The Cat’s Biology
By Hercule Straus-Durkheim — Anatomie descriptive et comparative du chat, Public Domain,
The domesticated cat commonly known as a house cat is one of the most loved creatures in the world. This animal is estimated to have a worldwide population of sixty million. The relationship between humans and cats is ancient most likely occurring around 6000 years ago. Cats were believed to be domesticated in ancient Egypt, most likely due to the predatory nature of the creature and its ability to kill rodents and other pests that plagued civilization. Cats continue to be favored by humans and have adapted to all different environments as humans have taken them to every corner of the world.
The domesticated cat (Felis catus) is a carnivorous mammal that averages about 28 inches in length and weighs approximately five to twenty lbs (Kraft, 1998). There are a known seventy different breeds of cats but all breeds belong to the same species (Walker, 1982). Some species such as the Maine Coon may appear to be of a different species because of their size which can exceed twenty pounds, but they are still part of the same species (Walker, 1982).
Domestic cats have evolved along the same line as their larger brethren of wild cats. Hover, the domestic cat is a unique predator in that it is highly adaptable to many different environments. Cats are found in many different climates and they are able to withstand high heat and low temperatures. In fact cats are readily found on every continent except in the extreme settings of the north pole or Antarctica. Cats do live in cold weather settings such as Alaska, the tundra, and Iceland (Walker, 1982). Cats have adapted to living in deserts, and in tropical places such as remote islands and jungles (Walker, 1982).
Cats are similar to most mammals, sharing the same organs, but what makes the domestic cat highly adaptable is its skeletal system. The cat skeletal system has made it able to survive through its focus on hunting and killing small creatures. The domestic cat is more adaptable than its wild cousins such as the lion because lions are forced to feed on larger prey which limits its ability to expand beyond certain environments (Walker, 1982). The small size of the domestic cat has allowed for its expansion into any area which has populations of vermin or small animals to hunt.
The domestic cat has a spine consisting of: seven cervical vertebrae, 13 thoracic, 7 lumbar vertebrae, 3 sacral vertebrae, variable number of caudal vertebrae in the tail (Kraft, 1998). The cats has many more lumbar and thoracic vertebrae than most other mammals and this provides the cat with the highly mobile and flexible spinal cord.
The tail is free moving and used to balance the cat when it makes complex turns and maneuvers. Different than most other mammals, the cat’s front legs and shoulders are controlled by free-floating clavicles (Walker, 1982). This provides the cat with the ability to pass through any opening which its head is able to fit through.
The skeleton is complimented by its unique skull. Unlike most mammals, the cat skull has extremely large eye sockets and a jaw specifically designed for killing. The large eye sockets provide the cat with a large range of vision which it uses for hunting and evading other predators. The cats jaw is powerful with sharp teeth designed to deliver a specific attack known as the neck bite (Walker, 1982). This bite uses the longer canines of the cat’s teeth to penetrate the skin and muscle and break the spine of of its prey (Walker, 1982). The molars and canines are able to work like shears which the cat uses to tear flesh off of its prey. The cat skeleton is also equipped with retractable claws which it can use as needed to capture and hold prey.
These claws have evolved to lock onto prey and keep it from wiggling away. This highly specialized skeletal system allows for tremendous flexibility and the ability to stalk and hunt prey with ease. The cat skeleton provides the cat with the ability to pounce on prey from large distances and to navigate difficult terrain (Walker, 1982).
The domestic cat has also developed several sense which allow it to be adaptable to almost any environment. Cats have a wide rand of hearing that goes above and below the hearing limits of humans. This adaptation has occurred as the cat needed to be able to hear small prey such as mice within holes and other small spaces. was needed. Cats also have powerful night vision and can see in almost complete darkness (Walker, 1982).
In many ways the domestic cat has evolved into the perfect predator for killing small prey. The specialized skeletal system allows the cat to hunt prey and evade other predators with high speed and maneuverability. This ability to hunt small prey has probably been the reason that domestic cats have been able to flourish throughout the world. There is almost no environment which does not have rodents which cats can hunt (Case, 2003). As the highly adaptable nature of cats has made them able to survive in the wild as well as in urban settings. Feral cats dominate city environments throughout the world feeding on human refuse and the vermin that is attracted by this refuse. This ability to kill vermin has had the dual impact of making cats loved and valued by humans across the world. More than 30% of humans own one or more cats (Walker, 1982). This relationship between humans and cats has further allowed the species to flourish as humans commonly breed cats and care for them.
Case, L. P. (2003). The Cat: Its Behavior, Nutrition, and Health. Ames, IA: Iowa State University Press.
Kraft, W. (1998). Geriatrics in canine and feline internal medicine. European Journal of Medical Research , 3 (1–2), 31–41.
Walker, W. F. (1982). Study of the Cat with Reference to Human Beings (4 ed.). New York , Ny: Thomson Learning.