Introduction to Cats
Cat, a meat-eating animal. The cat family includes not only the domestic cat, but also the tiger, lion, leopard, lynx, bobcat, and many others. Wild cats are dangerous predators, but the domestic cat is a pet and companion and is valuable as a means of controlling rats, mice, and other rodents. The young of most wild cats are called cubs; the young of domestic cats are kittens.The Devon rex is a domestic cat of English origin.
The Cat Family
Wild cats are native to all continents except Australia and Antarctica. They are found in all types of climates—from polar regions to tropical rain forests.The leopard is a large wild cat.
There are about 40 existing species of cats. The largest, the tiger, may reach about 9 feet (2.74 m) in length, excluding the tail. Other notable wild cats include the caracal, European wildcat, margay, serval, and saber-toothed tiger (an extinct species). Panther is a general name for any of several wild cats, especially the cougar and leopard. Wildcat is also a general name applied to several species. Mountain lion and puma are other names for the cougar.
All cats, from lion to housecat, are adapted for hunting. The head is large and broad, with powerful jaws and sharp, slashing teeth. Long whiskers on the sides of the face are believed to aid the cat in feeling its way through narrow places. The eye has a vertical pupil that closes to a narrow slit in bright sunlight and opens wide in dim light, maintaining the keen vision so necessary to a hunter. A cat is largely colorblind. Its senses of smell and hearing are very well developed.
The cat has a lithe body, with a loose skin. There are five toes on the front feet and four on the hind. The feet are padded for silent motion. Except for the cheetah, which has feet that look much like a dog's, all cats have claws that can be drawn backward and upward into protective sheaths. Some cats are good swimmers, but most avoid water.
The traditional belief in the “nine lives” of the cat can be traced to the animal's cleverness in getting out of trouble, and to its vigor and strong hold on life. Cats can live for several days without food, and recover from injuries that would kill most other animals.
Under their fur, cats have long, powerful bodies. The skeleton of a cat is similar in structure to other meat-eating mammals. Cats, however, have short, strong jaws and sharp teeth that are especially well suited for hunting. Their tail is an extension of their backbone. A cat uses its tail to keep its balance.
Most cats have five toes on each front paw. The innermost toe is like a thumb that is helpful for catching prey. Each toe ends in a sharp, hooklike claw. The claws are usually retracted (held back) under the skin. But, when the claws are needed, they can be quickly extended. Several spongy pads of thick skin cover the bottoms of a cat’s feet. These pads cushion the paws and allow a cat to move quietly.
A Siamese cat is like most other cats, but its body is often longer and more slender, and it has a thinner tail. A Siamese usually has a wedge-shaped head with large, pointed ears.
Cats have excellent hearing. They can hear frequencies much higher than humans. More than a dozen muscles control ear movement, allowing cats to rotate their ears (either together or independently) to listen for danger or prey.
Cats do not see things in sharp focus, but their eyes are much more sensitive to movement than humans’ eyes are. Cats appear to be colorblind or indifferent to colors. Their eyes have a mirrorlike structure, the tapetum lucidum (ta PEE tum LOO sih dum), which reflects light and helps a cat to see well in dim light. This structure also produces eyeshine, the glow a person sees when light strikes the eyes of a cat at night.
Cats have a good sense of smell. It is much better than a human’s, though not as good as a dog’s. Cats use their sense of smell to detect enemies and to find food, mates, and their own territory, which they mark with their scent.
Cats use sound and body language as means of communication. They meow, hiss, growl, scream, yowl, and make many other noises depending on the situation. Some experts estimate that cats can make more than 60 different sounds.
Cats may purr to communicate their emotions to people. Purring is often a sign that a cat is content, but it also can indicate an overflow of any emotion. A cat may even purr when it’s furious or in pain.
Cats communicate their moods and intentions with body language. When a cat is scared, angry, or excited, its fur will stand up straight, making the cat look larger and more menacing. Its tail will fluff up like a bottle brush. In contrast, a relaxed cat with a nonfluffed tail held high is confident and happy.
The Domestic Cat
Even after thousands of years of living with humans, the domestic cat maintains an independent manner. The cat can be a playful, affectionate pet, but it retains its dignity and cannot be subdued by punishment. With praise and gentle supervision, however, a cat can be trained into forming good habits.The Scottish fold is a domestic cat with a natural mutation to its ears.
