Natural Histories

photograph of a Sunda Pangolin

Domestic Cat

Felis catus


Cats can range from 4.1-5.4 kg as adults with an average length of 76.2 cm. There is vast variation of coat type, coloration and patterning of the fur. There are 5 toes on each forelimb and 4 toes on each hind limb. These toes all have retractable claws which are not extended when walking.


Domestic cats can be found on every continent except Antarctica and can be found on many islands as well. Their global distribution is due to their domestication by humans as they are generally found in human populated areas. There is also a large global population of feral cats which can be found in close proximity to current or past human settlements.

Feeding Behavior and Diet

Cats are carnivores, consuming only meat. While domestic cats rely on human supplied feed, feral cats hunt for rodents, birds, fish and some arthropods. Prey is killed by biting the back of the neck at the base of the skull, severing the spinal chord from the brain stem.


Domestic cats are polygynandrous, which means both males and females have multiple mates throughout the year. Females go into estrus every 21 days during breeding season, which is from March to September in the Northern hemisphere and October to March in the Southern hemisphere. Females call loudly to potential mates while rolling on the ground. Females produce a litter of kittens 60-67 days after mating; a single litter can contain as many as 18 kittens. Kittens are weaned at about 7-8 weeks after birth and become independent by 12 weeks. Female cats reach sexual maturity at 6 months of age while males do not reach sexual maturity until 8 months.

Months and Times of Activity

Cats are active during the day and also at night. Higher activity occurs during night hours while lounging is seen during the day but variation in activity commonly occurs.

Special Features, Stories, Relationships

  • Cats mark their territories using secretions from scent glands and by urine. Scent glands located near the ears, neck and back of the head release scent when rubbing against an object. There are also scent glands located at the claws known as pedal glands, releasing scent when claws are sharpened by scratching something. Males use the spraying of urine to determine territorial boundaries.
  • Cats are very flexible, capable of rotating half of their spine 180 degrees, jumping five times their own height and slip through narrow spaces because they have 30 vertebrae in their body (variable based on length of cat) and have no color bone while scapula lie medially on their body.
  • There are over 100 breeds of domestic cats.
  • To read legends featuring this animal go to:
  • Children’s book featuring this animal: Everything I Know About Life I Learned from My Cat by Lesley Anne Ivory


Anna Toenjes, N. 2014. "Felis catus" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed November 03, 2014 at