely.

Management 24

Management Requirements: Courchamp and Sugihara (1999) discussed the potential use of Feline Immunodeficinecy Virus and Feline Leukemia Virus to control feral cat populations (e.g., on islands where cats are a threat to native species). Both were deemed potentially useful, and culling may be more efficient when combined with virus introduction.

Migration 25

Non-Migrant: Yes. At least some populations of this species do not make significant seasonal migrations. Juvenile dispersal is not considered a migration.

Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make local extended movements (generally less than 200 km) at particular times of the year (e.g., to breeding or wintering grounds, to hibernation sites).

Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make annual migrations of over 200 km.

Morphology 26

Felis catus most likely originated from African wild cats or Asian desert cats. Although both species have the same number of chromosomes as Felis catus, Asian desert cats are common around human settlements and are easily tamed. There are over 100 breeds of domestic cats but all have a very similar body shape and size. Adult mass ranges from 4.1 to 5.4 kg, and average length is 76.2 cm. Interbreed variation is defined based on coat type and coloration or patterning of the fur. Domestic cat have approximately 244 bones in their body, of which about 30 are vertebrae (the number can vary depending upon the length of cat). With so many vertebrae in their spine, cats are very flexible and can rotate half of their spine 180°. They are capable of jumped five times their own height and are able to slip through narrow spaces because they have no collar bone and their scapula lie medially on their body. Each forelimb (i.e., manus) has five digits and the hindlimbs (i.e., pes) have four. Polydactyly is not uncommon among house cats. They have retractable claws on each paw, which typically do not extend when the animal walks. They have 26 teeth that usually develop within the first year. The dental formula for this species is 3/3, 1/1, 2/2, 1/1. When kittens are about two weeks old they develop deciduous or milk teeth above the gums. By the end of the fourth month the milk incisors are replaced by permanent teeth.

Range mass: 4.1 to 5.4 kg.

Average length: 76.2 cm.

Other Physical Features: endothermic ; homoiothermic; bilateral symmetry ; polymorphic

Population biology 27

There are an estimated 10 million owned house cats in Florida. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has estimated that the feral cat population in Florida is roughly on the same order, i.e., between 6 to 10 million animals (FWCC 2001).The estimated U.S. population of feral cats is 60 million (ISSG).

Reproduction 28

House cats are polygynandrous, as both males and females have multiple mates throughout the year.

Mating System: polygynandrous (promiscuous)

Unless pregnant, female house cats go into estrus approximately every 21 days during breeding season, which occurs from March to September in the Northern hemisphere and from October to March in the southern hemisphere. Male house cats patrol territories in search of estrus females during mating season. Estrus females call loudly to potential mates, while continually rolling on the ground. When a potential mate arrives, females present their rumps, which lets the male know they are in estrus. When a pair meets, they may mate many times over a few hours before parting ways. Females have induced ovulation which is stimulated by copulation. Gestation ranges from 60 to 67 days. Average litter size has not been documented for this species; however, as many as 18 kittens in a single litter has been reported. Neonate mass ranges from 110 to 125 g. Most kittens are weaned by 7 to 8 weeks after birth and are completely independent by 12 weeks. Females are reproductively mature by 6 months, and males are reproductively mature by 8 months.

Breeding interval: Females go into oestrus approximately every 21 days during the breeding season unless mated.

Breeding season: March to September in the Northern Hemishpere or October to March in the Southern Hemisphere

Range number of offspring: 18 (high) .

Range gestation period: 60 to 67 days.

Range weaning age: 7 to 8 weeks.

Average time to independence: 12 weeks.

Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 6 months.

Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 8 months.

Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; year-round breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; induced ovulation ; viviparous

House cat kittens are cared for by their mothers, and paternal care is virtually non-existent. In some cases, unrelated females may aid new mothers by caring for and nursing her kittens while she hunts. This behavior is rare, however, and often mothers are forced to leave their kittens unguarded while hunting. Mothers also purr to their kittends, which is thought to kitten stress levels. Females nurse their kittens until around 8 weeks after birth, when weaning is completed. Prior to independence, kittens learn how to hunt by mimicking their mother. Mothers also take an active role in teaching their young how to hunt by allowing them to hunt only very small animals, such as small mice. Kittens are not permitted to hunt larger prey, such as rats, right away. Weaning is usually complete by 7 to 8 weeks; however, kittens do not leave their mother until they are 6 to 8 months old, depending on sex.

Parental Investment: precocial ; female parental care ; pre-hatching/birth (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); pre-independence (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); extended period of juvenile learning

Reproduction 29

As with all mammals, reproduction in Felis catus is sexual and fertilization is internal. Reproduction occurs year-round where resource availability permits.Relative to other members of the mammalian order Carnivora, F. catus exhibits a high fecundity. This is largely related to the rapid onset of sexual maturity in females, typically between 7-12 months of age, and the capacity for females to come into estrous as often as 5 time a year (Ogan and Jurek 1997, Gunther and Terkel 2002). Females can produce as many as 3 litters in a year (Fitzwater 1994).

Risk statement 30

Species Impact: Identified as serious threat to nesting Newell's shearwater and Hawaiian (dark-rumped) petrel in Hawaii (Simons 1984). On western Mauna Kea, Hawaii, Amarasekare (1994) found no evidence that this species preys on eggs, young, or adults of endemic birds. Cats apparently have exterminated one (probably 2) endemic birds on Isla Socorro (Mexico); also preying on Townsend's shearwater (Jehl 1984).

Size 31

The life expectancy of feral cats is considerably shorter than that of their house-kept counterparts, between 2 and 3 years of age for feral animals versus 10-15 years or longer for house cats.The average head and body length of adult Felis catus is around 46 cm and the tail length averages around 30 cm. Adult feral cats typically weigh 3.3-4.5 kg, with males being at the larger end of the range and females at the lower end (ISSG).

Taxonomy 32

Comments: The domestic cat is treated by different authors as either a distinct species (Felis catus) or as a subspecies (Felis sylvestris catus). For convenience, it is treated here as Felis catus to distinguish it from the wild populations of Felis sylvestris. Wozencraft (in Wilson and Reeder 2005) discussed the taxonomy of catus and sylvestris and listed Felis catus and Felis sylvestris as distinct species. Baker et al. (2003) also listed the domestic cat as Felis catus.

Trophic strategy 33

Domestic cats are carnivorous, and a healthy diet consists of about 30 to 35% muscle meat, 30% carbohydrates, and 8 to 10% fats, which promote growth and healthy skin and coat. Feral cats may hunt for rodents or birds. Most domestic cats depend on human supplied feed. Adult females require around 200 to 300 calories per day, whereas adult males need between 250 and 300 calories per day. In order to kill their prey, all felids bite the back of the neck at the base of the skull, thus, severing the spinal chord from the brain stem. Primary prey for feral animals includes small rodents, birds, fish, and some arthropods. Occasionally, domestic cats ingest plant material to fulfill fiber deficiencies.

Animal Foods: birds; mammals; fish; insects

Plant Foods: leaves

Primary Diet: carnivore (Eats terrestrial vertebrates)

Trophic strategy 34

Felis catus is a predatory carnivore that readily preys on birds and small mammals as well as reptiles, and amphibians. La Bruna (2001) suggests that house cats have retained their instinctive hunting skills to insure that specific nutritional requirements for fresh animal protein are met.

Trophic strategy 35

Comments: Diet of feral populations dominated by rodents, rabbits, and/or birds; also eats lizards and arthropods.

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