Domestic cats may weigh from 6 pounds (2.7 kg) to more than 30 pounds (13.6 kg). They may live for more than 20 years. Cats can be any one of various colors or combination of colors. Many cats have tabby patterns, characterized by dark stripes on a lighter background; black and gray tabbies are especially common. Solid colors include black, red, white, silver, blue, gray, orange, and cream. The eyes may be yellow, green, hazel, orange, copper, or blue. Some cats have eyes of two different colors.
The young are born about two months after mating. There are usually four or five kittens in a litter, but there may be as many as nine. The young are completely helpless at first, with their eyes tightly closed. The eyes open within 8 to 10 days after birth. The kittens are nursed for about two months. Kittens can be taken from their mother when they are 10 to 12 weeks old.
Most veterinarians recommend that both kittens and adult cats be fed commercially prepared cat food, which is more nutritious for cats than food meant for humans. Dry cat food is generally more nutritious than moist (canned) food. Kittens should be fed a high-protein, high-calorie food two or three times a day. After a cat is about 12 months old, it should be fed only once a day, with regular cat food. Many cats like to nibble at food periodically throughout the day; these cats should always have some dry food available to them. Fresh, clean water should always be available to a cat.
Cats not intended for breeding purposes should be neutered. If the cat is to be kept indoors, it should be provided with a litter box, a tray containing a sandlike material (litter) in which the cat deposits and buries urine and feces. Kittens should be confined to the litter box area until they begin to use the box. Most cats older than three months use the litter box readily. A fixed, padded post for the cat to scratch on will help to keep it from scratching on furniture.
All cats shed to some extent. They should be brushed and groomed often to keep them attractive and comfortable. Grooming is also important to minimize the amount of hair cats swallow when they lick their hair to clean themselves. Most experts agree that cats should not be given a bath unless they become extremely dirty. Cats, like other animals, are subject to a number of diseases and disorders. These are best treated by a veterinarian. Attention to diet, however, will prevent many disorders.
Your cat sometimes acts as if it is trying to trip you up. As you are walking, your cat won’t stop twining itself around your ankles. At other times, your cat keeps bumping your face with its head. It seems as if your cat is just trying to tease you.
But a cat is actually doing something important as it circles your ankles or bumps you. These behaviors are called bunting. When a cat is bunting, it is marking you with a scent made in glands in its face. You can’t smell it, but cats can. A cat does this to claim you as its property, or territory. Your cat is saying, “You belong to me.”
Some things in or around your house that seem perfectly harmless can be a danger to a curious cat. Here are some tips to keep your feline friend safe:
Keep windows closed or screened so your pet is kept safe inside.
Keep the doors of cupboards, appliances, and closets closed to prevent your cat from getting shut inside. If you have an aquarium, make sure the hood is closed on it at all times.
Keep electrical wires hidden—some cats may chew them.
Never leave scraps of ribbon, string, dental floss, tinsel, or thread where a cat can reach them—cats may eat them and these items can badly harm a cat.
Keep all medicines and chemicals out of reach.
Don’t grow plants that are toxic to cats in your house.
Your cat needs a litter box and litter. If you have more than one cat, you need at least one litter box for each. You will need a litter scooper.
You need food and water dishes for your cat. You may also want to get your cat a bed, though many cats prefer to sleep on a comfy chair, in a cozy corner, or on your bed.
A scratching post or scratching pad is essential. A nail trimmer and a grooming brush are also necessary items.
Your cat should have a collar (with a quick-release catch) and an I.D. tag. You will need a cat carrier for travel and veterinary visits.
Finally, a basic cat first-aid kit can be purchased at most pet stores.
Any obvious pain or distress is a cause for concern. Also, any behavior that is not normal for your cat may be a sign that it is not feeling well. For instance, if your cat growls at you or bites at you without reason, it may be unwell. Or if your normally friendly cat hides from you, it could be ill. When in doubt, call your vet’s office to discuss your concerns.
Here are some of the common signs of illness:
Diarrhea or repeated vomiting in a cat. (All cats occasionally vomit, especially after eating grass, but repeated vomiting is not normal.)
