In Sweden, it is estimated that there are at least 1.5 million cats, but it was in Egypt, 10,000 years ago, that humans first started to domesticate cats as pets. Today, cats are human companions all over the world. Mice and rats have always competed with humans, eating some of our harvest and our food supplies, so it is easy to see why having cats in the home has been a good way to get rid of small rodents.
Cats are good at catching mice, voles and small birds. They can run at 50 kilometres per hour for short distances, and can jump two metres straight up. Their hunting instinct has been passed down over the course of 10,000 years from the African wildcat, from which the domestic cat originated.
They are skilled stealth hunters and see in the dark six times better than we do, but with fewer colours. They have 24 whiskers around their nose, allowing them to feel their way around even in the dark. Is an opening big enough to get through? Are there any obstacles in the way? Cats have a highly developed sense of hearing and can hear high-pitched sounds, such as vole calls, that humans cannot hear. It is hardly surprising that our ancestors wanted such a good mouse hunter to keep their houses free from rodents as they slept.
Cats are well adapted to stalking their prey. They can tuck their claws into their paws so they do not scratch against the ground. As they leap, they unfold their sharp claws and catch their prey. All cats do this, including lions, tigers and lynx. All large felines kill mainly by biting across the throat and choking their prey.
Communication using scent
Cats are independent creatures. They are not pack animals like dogs, for example. However, they do enjoy meeting both humans and other animals.
Cats communicate with humans and other cats by miaowing, hissing and purring. They also secrete aromatic substances known as pheromones from their cheek glands, and brush their scent against objects around them to mark their territory. For example, when they brush against your leg, they want to scent mark their territory – not just snuggle up!
They also use their ears and tail to show what they want. Whipping the tail and folding the ears back show that they are tense or angry.
Domestic cats are both wild and domesticated. They can be trained, and can become very affectionate if you spend time with them. However, they are also independent and decide for themselves when they want to come and go.
A cat can sleep for 16 hours a day, mostly during the daytime. Cats in the wild are most active during the morning and evening, but with humans they adapt to the rhythm of our day.
Did you know…
Cats have 24 whiskers around their nose, allowing them to feel their way around even in the dark.