Cats, which are part of the Felidae family, are some of the smallest carnivores that are protected by humans. Their retractable claws are incredibly useful, allowing them to maintain their balance, catch their prey, and protect themselves from threats. One of the telltale signs of a domestic cat is found in their skull, showing off sharp canine teeth that they inherited from their wild ancestors. With heightened hearing and smell, even cute cats can be resourceful hunters. They are one of the first animals to be domesticated.
The 13 Top Cat Characteristics Listed
Cats have unique characteristics of their physique, behavior, and even their senses. Though most people will know a domestic cat when they see one, here are some of the key ways that you can determine if an animal is definitively a cat.
- Warm-blooded mammals: Cat are in the mammal family, which means that they have many of the typical traits that are associated with this class. They have fur, they have a live birth, and they feed their young milk from their bodies as babies.
- Retractable claws: The cats of a cat are a rather unique feature of their paw. While they animal is relaxed, the claws remain concealed underneath the fur and skin. Rather than residing on the top of the toe, they are found around the toe pads to prevent them from wearing down as they walk. Typically, five claws are found on each of the front paws, but only four claws are found on the back paws.
- Lone hunters but social animals: When looking for their prey, the cat tends to seek out their prey on their own (though there is little need for hunting when owners will feed them). However, these animals prefer to surround themselves with other cats, humans, and even other animals, showing great affection. Plus, the mothers will typically be ferociously protective of their young.
- Verbal expression out of kittenhood: The vocal range of many mammals are minimal in adulthood, but the same is not true of cats. Their meow is biologically designed to mimic the sounds that a newborn baby makes, calling on the emotional reaction of their owners. Interestingly, this desire to attract the love of their owners can cause them to be rather jealous of any new kittens in the household.
- Live birth: The female cat will give birth to live young, which are called kittens. The kittens are often born in an amniotic sac, which is eaten by the mother. Kittens need to be nourished by their mothers until they are about 8 weeks old.
- Fast reflexes: Perhaps one of the most notable features of the cat is their ability to land on their feet. Even when falling from a height of nearly 10 feet, these animals will instinctively twist their body to land on their paws. The cat righting reflex is the same movement for any time that they fall, and they can correct their positioning in as little as 3 feet off the ground.
- Impressive night vision: The tapetum lucidum in the eye of the cat allows it to view anything in the dark, only requiring 15%-20% of the light that humans need to see the same. When the cat is taking in the most light, their pupils may expand to their entire exposed surface. As kittens, their eyes don’t even open until they are about a week old, though their vision may take longer to reach better focus.
- Minimum color vision: Though cats aren’t entirely colorblind, most cat are only able to see blue and yellow with clarity. The ability to see red and green is extremely limited.
- Heightened senses of hearing and smell: Cats can hear a tremendous range of sounds from 500 Hz to 32 kHz (Comparatively, the average person hears from 20 Hz to 15 kHz). The advanced sense of smell comes from the development of their olfactory bulb and mucosa. With a heightened pheromone sensitivity, this sense can impact their social and sexual behavior alike, despite their short snout.
- Sharp teeth: The ancestors of domestic cats significantly impacted their skull, offering a specialized jaw that includes two long canine teeth. These teeth are much smaller in domestic animals, as they don’t have to cat and kill their prey anymore. As sharp as the teeth are, their molars are hardly used for chewing food.
- Carnivorous: A cat’s diet is largely made of meat, requiring at least two grams of protein each day. This amount can vary with the weight and age of the cat. Although cats are carnivorous, many household plants and vegetables can be toxic if ingested.
- Digitigrade walking: Cat’s walk on all four legs, using their toes to keep their body balanced. The legs of each side of the body move together, which helps them to remain quiet as they hunt prey and avoid being detected.
- Hooked papillae on the tongue: The backwards-facing hooks of the tongue play an important role in a cat’s life, as it is used for self-grooming. Made of keratin (an important protein in hair), the fur will collect in the stomach and cause the cat to spit up their collected hair.
