Cultural Depictions Of Cats


Traditionally, historians tended to think that ancient Egypt was the site of cat domestication, due to the clear depictions of house cats in Egyptian paintings about 3,600 years old. However, in 2004, a Neolithic grave was excavated in Shillourokambos, Cyprus, that contained the skeletons, laid close to one another, of both a human and a cat.

The grave is estimated to be 9,500 years old, pushing back the earliest known feline-human association significantly. The cat specimen is large and closely resembles the African wildcat (Felis silvestris lybica), rather than present-day domestic cats. This discovery, combined with genetic studies, suggest that cats were probably domesticated in Cyprus and the Near East, in the Fertile Crescent around the time of the development of agriculture.

In ancient Egypt cats were sacred animals, with the Bast often depicted in cat form, sometimes taking on the warlike aspect of a lioness. The Romans are often credited with introducing the domestic cat from Egypt to Europe; in Roman Aquitaine, a first or second century epitaph of a young girl holding a cat is one of two earliest depictions of the Roman domesticated cat.

However, it is possible that cats were already kept in Europe prior to the Roman Empire, as they may have already been present in Britain in the late Iron Age. Domestic cats were spread throughout much of the rest of the world during the Age of Discovery, as they were carried on sailing ships to control shipboard rodents and as good-luck charms.

Several ancient religions believed that cats are exalted souls, companions or guides for humans, that they are all-knowing but are mute so they cannot influence decisions made by humans. In Japan, the Maneki Neko is a cat that is a symbol of good fortune.

Although there are no sacred species in Islam, some writers have stated that Muhammad had a favorite cat, Muezza. He is reported to have loved cats so much that "he would do without his cloak rather than disturb one that was sleeping on it".

Freyja—the goddess of love, beauty, and fertility in Norse mythology—is depicted as riding a chariot drawn by cats. Many cultures have negative superstitions about cats. An example would be the belief that a black cat "crossing your path" leads to bad luck, or that cats are witches' familiars used to augment a witch's powers and skills. This led to the widespread extermination of cats in Europe in medieval times.

The Black Plague was spread by fleas carried by infected rats, and the killing of cats ostensibly caused an increase in the rat population. The killing of cats in Medieval Ypres is commemorated in the innocuous present-day Kattenstoet (cat parade).

According to a myth in many cultures, cats have multiple lives. In many countries, they are believed to have nine lives, but in some Spanish-speaking regions they are said to have seven lives, while in Turkish and Arabic traditions the number of lives is six.

The myth is attributed to the natural suppleness and swiftness cats exhibit to escape life-threatening situations. Also lending credence to this myth is that falling cats often land on their feet because of an inbuilt automatic twisting reaction and are able to twist their bodies around to land feet first, though they can still be injured or killed by a high fall.

Feral Cats


Feral cats are wild cats that are unfamiliar with humans and roam freely in urban or rural areas. The numbers of feral cats are not known, but estimates of the US feral population range from 25 to 60 million.

Feral cats may live alone, but most are found in large groups called feral colonies, which occupy a specific territory and are usually associated with a source of food. Famous feral cat colonies are found in Rome around the Colosseum and Forum Romanum, with cats at some of these sites being fed and vetted by volunteers.

Public attitudes towards feral cats vary widely: ranging from seeing them as free-ranging pets, to regarding them as vermin. One common approach to reducing the feral cat population is termed trap-neuter-return, where the cats are trapped, neutered, immunized against rabies and the feline leukemia virus, and then released.

Before releasing them back into their feral colonies, the attending veterinarian often nips the tip off one ear to mark the feral as neutered and inoculated, since these cats may be trapped again.

Volunteers continue to feed and give care to these cats throughout their lives, and not only is their lifespan greatly increased, but behavior and nuisance problems, due to competition for food, are also greatly reduced.



Cats bury their urine and feces. Indoor cats are usually provided with a litter box containing litter, typically bentonite, but sometimes other absorbent material such as shredded paper or wood chips, or sometimes sand or similar material.

It should be cleaned daily and changed often, depending on the number of cats in a household and the type of litter; if it is not kept clean, a cat may be fastidious enough to find other locations in the house for urination or defecation.

