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.
“If a dog jumps onto your lap it is because he is fond of you; but if a cat does the same thing it is because your lap is warmer.” – A. N. Whitehead (1861 – 1947)
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 that 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.
“Curiosity killed the cat” – Anonymous
Cats make a distinctive set of vocal sounds. The meow call is typically made for humans, not for other adult cats. The meow can be low-pitched if the cat is agitated or high-pitched if the cat is happy or is welcoming a person. The meow can be a demand for food or for attention. Mother cats use a trilling kind of meow with their kittens.
Male cats caterwaul when encountering other males and when preparing to mate with a female. Females sometimes yowl when they are in heat to attract males.
Hisses, screams, or growls indicate a cat is frightened or feels threatened. Other cat sounds include chirps and chatters when looking for prey.
Purring is thought to be produced by moving muscles in the voice box and in the diaphragm as the cat breathes in and out. Although cats often purr to show contentment, cats also purr when they are injured or in distress. Some research suggests the vibrations from purring may help heal injured bones.
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.
COAT OF COLOURS
The domestic cat’s original coat color was probably grayish-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 pigment.
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 sex-linked.
“No one who has ever had a dog or cat can doubt the animal capacity for happiness…Like uninhibited human happiness, the pleasure is contagious, and pets serve as a conduit to joyful feelings.” – Jeffrey Masson