Wheezing sounds when breathing, or any other sign that a cat is having trouble breathing.
A cat excessively scratching itself, especially if the scratching has caused sores.
A cat refusing food and/or water.
Routine visits to the vet will help your cat to stay healthy and live a long, happy life. Cats need immunizations (shots) against viruses, including rabies and feline leukemia virus complex. They should also have a checkup at least once a year. Older cats usually have checkups more often; if your cat is 10 years or older, ask your vet about this.
Parasites can be a problem for cats. Your Siamese may develop internal parasites, such as roundworms or tapeworms. Or it may develop external ones, such as fleas or ticks. Your vet can diagnose and treat these conditions.
Regular, monthly medication is often recommended to prevent heartworm infections, caused by a type of parasite.
As an owner, it is your responsibility to make sure your cat gets routine veterinary care. You should also watch for any signs of illness so that problems are promptly brought to the vet’s attention. In addition, you should have your cat spayed or neutered.
You must feed your cat at regular times and make sure it always has fresh water. You should not leave your cat alone for long periods.
You must guard your cat’s safety. If you plan to let your pet outside, make sure it is in an enclosed area from which your pet cannot escape. Your cat needs a collar and I.D. tags, as well.
Finally, think carefully before you have a cat declawed. Many humane societies feel the operation, even on just the front paws, is cruel and unnecessary, and it leaves a cat defenseless should it ever escape from its home.
Domestic cats are generally divided into two groups—long-haired and short-haired. Cat breeds do not show the wide variations in size and form shown by dog breeds. The descriptions given below are based largely on the specifications for the breed as determined by the Cat Fanciers' Association (CFA), the largest organization of cat owners, exhibitors, and breeders in the world. There are about 35 breeds recognized by CFA, including the following:
Developed from the Siamese, a short-haired breed. Basically the same as the Siamese except for length of the hair. Whitish with dark tail, snout, ears, and paws. Eyes are blue.The Balinese cat has a slender body, blue eyes, and silky fur.
Originated in Burma. Body color is golden cream and all four paws are white; face, ears, legs, and tail are dark. Eyes are blue.
Developed by selective crossing with Siamese and Persian. Resembles Persian in body shape and Siamese in coloring of body and eyes.
Bred in the New England area for many years; origin unknown. Large cat with long, muscular, powerful body. Coat can be any color or combination of colors; eyes, any color that complements the coat.The Maine coon cat is large and looks somewhat like a raccoon.
Wide variation in coat color; CFA recognizes about 20 different color types. Large, round head, short snub nose, wide eyes, small ears, boxy body, and short legs. Coat is silky, flowing, and luxuriant. Eyes may be orange, copper, hazel, green, or blue. Said to have originated in Persia (now Iran).
Thought to have originated in Ankara, Turkey. Body is long and tail tapering. The coat, of medium length, is white, silky and fine, with a tendency to wave. Eyes are copper or blue.
A purebred cat is one whose mother and father belong to the same breed. A crossbred cat has parents that are both purebred cats but are of different breeds—for example, a Russian blue crossed with a Siamese. A pedigreed cat is a purebred that has a document or certificate showing ancestors with unmixed breeding. Most pedigrees list three to five generations of ancestors of a purebred cat.
Many people prefer the special features of a certain breed of cat. For example, such purebreds as the Siamese and the Bombay are among the most attractive and affectionate cats in the world. But cats of no specific breed may be just as beautiful and lovable as purebreds, and they are sometimes healthier.
Resembles the cats depicted by the ancient Egyptians. Coat may be ruddy or red and eyes gold, green, or hazel.The Somali is a long-haired Abyssinian cat.
Aby is short for Abyssinian (ab uh SIHN ee uhn). The word Abyssinian means, “having to do with Abyssinia,” which is a name that was once used for the African nation of Ethiopia. People once believed the Aby cat originated in Abyssinia. Today, experts believe this cat actually originated in Asia.
The Abyssinian cat is beautiful, lean, and muscular with a long, tapering tail. This cat has a wedge-shaped head with very large ears and almond-shaped eyes.