This may also happen for other reasons; for instance, if a cat becomes constipated and defecation is uncomfortable, it may associate the discomfort with the litter box and avoid it in favor of another location. Daily attention to the litter box also serves as a monitor of the cat's health.

Bentonite or clumping litter is a variation which absorbs urine into clumps which can be sifted out along with feces, and thus stays cleaner longer with regular sifting, but has sometimes been reported to cause health problems in some cats.

Those with toxoplasmosis-infected cats living in habitat areas of sea otters may wish to dispose of droppings in the trash, rather than flushing them down the toilet. Some cats can be trained to use the human toilet, eliminating the litter box and its attendant expense, unpleasant odor, and the need to use landfill space for disposal.

Training may involve four to six weeks of incremental moves, such as moving and elevating the litter box until it is near the toilet, as well as employing an adapter such as a bowl or small box to suspend the litter above the toilet bowl. When training is complete, the cat uses the toilet by squatting on the toilet seat over the bowl.

Indoor Scratching


A natural behavior in cats is to periodically hook their front claws into suitable surfaces and pull backwards. This marks territory, exercises their legs, as well as cleaning and sharpening their claws.

Indoor cats benefit from being provided with a scratching post so that they are less likely to use carpet or furniture which they can easily ruin.

Commercial scratching posts typically are covered in carpeting or upholstery, but some authorities advise against this practice, as not making it clear to the cat which surfaces are permissible and which are not; they suggest using a plain wooden surface, or reversing the carpeting on the posts so that the rougher texture of the carpet backing is a more attractive alternative to the cat than the floor covering.

Scratching posts made of sisal rope or corrugated cardboard are also common.

Although scratching can serve cats to keep their claws from growing excessively long, their nails can be trimmed if necessary. Another response to indoor scratching is onychectomy, commonly known as declawing.

This is a surgical procedure to remove the claw and first bone of each digit of a cat's paws. Declawing is most commonly only performed on the front feet. A related procedure is tendonectomy, which involves cutting a tendon needed for cats to extend their claws.

Declawing is a major surgical procedure and can produce pain, infections and permanent lameness. Since this surgery is not performed for the benefit of the animal, it is controversial and remains uncommon outside of North America.

In many countries, it is prohibited by animal welfare laws. Although widely practiced in the US, declawing is ethically controversial within the American veterinary community. Both the Humane Society and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals strongly discourage or condemn the procedure.

Effects On Human Health


Because of their small size, domesticated house cats pose little physical danger to adult humans. However, in the USA cats inflict about 400,000 bites per year, with 90% of these bites coming from provoked animals; this number represents about one in ten of all animal bites.

Many cat bites will become infected, sometimes with serious consequences such as cat-scratch disease, or, more rarely, rabies. Cats may also pose a danger to pregnant women and immune suppressed individuals, since their feces can transmit toxoplasmosis.

A large percentage of cats are infected with this parasite, with infection rates ranging from around 40 to 60% in both domestic and stray cats worldwide. Allergic reactions to cat dander and/or cat saliva are common.

Some humans who are allergic to cats—typically manifested by hay fever, asthma, or a skin rash—quickly acclimate themselves to a particular animal and live comfortably in the same house with it, while retaining an allergy to cats in general.

Whether the risk of developing allergic diseases such as asthma is increased or decreased by cat ownership is uncertain. Some owners cope with this problem by taking allergy medicine, along with bathing their cats frequently, since weekly bathing will reduce the amount of dander shed by a cat.

There have also been attempts to breed hypoallergenic cats, which would be less likely to provoke an allergic reaction. As well as posing health risks, interactions with cats may improve health and reduce physical responses to stress: for example the presence of cats may moderate increased blood pressure.

Cat ownership may also improve psychological health by providing emotional support and dispelling feelings of depression, anxiety and loneliness. Indeed, their ability to provide companionship and friendship are common reasons given for owning a cat.

Cat Coat pattern


The colorpoint pattern is most commonly associated with Siamese cats, but may also appear in any domesticated cat. A colorpointed cat has dark colors on the face, ears, feet, and tail, with a lighter version of the same color on the rest of the body, and possibly some white.

