by Janet Spencer

There are an estimated half a billion cats in the world, of which about 100 million are domestic pet cats living in the U.S. About 68% of American households own at least one cat. Come along with Tidbits as we pet our cats!


• A doctoral student at Oxford set out to see if he could find a common ancestor for the house cat. He gathered sample DNA from wild cats, feral cats, and domestic cats all over the planet. Once he had analyzed samples from 1,000 cats, he did indeed find common ancestry among them. Worldwide, all of the cats he found shared DNA with a specific sub-species of cat called Felis silvestris lybica, commonly known as the African wildcat. It is native to northern Africa and the Middle East where the cats still live today. 

•  “Felis” means “cat” in Latin; “silvestris” means “woodland” or “forest”; and “lybica” means “from Libya.”

•  There were at least seven types of prehistoric feline species living in what is now California around 11,000 years ago, including long-extinct species of bobcats, mountain lions, and sabre-tooth lions. Over 2,000 skeletons of saber-tooth cats have been retrieved from the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles, more than have been found at any other location on the planet.

•  Most of the different breeds of cats were developed starting in the 1960s. The hairless Sphynx descended from two cats from Minnesota named Dermis and Epidermis who were mutants born in the 1970s.  The Scottish fold cat, with bent ears, was bred from a mutant that appeared in a litter in Scotland 1961. The short legged dwarf Munchkin descended from a pregnant stray found underneath a truck in Louisiana in the 1980s. The Manx and Cornish Rex were likewise products of mutations. Other breeds, including the Norwegian forest cat and the Persian, developed after being isolated in an ecosystem and being subjected to natural selection.

•  All cat species are what is known as “hypercarnivores” eating pretty much nothing other than meat. They have no molars for chewing plants and all of their teeth are pointy and sharp, ideal for killing and cutting. Cats need three times as much protein in their diets as dogs, except for kittens who need four times as much.

•  Cats have some of the best binocular vision of any carnivore, with eyes set close together to give them an overlapping field of vision resulting in excellent depth perception. Rabbits, by contrast, have wide set eyes which allows them to see a wide field of vision in order to spot incoming predators, yet they have very poor three-dimensional vision.

•  Cats have the largest eyes relative to their head size of any mammal.

•  Today the 100 million or so pet cats in the U.S. consume about 3 million chickens every day in the form of chicken-based cat food. 

•  When archaeologists X-rayed the mummies of cats found in Egyptian tombs, they were surprised to find that many of the cats were actually kittens and that most of them had died violently rather than from natural causes.

•  A study done in 1980 followed people who survived heart attacks. It found that those who owned a pet showed a distinctly larger chance of living for a year following the heart attack (94%) over those who did not have a pet (72%). However, a follow-up study done by the same researcher in 1995 set out to discover if there was a link between survival rates and the type of pet that was owned. It turned out that owning a dog had significant advantages, while owning a cat did not. This may be due to the fact that dog owners are 64% more likely than non-pet owners to do at least some walking every day. Cat owners were less likely to get outside and walk.

•  The first established cat show was held in 1871 in London’s Crystal Palace.

•  A study done in England showed that an average of 3.8 million cat pictures are uploaded to the internet every day, versus a total of only 1.4 million selfies.  When Sir Tim Berners-Lee, known as the father of the internet, was asked what aspect of modern web usage he found most surprising, he answered, “Kittens.” BuzzFeed reports that their average cat post gets twice as many views as their average dog post. 

•  Cats have 230 bones, which is 24 more bones than humans. About 10% of a cat’s bones are in its tail. A cat’s spine has up to 53 loose-fitting vertebrae, making it extremely flexible. A human spine has only 34 vertebrae.

•  Cats sometimes stare with their mouth open because they have an extra organ that tastes scents in the air.

•  They use their whiskers to help determine if they can fit in a small space because their whiskers are approximately the same width as their body.

•  Cats move with their right feet and then their left feet. The only other animals that walk this way are camels and giraffes.

•  Cats typically have about 24 whiskers on their muzzle, 12 on each side.

•  Thirty-two individual muscles in each ear allow a cat to rotate its ears 180 degrees.

•  A single litter of kittens can have multiple fathers.

•  All cats are born with blue eyes. Their adult eye color will begin to appear in 3 to 12 weeks. White cats whose eyes remain blue have a high chance of deafness. Those with only one blue eye will likely be deaf only in the ear closest to their blue eye.

•  Cats can make about 100 different sounds. A dog can only make 10.

•  The average cat spends around 70% of their lives asleep.

•  Adult cats can leap up to six times their own length and jump five times their own height.

•  Cats purr not only when they’re content, but they also when they’re sick, stressed, hurt, or giving birth.

•  More than half of cats don’t respond to catnip. Catnip sensitivity is hereditary.

•  Cats sweat through their paws.

•  Most cats have 18 toes, including five on each front paw and four on each back paw.

•  Cat claws curve downward, which means that they can’t climb down trees head-first. Instead, they have to back down the trunk

•  Males are more likely to be left-pawed, while females are more likely to be right-pawed.

•  A leopard-like wild cat called the margay, found in the Amazon, attracts prey to it by mimicking the calls made by baby monkeys.

•  Spaying and neutering can extend a cat’s life. Neutered males live an average of 62% longer than unneutered cats and spayed females live an average of 39% longer than unspayed cats. About 85% of domestic cats are spayed or neutered, but only about 2% of feral cats are.

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