Abys have an unusual color of coat, known as agouti (uh GOO tee). Fur that is called agouti is made up of two or three bands of light and dark colors. These alternating bands of color may be red and brown, or reddish-brown and black or dark brown.
Among most popular of the shorthair breeds. Powerfully built, muscular body with short, thick coat that may be any of numerous colors. Eye color should complement the coat color. The tabby varieties are especially common.
Very similar to American Shorthair except for coat, which is coarse, stiff, and wiry.
Similar to American Shorthair but somewhat smaller.
Said to have originated in Burma. Coat is brown; eyes, yellowish. Body shape is similar to that of the Siamese.
Very much like Siamese in body structure, but coloring is entirely different. It is either pale silvery with black markings (spots and stripes) or light bronze with dark brown markings. Eyes are green, yellow, or hazel.
Like Persian in body structure, but with a short coat. Breed produced by mating short-haired cats to Persians. Many different coat colors and patterns as well as eye colors.
Similar to Siamese, but with dark brown fur and green eyes.The Havana brown cat has a red-brown coat and vivid green eyes.
Bred for centuries in Japan. Tail is only two to three inches (51 to 76 mm) long, and the back legs are longer than the forelegs. Variety of colors.
Native to Thailand; bred for hundreds of years. Coat is silver-blue and eyes green-gold.The Korat cat has a silver-gray coat and large green eyes.
Only recognized breed that lacks tail. Old breed of unknown origin; named for the Isle of Man, where it has been bred for centuries. Eyes and coat may be any of a variety of colors.A Manx cat has no tail.
All cats are members of the family Felidae (FEE luh dy). This family includes the lion, tiger, panther, and leopard. It also includes domestic cats. Domestic cats are smaller members of the cat family that were tamed by humans long ago and which are now often kept as pets. Whether small or large, all cats are carnivores, or meat-eaters, and they are skillful hunters. In addition, all cats are warm-blooded and are mammals, animals that feed their young with milk made by the mother.
Short-haired cats are domestic cats that have short instead of long fur. A short-haired cat may have a single or double coat. A single coat is usually made up of fine or silky fur that clings close to the body. Siamese cats and Burmese cats have single coats. A double coat is made up of long hairs called guard hairs and a thick, downy undercoat. Manx and Russian blue cats have double coats.
A Colorpoint shorthair is a breed of short-haired cat that looks like a Siamese. It is a medium-sized cat with a slender body, blue eyes, and a colorpoint coat—that is, a body with light, solid-colored fur and contrasting points.
Colorpoint shorthairs come in red and cream, but they cannot be any unpatterned version of the four accepted colors for a Siamese—blue, chocolate, lilac, or seal.
Colorpoints can, however, have a pattern called lynx (also sometimes called tabby) that consists of striped fur in the points; tortie, which is a patched shading of color in the points; or tortie-lynx (sometimes called tortie-tabby), which is a combination of stripes and patches in the points. This lynx, tortie, or tortie-lynx can be the usual colorpoint coloring of red or cream, but it may also be a patterned version of the usual Siamese colors.
Thought to have originated in Russia. Bluish gray with vivid green eyes. Coat is short and very thick.The Russian blue cat is blue-gray with vivid green eyes.
Originated in Asia, probably in Siam (now Thailand). Body is cream-colored with dark ears, feet, face, and tail. Eyes are a vivid blue. The dark markings are called points and may be bluish-gray (blue-point Siamese); dark brown (seal-point Siamese); medium brown (chocolate-point Siamese); or lilac-gray (lilac-point Siamese).The Siamese cat is cream-colored with dark features and blue eyes.
In 1884, a pair of Siamese cats was brought to the United Kingdom. Their offspring won many prizes at cat shows, and the breed soon gained worldwide popularity. Siamese were first introduced into the United States in 1890.
Of the 24 short-haired breeds recognized by the Cat Fanciers’ Association (CFA), the major cat association in the United States, the Siamese is the most popular.
Siamese cats are very “talkative.” Most Siamese are louder than cats of other breeds, and their “speech” varies more in tone and pitch than other breeds. Siamese can be very insistent, too; they often issue loud, mournful meows until they get your attention.
