Amazing Animals Cats

Third in a series of animal facts articles

In 1987 the cat replaced the dog as the most popular house pet. About 40% of American homes have at least one cat in residence. So what's the charm of this captivating and affectionate animal?

The pilgrims first brought the cat to North America, valuing it for its mouse catching abilities. The ships were full of rodents that needed to be controlled. Before that, the felines were brought to Europe on Phoenician cargo ships in about 900 BC. First to tame the cat were the ancient Egyptians in about 3000BC. These cats looked less like today's, and more similar in appearance to the first true cats called the Proailurus, who came into existence about 12 million years ago. Cats have been domesticated for only half as long as dogs have, yet have grown three-fold in popularity. Today there are about 100 cat breeds.

It has been said that a person either loves or hates cats, but that there is no in between. More women seem to prefer cats over dogs, and cats respond better to women as well, probably due to their higher voice pitch. Men seem to like dogs because they will obey and follow direction with their whole heart and souls. People often call the cat "sneaky," but they are labeled that way only due to their independent nature. They choose where and when they will eat, sleep and be stroked. They enjoy their solitude a fair amount of the time, but they are very loving friends, and most enjoy time snuggling with their owners.

Both cats and humans have similar regions of the brain used for emotion, and both are social, but it is a mistake to cast our social feelings and expectations onto our cats. They do not often feel lonely, and are safe to be left alone for days with proper food, water and toileting accommodations. Unlike dogs, they do not require constant companionship, or other cats, to be happy. There are health benefits as well to cat ownership as it has been proven scientifically that petting a cat reduces the blood pressure. They are good listeners as well.

Most Americans acquire their cats through the adoption of strays or the offspring of other people's cats. About 1/3 are obtained from breeders and pet stores. In one year over $2 billion is spent in the US on cat food alone. Another 1 to 2 billion is spent on litter, toys and other cat products. Incidentally,kitty litter was invented in 1947 by Edward Lowe, who made a granulated clay product for soaking up oil and grease in factories, and it was discovered to work wonderfully in cat waste pans.

Many people with cat allergies mistakenly believe it is fur that gives them their trouble. Others say it is the dander, saliva or urine that's the culprit. In actuality it is "sebum" which is a fatty substance secreted by the sebaceous gland, much like the oil produced by our scalp. It is also possible to be less allergic to some cats than others. Male cats produce more of the allergen than females, but neutered males secrete less.

Cats show their affection in many ways. When they rub against you, they are "marking" you as belonging to them in a sense. When a cat pushes his forehead against yours it is a sign of affection and acceptance. They love being stroked on the forehead. When a cat rolls over and exposes his belly to you, it means you are trusted. Purring usually, but not always, indicates health and happiness, although some cats purr when in pain or very frightened. A cat who is scared can be comforted by placing a hand over the eyes and forehead. In order to purr, air is forced over extra tissue present in the larynx, vibrating it and causing the purring sound on both inhalation and exhalation. Cats purr at roughly the same frequency as an idling diesel engine~26 cycles per second.

Cats have 230 bones and 30 vertebrae, twice as many as humans. With no true collar bone, the body can fit through any space the head can. There are 500 skeletal muscles, and the outer ear alone has 32 controlling its movement, independently rotating each ear 180 degrees. The hearing is super sensitive, stopping at about 65 kHz (kilohertz). Human capability stops at 20 kHz..

Cats have the largest eyes of any mammal in relation to their body size. There are no lashes. Contrary to popular belief, cats can not see in the dark, but pretty darn close. They can see 6 times better in the night than us, and need 1/6 the amount of light to see. The eyes have an extra layer of reflecting cells that absorb light. Their field of vision is 185 degrees, and the one and only place they can not see is directly below the nose. Cats were long thought to be unable to see color, but new research indicates they can see blue and green. The eyes are always blue at birth, turning to their permanent color over the following few months.

The eyes are closed at birth and open in 7-10 days. Cats have a full inner eyelid called the nictitating membrane that protects against dryness and injury. It is visible in the inner corner of the eye at times, and more so in an ill cat. The cat's eyes need a nutrient called taurine to continue to function, and a steady diet of tuna or dog food can lead to blindness because only cat food is formulated with the nutrient. The eyes can indicate mood as well. A large pupil may mean excitement or fright, and a narrow pupil can indicate anger.

Have you seen a cat sniff at something and make a "sneering" expression with its mouth slightly open? He is using something called the Jacobson organ located at the roof of the mouth, and it analyzes smell along with the nose. The sense of smell is very keen, with 60 to 80 million olfactory cells, compared to our 5 to 20 million. Cats have 24 whiskers with 4 rows of 4 on each side. The upper 2 rows can move separately from the lower. The whiskers are used for measurement of distances and clearance for the head and body.

There are 30 teeth in the cat's mouth, baby teeth being replaced at 7 months. The jaw moves only up and down, not side to side as in dogs and humans. The tongue has tiny barbs for pulling out loose fur during grooming. When it laps up a drink, the tongue scoops it up backwards. Cats lose almost as much fluid through grooming and saliva loss, as they do through urination. 30% of the cat's life is spent grooming. 50% is spent in various stages of sleep.

A domestic house cat can sprint at about 31 mph. They walk on their toes, 5 on the front and 4 on the back, and they step forward with both left legs, then both right when they walk and run. A typical house cat weighs between 6 and 11 lb, and the heaviest we know of weighed almost 50 lb!

House cats should always be neutered and spayed due to the increasing problems of overpopulation and homelessness. Females should be spayed before their first heat period at about 5 mo. old. Males should be done by about 6 mo. old as well, before territorial spraying begins. Spaying a female greatly reduces her risk of mammary and uterine cancers and diseases. Neutering males will almost always put a stop to spraying, an annoying and smelly habit, as well as the problem of fighting with other males.Neutering and spaying will improve the quality and length of life for both sexes.

Declawing a cat is similar to cutting your own finger off at the first knuckle joint and should be avoided if possible, especially since there are alternatives such as regular nail trimming and teaching the use of the scratching post. Sadly, only 50% of total cat owners, which includes owners of farm cats and outdoor cats, get their cat to a veterinarian for proper care. Cats sometimes appear healthy but can in fact be ill.

The cat takes 20 to 40 breaths a minute and its tiny heart beats at 140-240 bpm according to mood and activity. The heart of the cat is loyal, loving and beats with pride. They have served well as keepers of the home, barn and farm, and have even lived in the trenches with soldiers during wartime to control rodents. When your cat "kneads" you with his paws,( a behavior leftover from kitten hood, and pushing his mama's tummy for milk) you can feel the warmth and love he has for you.