Exceptions to the Cat’s Characteristics
Even though the characteristics of a cat are rather specific, there are a few cats that don’t necessarily follow these criteria. Take the Maine coon cat – though it has the same sight and retractable claws, the body is fairly similar to that of a smaller wildcat. In fact, this type of cat can grow to be up to 27 pounds (when neutered), reaching about 16 inches tall.
The Scottish fold is another exception. While most cats have alert and upright ears, the natural ears of this breed will fold just below the tip, causing the tip of the ear to fold downward.
Types of Cat Coats
Though the genetic makeup of cute cats may vary slightly, their coats offer a drastic range. The breeds are primarily differentiated by their coloring, texture, and patterns. The 6 patterns that usually are found on these cats include:
Tabby patterns are striped and/or spotted for most of the coat. Often, the coat will be paired with a white chest, white feet, or a white tail. The lines of the face form an M, and they are typically brown, grey, and orange. The patterns are incredibly varied, offering blotchy lines and spots. Even with the white chest and belly, the colors of a tabby often are just variations in darkness.
Sometimes referred to as a “torte,” this coat mixes both black and orange, though the coat is sometimes accented by brown or gold. Most of the cats with these markings are female, but the males that have a tortoiseshell coat are almost always incapable of fathering young.
Unlike the tabby coat, a cat with a color-point coat features darker fur along the feet and tail, as well as their face. Most often, they are light brown, though the coat can be darker with age. The Siamese cat is a perfect example of this type of coat.
Bicolor and Tricolor
The name of this coat tells exactly how many colors that the coat has. While bicolor coats combine white and one other color, tricolor cats will have a combination of white, red, and black. Bicolor cats often are the result of mixed breeding, while tricolor cats tend to be females.
Solid coats have no other colors, patterns, or other variations. Having a cat that is solidly grey, black, or white is much more common than any variation of brown.
Other coat patterns may arise in cat coats as well, including harlequin (mostly white with large color patches), locket (a white patch on the chest), mitted (completely white paws), and van (white with colors on the head and tail).
Though some hypoallergenic cats may not have fur (i.e., the sphinx), they will still have a gentle pattern on their skin.
How Did Domestic Cats Evolve from Wild Cats?
The domestic cats that you know and love today date back to the Fertile Crescent, a wildcat from the Middle East. Some sources say that these wild animals existed up to 100,000 years ago, but they became domesticated as more farmers arose. With over 370 million pet cats in the world today, the wildcats only accounted originally for 40 species.
Farmers found the wildcats to be efficient hunters for pests (like mice) in their fields and barns. Like many communities, the agricultural impact of cats eventually led people in cities and small towns to keep the animals as pets as well.
Types of Cats
List of Cat Breeds
Cat Breeds FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
What are some examples of cute cats?
Some cute cats that are easy to come by include the Maine coon, the British shorthair, the Bengal, the Persian, and the Ragdoll. All of these cats have rather unique features, like a flat fat (Ragdoll), an extraordinarily large body (Maine coon), or a striking resemblance to the wild cat that they are named for (Bengal).
What types of foods are toxic to cats?
Avoid feeding cats raw meat and other raw proteins, like eggs. They should also avoid raw bones from meat. Cats should never consume onions, garlic, alcohol, chocolate, milk/dairy products, grapes, or raisins – all of these foods can cause detrimental effects on the kidneys and liver. They also put the cat at a fatal risk.
Dog food, due to the difference in nutrients from cat food, is very bad for their digestive system.
What are some examples of hypoallergenic cats?
To prevent an allergic reaction, some hypoallergenic cats include the Sphynx, the Russian Blue, the Cornish Rex, and the Oriental Shorthair. While these animals are bred to have less shedding and dander, there are no animals that have both no shedding and no dander.
What are some examples of black cat breeds?
Black cats are incredibly common, found in many different breeds. The Bombay cat is the most well-known, but the solid black coat is also found in the American and British shorthairs, Persian cats, and the Scottish fold. These cute cats are also available as mixed breeds.