Siamese are very affectionate. Most are active and playful, but they can also be moody and impatient. They do not do well when left alone for long periods; many Siamese need the company of another cat or dog for those times when their owner cannot devote attention to them.
Siamese cats also are curious about everything around them, and they can be mischief-makers.
The most important thing about choosing a pet kitten is that it is healthy. Some signs of good health are: alertness; normal body weight; bright, clear eyes; a clean, slightly moist nose; clean teeth and pink gums; quiet breathing (no wheezing, coughing, or sneezing); no lumps or bumps on the body; clean ears with no unpleasant smell; and a glossy coat that feels clean to the touch.
Try to choose a cat that is not at either personality extreme. Neither choose a cat that is very shy and fearful, nor one that is wild and frenzied.
There are a number of advantages to adopting an older Siamese. Often, older cats have already been spayed or neutered so that they are unable to produce young. An older cat may also have been tested for infectious diseases and is often already used to living with people.
Animal shelters in your area may well have Siamese cats available for adoption. There are also a number of sites on the Internet devoted to the rescue of purebred cats, including Siamese. These sites feature abandoned cats for adoption to loving homes. Or, breeders may sometimes have cats that are being retired from the show ring that are available to be adopted.
Most Siamese eat a diet of commercial canned or dry cat food. Whatever type of food you choose, you should vary the flavors given. Otherwise, a cat may become so used to eating only one flavor that it refuses everything else.
Some people feed their Siamese cats limited types of table food (human food), such as cottage cheese, egg yolks, and scraps of meat and vegetables. If you choose to do this, you should feed your cat table food only in very small quantities in addition to cat food. Table food does not provide a cat with a balanced, nutritious diet, which packaged food does. Like all cats, Siamese should have fresh drinking water at all times.
You may think that your Siamese should sleep in the cat bed you bought for it. Your Siamese will probably think that it should sleep in your bed—on your feet, your pillow, or your head. You, and the adults you live with, will have to decide where to allow your cat to sleep.
In general, cats prefer to sleep in warm, comfortable places. This is instinctive behavior—that is, a behavior that is not learned, but which an animal is born knowing. As hunters, sleeping in warm, cozy places helps cats to conserve energy, since they don’t need to expend any energy to keep their bodies warm. That means they don’t need to hunt for food as much.
Most Siamese cats enjoy being brushed or combed. Brushing a cat daily keeps a cat clean. It also helps to remove loose fur, which prevents hairballs and reduces shedding.
Pet Siamese cats that do not compete in shows usually do not need to be bathed. Most cats do not enjoy being wet and do not like being bathed.
A veterinarian or other adult should trim a Siamese’s nails regularly. Some people use special trimmers for this task.
Some Siamese cats develop feline acne, or chin acne, which is an infection caused by bacteria on their chin or lower lip. If your cat is prone to this, you can often prevent outbreaks by wiping its chin and face clean at least once a day with a cotton ball and warm, soapy water.
Siamese cats are very smart and eager to please. Some owners enjoy teaching their cat simple tricks. For example, a Siamese might be taught to jump up into its owner’s arms, take a bow, or to “sit up” on its back legs. Siamese can also learn to “fetch” and to walk on a leash. However, some people might say that Siamese cats train their owners, not the other way around.
To teach your cat not to claw your furniture, carpets, and drapes, give it a scratching post. Whenever you see your cat clawing a forbidden object, carry the cat to the scratching post. It will soon learn what you want.
You should not need to “train” your Siamese to use a litter box. Usually, while a kitten is still very young, it learns how to use a litter box by watching its mother. Then you need only to make sure that the litter box is easy to reach and keep it clean. If your cat does not use its litter box, you should consult a veterinarian on ways to train it to do so.
Like all animals, Siamese cats need exercise. If your cat enjoys walking on a leash, you can make this a regular part of your routine. If not, don’t worry—your cat can get plenty of exercise indoors. Any time is playtime for a Siamese.
Siamese are very intelligent and need to be kept amused. They appreciate having toys. Most Siamese love to chase balls. A lightweight plastic ball or even a wadded up piece of paper will provide lots of entertainment for your cat. Most cats also love to jump after toys that dangle from a flexible wire. Pet stores carry many products designed around this basic theme.
