Cat, a general name for animals of the genus felis (Linn.), which comprises about 50 species of carnivorous mammalia, the characters of which are closely assimilated, and at the same time widely different from other genera. It is characterized by six incisor teeth above and below; two canine teeth in each jaw, powerful and formed for tearing; molar or cheek teeth, four in the upper jaw and three in the lower, thin, pointed, and wedge-shaped, formed for cutting. The head is large, round, and wide; the eyes have the pupil often oblong; the tongue has strong horny papillae, directed backward. The feet are formed for walking; the toes are live in number on the fore feet and four on the hind feet, armed with strong, sharp, and hooked claws, retracted when the animal walks. The intestines are very short, as in all animals living almost exclusively on animal food. The animals composing this genus (which includes the lion, tiger, panther, etc.) are the most powerful and ferocious of all predatory quadrupeds, as the eagles and birds of prey are among the feathered tribes.
The different species are distributed over every portion of the globe, with the exception of Australia and the South Pacific islands; but the most formidable are found in the warmest climates; no species has been discovered common to the old and the new world. The favorite resorts of these animals are the thick forests of the tropics, where they lie concealed during the day, and prowl at night in search of prey; the more northern and smaller species prefer rocky and well wooded situations. The cats hunt a living prey, which they secure by cunning and watchfulness, springing upon their unsuspecting victims from an ambush, or stealthily crawling up to them. Some species, as the leopard and jaguar, pursue their prey into trees. The couguar lies in wait on a branch or overhanging rock, and falls upon animals passing beneath. Their aspect is ferocious, their instincts bloody, and their strength great; even their voice has something in it harsh and terrible. The anatomical structure of the cats is indicative of great strength and activity; the jaws are very powerful, bearing teeth shaped like wedges, thin and sharp, requiring but little force to cut through the flesh on which they feed; the structure of the joint admits of no lateral motion, and the whole force of the immense temporal and masseter muscles is exerted in a perpendicular or cutting direction.
To assist in tearing their food, the surface of the tongue is covered with numerous horny papillae; these may be felt, on a small scale, on the tongue of the domestic cat; the tongue is rather an organ for removing muscular fibres from bones, and for retaining flesh in the mouth, than an organ of taste. The neck, shoulders, and fore limbs display a remarkable muscular development; the lion can drag away with ease cattle and horses which it has killed; a single blow of the fore limb of a Bengal tiger has been known to fracture a man's skull. The mechanism by which their claws are retracted and prevented from being blunted during walking is as follows: the claw itself is supported on the last bone, which consists of two portions united to each other at nearly a right angle; the articulation is at the upper end of the vertical portion, while the flexor tendons are attached to the other portion; the action of these muscles causes the whole bone to move through an arc of 90° round the end of the second bone.
In the state of rest the claw is kept retracted by a slip of the extensor muscle, and by elastic ligaments; in the state of action, the strong tendon of the flexor, with its circular sweep, protrudes the claw with prodigious power. - The domestic cat is generally believed to have sprung from the Egyptian cat (felis mani-culata, Ruppell), a native of the north of Africa.
This species is 2 ft. 5 in. long, of which the tail measures 9 in.; the height at the shoulder is 9 1/2 in.; in size it does not differ from the domestic cat. The color above is an ochry gray, with a darker line along the back; beneath, grayish white; on the, forehead are eight slender black lines, running forward to the upper part of the neck; the cheeks, throat, and front of the neck are pure white; two lines of an ochre-yellow color, one from the outer corner of the eye, and the other from the middle of the cheek, meet under the ear, and two rings of the same color encircle the white of the neck; the limbs have five or six blackish semicircular bands; the heels and wrists are black; the tail is slender, and has two dark rings at the tip. There is no doubt that this species is the original of the domestic cat of the ancient Egyptians, as is shown by the representations of cats on their monuments, by mummies, and by the skeletons found in their tombs. It may be a question whether this domesticated species was transferred by them to the ancient nations of Europe. There certainly is often met with, in modern times, a grayish white cat possessing the most striking resemblance to the Egyptian species; others of our domestic cats resemble the wild species of Europe. It is probable therefore that, as with all our domestic animals, different nations have domesticated different small kinds of native cats, which have produced, by the intermixture of their closely allied species, the numerous varieties now observed.
At the same time it should be remembered that the whole genus fells is susceptible of considerable variation; slight variety of color, therefore, does not necessarily imply diversity of origin. Temminck and Ruppell are of the opinion that the F. maniculata is the species from which our domestic cat has sprung; before them most naturalists believed that the wild cat of Europe was the original stock; it is altogether probable that the domesticated species has been crossed in many instances by the wild cat, as shown by the short legs and thick short tails of some varieties. All the small species of cats might be easily domesticated, though the common Egyptian species seems to be the only one generally employed in household economy. The domestic cat readily returns to a wild state; neglect, insecurity of their young, or favoring circumstances, drive or tempt them to the woods, where they prowl and hunt, and breed, in the manner characteristic of the genus. Cats, though they prefer flesh, will eat bread, fish, insects, and almost anything that is eaten by man. As a general thing, they have a great dislike to water, and will rarely enter it for the purpose of catching fish, of which they are extremely fond. They are capable of very strong attachment to man, and to animals reared with them.
Among the most remarkable varieties of the domestic cat are the Maltese or Chartreuse cat, of a bluish gray color; the Persian cat, with long white or gray hair; the Angora cat, with very long and silky hair, generally of a brownish white color; and the Spanish or tortoise-shell cat, the most beautiful of all. In Cornwall and the Isle of Man a breed of cats without a tail is quite common, analogous to a similar and more common breed of dogs. - The common wild cat (F. catus, Linn.) is the only animal of the genus that inhabits the British islands, where it is still not uncommon in the wild districts of Scotland and Ireland; it is found in the wooded tracts of the European continent. The length of the wild cat is 33 in., the tail being 11 in. The fur is long and thick, but not shaggy; the color varies from a yellowish to a blackish gray, darkest on the back, where it forms a line, diverging into four on the neck and head; the sides are brindled with broad, dark, but indistinct bands; the legs have two or three black bars, running transversely upward; the tail is thick, with black rings, indistinct toward the base, and a black tip. The wild cat is an active climber; its food consists of small animals and birds; its depredations among game are frequently very great.
There are no long-tailed wild cats in North America; the animal called wild cat here is a species of lynx. (See Lynx.) The catamount is the couguar of authors. (See Couguar.) There are several small species of cats in the East Indies: the Sumatran cat, F. minuta (Temm.) and F. Javanensis (Horsf.); the Bengal cat, F. Bengalensis (Desm.); Di-ard's cat, F. Diardii (Desm.); and the Nepaul cat, F. Nepalcmix (Horsf.).
Egyptian Cat (Felis maniculata).
Wild Cat (Felis catus).