By on Jul 9, 2007 | In About Cats
The Cat (Felis silvestris catus), also known as the Domestic Cat or House Cat to distinguish it from other felines, is a small carnivorous species of mammal that is often valued by humans for its companionship and its ability to hunt vermin. It has been associated with humans for at least 9,500 years, possibly much longer. A skilled predator, the cat is known to hunt over 1,000 species for food. It is intelligent and can be trained to obey simple commands. Individual cats have also been known to learn to manipulate simple mechanisms. Cats use a variety of vocalizations and types of body language for communication, including mewing ("meow" or "miaow"), purring, hissing, growling, squeaking, chirping, clicking, and grunting.
A study by the National Cat Institute published in the journal Science says that all house cats are descended from a group of self-domesticating desert wildcats Felis silvestris lybica circa 10,000 years ago, in the Near East. All wildcat subspecies can interbreed, but domestic cats are all genetically contained within Felis silvestris lybica.
Anatomy and Morphology
Internal anatomy of a cat: carnivorous mammal of the feline family, with retractile claws. There are both wild and domestic varieties.
Lung: respiratory organ.
Spinal column: important part of the nervous system.
Stomach: part of digestive tract between esophagus and small intestine.
Kidney: blood-purifying organ.
Colon: large intestine.
Small intestine: last part of the digestive tract.
Testicle: sperm producing sexual organ.
Bladder: pouch in which urine collects before it's eliminated.
Spleen: hematopoiesis organ that produces lymphocytes.
Liver: bile-producing digestive gland.
Heart: organ that pumps blood.
Trachea: tube carrying the air to the lung.
Esophagus: first part of the digestive tract.
Tongue: taste organ of a cat.
Oral cavity: chamber of the mouth.
Nasal cavity: chamber of the nose.
Larynx: part of a cat's throat that contains the vocal cords.
Cats typically weigh between 2.5 and 7 kg (5.5 to 16 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. Conversely, very small cats (less than 1.8 kg / 4.0 lb)have been reported.
Cats also possess rather loose skin; this allows them to turn and confront a predator or another cat in a fight, even when it has a grip on them. This is also an advantage for veterinary purposes, as it simplifies injections. In fact, the life of cats with kidney failure can sometimes be extended for years by the regular injection of large volumes of fluid subcutaneously, which serves as an alternative to dialysis.
The particularly loose skin at the back of the neck is known as the scruff, and is the area by which a mother cat grips her kittens to carry them. As a result, cats tend to become quiet and passive when gripped there. This tendency often extends into adulthood, and can be useful when attempting to treat or move an uncooperative cat. However, since an adult cat is heavier than a kitten, a pet cat should never be carried by the scruff, but should instead have their weight supported at the rump and hind legs, and at the chest and front paws. Often (much like a small child) a cat will lie with its head and front paws over a person's shoulder, and its back legs and rump supported under the person's arm.
Cats have 7 cervical vertebrae like almost all mammals, 13 thoracic vertebrae (humans have 12), 7 lumbar vertebrae (humans have 5), 3 sacral vertebrae like most mammals (humans have 5 because of their bipedal posture), and, except for Manx cats, 22 or 23 caudal vertebrae (humans have 3 to 5, fused into an internal coccyx). The extra lumbar and thoracic vertebrae account for the cat's enhanced spinal mobility and flexibility, compared with humans. The caudal vertebrae form the tail, used by the cat as a counterbalance to the body during quick movements. Cats also do not possess a clavicle, which allows them to pass their body through any space into which they can fit their head.
Cats have highly specialized teeth and a digestive tract suitable for the digestion of meat. The premolar and first molar together compose the carnassial pair on each side of the mouth, which efficiently functions to shear meat like a pair of scissors. While this is present in dogs, it is highly developed in felines. The cat's tongue has sharp spines, or papillae, useful for retaining and ripping flesh from a carcass. These papillae are small backward-facing hooks that contain keratin which also assist in their grooming.
Thirty-two individual muscles in the ear allow for a manner of directional hearing: the cat can move each ear independently of the other. Because of this mobility, a cat can move its body in one direction and point its ears in another direction. Most cats have straight ears pointing upward. Unlike dogs, flap-eared breeds are extremely rare. (Scottish Folds are one such exceptional genetic mutation.) When angry or frightened, a cat will lay back its ears, to accompany the growling or hissing sounds it makes. Cats also turn their ears back when they are playing, or to listen to a sound coming from behind them. The angle of a cat's ears is an important clue to their mood.
Cats, like dogs, are digitigrades: they walk directly on their toes, the bones of their feet making up the lower part of the visible leg. Cats are capable of walking very precisely, because like all felines they directly register; that is, they place each hind paw (almost) directly in the print of the corresponding forepaw, minimizing noise and visible tracks. This also provides sure footing for their hind paws when they navigate rough terrain.
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