The exact name of the colorpoint pattern depends on the actual color, so there are seal points (dark brown), chocolate points (warm lighter brown), blue points (dark gray), lilac or frost points (silvery gray-pink), red or flame points (orange), and tortie (tortoiseshell mottling) points, among others.

This pattern is the result of a temperature sensitive mutation in one of the enzymes in the metabolic pathway from tyrosine to pigment, such as melanin; thus, little or no pigment is produced except in the extremities or points where the skin is slightly cooler.

For this reason, colorpointed cats tend to darken with age as bodily temperature drops; also, the fur over a significant injury may sometimes darken or lighten as a result of temperature change. The tyrosine pathway also produces neurotransmitters, thus mutations in the early parts of that pathway may affect not only pigment, but also neurological development.

This results in a higher frequency of cross-eyes among colorpointed cats, as well as the high frequency of cross-eyes in white tigers.

White cats

True albinism (a mutation of the tyrosinase gene) is quite rare in cats. Much more common is the appearance of white coat color due to a lack of melanocytes in the skin. A higher frequency of deafness in white cats is due to a reduction in the population and survival of melanoblast stem cells, which in addition to creating pigment producing cells, develop into a variety of neurological cell types. White cats with one or two blue eyes have a particularly high likelihood of being deaf.

Smoke cats

The bottom eighth of each hair is white or creamy-white, with the rest of the hair being a solid color. Genetically this color is a non-agouti cat with the dominant inhibitor gene; a non-agouti version of the silver tabby. Smoke cats will look solid colored until they move, when the white undercoat becomes apparent. It is mostly found in pedigreed cats (especially longhair breeds) but also present in some domestic longhaired cats.

Cat Coat patterns


Bicolor, Tuxedo and Van

This pattern varies between the tuxedo cat which is mostly black with a white chest, and possibly markings on the face and paws/legs, all the way to the Van pattern (so named after the Lake Van area in Turkey, which gave rise to the Turkish Van breed), where the only colored parts of the cat are the tail (usually including the base of the tail proper), and the top of the head (often including the ears).

There are several other terms for amounts of white between these two extremes, such as Harlequin or jellicle cat. Bicolor cats can have as their primary (non-white) color black, red, any dilution thereof, and tortoiseshell (see below for definition).

Tabby cat

Striped, with a variety of patterns. The classic blotched tabby (or marbled) pattern is the most common and consists of butterflies and bullseyes. The mackerel or striped tabby is a series of vertical stripes down the cat's side (resembling the fish).

This pattern broken into spots is referred to as a spotted tabby. Finally, the tabby markings may look like a series of ticks on the fur, thus the ticked tabby, which is almost exclusively associated with the Abyssinian breed of cats.

The worldwide evolution of the cat means that certain types of tabby are associated with certain countries; for instance, blotched tabbies are quite rare outside NW Europe, where they are the most common type.

Tortoiseshell and Calico

This cat is also known as a Calimanco cat or Clouded Tiger cat, and by the nickname "tortie." In the cat fancy, a tortoiseshell cat is randomly patched over with red (or its dilute form, cream) and black (or its dilute blue) mottled throughout the coat.

Additionally, the cat may have white spots in its fur, which make it a "tortoiseshell and white" cat or, if there is a significant amount of white in the fur and the red and black colors form a patchwork rather than a mottled aspect, the cat will be called a calico. All calicos are tortoiseshell (as they carry both black and red), but not all tortoiseshells are calicos (which requires a significant amount of white in the fur and patching rather than mottling of the colors).

The calico is also sometimes called a tricolor cat. The Japanese refer to this pattern as mi-ke (meaning "triple fur"), while the Dutch call these cats lapjeskat (meaning "patches cat"). A true tricolor must consist of three colors: a reddish color, dark or light; white; and one other color, typically a brown, black, or blue.

Both tortoiseshell and calico cats are typically female because the coat pattern is the result of differential X chromosome inactivation in females (which, as with all normal female mammals, have two X chromosomes). Conversely, cats where the overall color is ginger (orange) are commonly male (roughly in a 3:1 ratio). In a litter sired by a ginger tom, the females will be tortoiseshell or ginger.

Male tortoiseshells can occur as a result of chromosomal abnormalities (often linked to sterility) or by a phenomenon known as mosaicism, where two early stage embryos are merged into a single kitten.