Cats naturally scratch at objects to pull off the worn outer layers of their claws. A scratching post gives a cat something acceptable to claw at. It also allows a cat to flex its muscles.
Taking care of the mother cat will allow her to take good care of her young. Before the kittens are born, ask your veterinarian what to feed the mother while she is pregnant (expecting young) and once she is feeding her young. Very young cats drink milk made by their mother, and this milk provides all the nutrients kittens need.
Soon after the kittens are born, you should begin getting them used to being petted and handled by humans. Your vet can advise you as to the recommended age for a kitten to be handled. Many experts recommend that kittens be handled daily. This early contact helps them bond with people, boosts their growth and development, and may improve their ability to learn.
Vets can also advise as to what age kittens should be when they have their first veterinary exam and when they should begin eating solid food.
“Points” are the name for the areas of darker color on a Siamese cat’s coat. The darker areas in a Siamese’s fur are controlled by an enzyme (EHN zym)—a protein that influences chemical reactions in plants and animals.
The enzyme that affects the fur of Siamese is heat-sensitive. The enzyme isn’t effective at normal temperatures for a cat’s body, but the enzyme becomes active in cooler areas of the cat’s skin, such as the ears, legs, tail, and face. The same type of enzyme is responsible for the color camouflage of the Arctic fox. Most Arctic foxes change from brown or gray in summer to white in winter.
All Siamese kittens are pure cream-colored or white at birth because of the constant warmth inside their mother’s body. Once a kitten is born, new, darker fur grows in to replace the white or cream fur. By the time a Siamese kitten is four weeks old, its points will begin to develop the color they will have when the cat is an adult.
Clubs and Cat Shows
In addition to the CFA there are many other clubs in the United States, including the American Cat Fanciers Association and the Cat Fanciers' Federation. Pedigreed cats are registered with the clubs, but a cat need not have a pedigree to enter a cat show or to win a prize. The animal is eligible if it meets the standards of its breed and color group.
In most cat shows, the animals are judged on how well they conform to (match up with) the standards for that particular breed. Many different groups hold cat shows. Some shows are run by registries—groups that register particular breeds of cats.
The Cat Fanciers’ Association (CFA) is the largest registry of purebred cats. This association sponsors many cat shows in the United States and some in Canada. The group has a Junior Showmanship Program designed to help young people from ages 8 through 15 to learn how to show a cat. In Junior Showmanship classes, exhibitors are not judged on the quality of the cat. Instead, the exhibitor is judged on his or her ability to handle the cat and on knowledge of the breed. This program provides young people with a great way to learn about cat shows. It also provides valuable contacts with other breeders and exhibitors who can provide advice to a beginner.
In the United Kingdom, the Governing Council of the Cat Fancy (GCCF) is a primary registry that sponsors shows.
Cats In History
Cats, dogs, civets, hyenas, raccoons, and bears have a common ancestor in small, extinct meat-eating animals called Miacidae, which lived about 40,000,000 years ago. Cats seem to have developed rather suddenly from the civet branch of the carnivore group of animals.
It is believed that cats were first domesticated in northern Africa. Egyptian carvings made more than 4,500 years ago depict cats as domestic animals. The cat was a sacred animal in Egypt, associated with the goddess Pasht, or Bast. Many mummies of Egyptian cats have been found.
Phoenician sailors introduced cats into Europe, and the African cats interbred with European wildcats. From Egypt cats also spread east to India, China, and Japan. Exactly how and when cats were introduced into the New World is not known.
Cats were regarded as the servants, or familiars, of witches in early days. Satan was sometimes thought to take the form of a black cat. Cats of different colors are considered lucky or unlucky by superstitious people.
At the entrance to many stores, restaurants, and even private homes in Japan you may see a small ceramic cat with one raised paw. Called a Maneki Neko (Beckoning Cat), these ceramic cats represent a breed of cat, the Japanese bobtail. This breed of cat has existed in Japan for centuries. Many Japanese consider this cat to be lucky.
This slender, medium-sized cat has a very short, rigid tail covered in bushy fur. This breed may have many colors of fur, but the traditional “good luck” color for a Japanese bobtail is white with patches of red and black.
Cats make up the family Felidae. The domestic cat is Felis catus.