The term "domestic cat" defines a category of felines that have departed from their wild ancestors. Due to the broad use of this term across households and cat associations, confusion has arisen regarding how liberally the label can be applied. National Geographic is quick to cut through the uncertainty, reminding readers that domestic cats all originate from the same species felis catus.
Domestic Cat Specifics
Frequently definitions are applied to domestic cats with limited accuracy. Many breeds fall under the umbrella of "domestic cats." However, the term "domestic cats" is not restricted to one certain breed or even a clear mix of breeds. Domestic cats can include:
- An ordinary housecat with no clear pedigree
- Cats with a clear pedigree
- A mixed breed
- Cats that are labeled strays, alleys, or mutts
These first two listings often cause the most confusion due to the use of the term "domestic cat".
Domestication and Domestic Cats
Indeed, domestic cats have received this title because of their domesticated nature. Smithsonian.com notes that the most recent archeological findings of cat and human relationships were found in Cyprus, and date as far back as 9,500 years. Some scientists speculate that the domestication of felines may have originated as late as 12,000 years ago, though no archeological evidence has solidified such claims. From the domesticated nature of these early human and home-oriented cats is drawn the label "domestic cats".
Domestic and Purebred Cats
In all actuality, pedigreed cats are typically domestic cats. For this reason, most cat associations such as the Cat Fanciers' Association (CFA) clearly delineate between the two categories of:
- Domestic Shorthairs
- Domestic Longhairs
Purebred animals are identified by a breed certificate and proof of pedigree which can chart a cat's ancestry for several generations.
Recognized Domestic Cat Breeds
| Abyssinian ||Latest speculation: Indian Ocean coast and southeast Asia||Shorthaired, lithe, almond-shaped eyes, large-eared, alert and muscular. Common coat colors include: red, blue, and fawn.|
| American Bobtail ||United States||An athletic, bob-tailed shorthair or medium longhair cat. Average tail length is four inches.|
| American Curl ||United States||Named for its curled back ears which are autosomal dominant.|
| American Shorthair ||North America. Records indicate that these cats were present during the Mayflower journey.||A well-built and powerful shorthair cat. Allows for a vast array of colors.|
| American Wirehair ||New York, United States||Known for its distinct wiry coat that may straighten slightly with maturity. Longhaired versions of this breed may possess ringlets.|
| Balinese ||A mutation of the Siamese cat.||Essentially, an ermine-coated Siamese.|
| Birman ||Burma||A pointed, stocky, longhaired cat with flawless white feet.|
| Bombay ||Cross between the American Shorthair and Burmese||A black, gold-eyed cat, similar to the Burmese.|
| British Shorthair ||Rome||A compact, stout Cheshire-like cat most commonly bred for a blue/silver color.|
| Burmese ||Burma||A medium-sized, sturdy shorthair cat. Colors are limited to solids.|
| Burmilla ||United Kingdom. Created as an inadvertent cross between a Chinchilla Persian and a Burmese.||A stout, muscular cat with a short muzzle. Medium-sized. Eyes are commonly a striking green.|
| Chartreux ||France||Thickly shorthaired. Coat has a wooly texture. Features jowls, similar to the British Shorthair. Coat is blue-gray and silver tipped.|
|Chinese Li Hua||China||Characterized by its brown tabby coat. A sturdy breed that has been recognized only recently in the United States.|
| Colorpoint Shorthair ||United States. Bred from a Siamese and an American Shorthair red tabby.||Body type is parallel to the Siamese. Colors vary from lynx to solid points.|
| Cornish Rex ||Cornwall, England||Known for its soft, wavy coat. These cats are often said to resemble Egyptian statues.|
| Devon Rex ||Devonshire, England||A large-eared, pixie-faced, Elfin-looking cat.|
| Egyptian Mau ||A subspecies of the African Wild Cat||Has a cheetah-spotted coat and bright green eyes. A notably elegant cat.|
| European Burmese ||A breed originated from, Wong Mau, the first Burmese brought to the West in 1930.||A regal and rounded cat with a glossy coat.|
| Exotic ||Persia||Quite similar to the Persian, though its coat is considerably more manageable. Exotics are soft, round and plush.|
| Havana Brown ||English breeders reworking the Siamese cat to create a brown-coated Siamese||A mahogany/brown coated cat, similar to its Siamese ancestors.|
| Japanese Bobtail ||Japan||A medium-sized cat with a bobbed-tail that resembles a rabbit's tail. Face has high cheekbones and an elongated nose.|
| Javanese ||A derivative of the Balinese. Named after the island adjacent to Bali.||A richly colorful version of the Balinese.|
| Korat ||Thailand||A medium-sized silver/blue cat. Known for its luminous green eyes that appear at maturity.|
| Laperm ||Oregon, United States||These cats are born bald, but as they mature, they grow a thick, curly coat of hair.|
| Maine Coon ||North America||A very large, extremely thick, shaggy-haired cat with a plumed tail. Highly adapted to cold temperatures.|
| Manx ||Isle of Man, England||A relatively tailless cat. Only the non-tailed variety are eligible for show.|
| Norwegian Forest Cat ||Nordic regions.||A green-eyed, longhaired cat. Large and, like the Maine Coon, well-suited for cold climates.|
| Ocicat ||Michigan, United States||Bred from an Abyssinian, Siamese, and American Shorthair. This cat is distinguished by its shorthaired coat that resembles the pattern of an an ocelot.|
| Oriental ||A derivative of the Siamese||Extremely lean and angular. Ears are large and dominate the muzzle. Comes in over 300 colors.|
| Persian ||Persia||Smallish, well-proportioned, flat faced, snub-nosed and appreciated largely for its extremely long coat.|
| Ragamuffin ||Unknown||A large, full-bodied cat with a long plumed tail. Often compared to a teddy-bear.|
| Ragdoll ||California, United States||A medium to large, longhaired cat with wide, blue eyes. Fur is non-matting. Coat is typically patterned and varying in such.|
| Russian Blue ||Archangel Isles, Russia||A long, lean, large-eared shorthair. Known for it's striking blue/silver coat color.|
| Scottish Fold ||Scotland||Medium-sized cat. Folded ears. Compact body.|
| Selkirk Rex ||A mutation of the Persian.||Essentially, a curly-haired Persian.|
| Siamese ||Siam||Extremely lean shorthair. Colorpoints are highly common. Notably large ears and blue eyes.|
| Siberian ||Russia||A plush semi-longhair. Small ears, round eyes. Tail is plumed.|
| Singapura ||Streets of Singapore||Shorthair. Small, clever frame. Large ears and wide, round eyes.|
| Somali ||Is basically a longhaired Abyssinian and shares the same origins.||Shorthair with a thick, plumed tail. Looks almost fox-like.|
| Sphynx ||A rare, practically hairless mutation. First Sphynx was noted in Toronto (1966).||Medium-sized, Sturdy and strong. Typically hairless, though a fine peach-fuzz hair will often grow. Whip-like tail.|
| Tonkinese ||Derivative of Siamese and Burmese Breeds||Shorthair. Mink, solid, or point-colored. Proportional frame. Darker muzzle.|
| Turkish Angora ||Turkey (speculated)||Longhair. Proportional frame. Large ears and round remarkable eyes. Commonly colored in a variety of tabby patterns.|
| Turkish Van ||Central and southwest Asia||Coat is semi-long. Notable head and tail markings. Well proportioned and sturdy frame. Colors include solids, tabbies, and torties.|
Cat associations are very strict regarding the pedigree of their breeds, and some are stricter than others. It is important to remember that:
- All purebred cats are domestic cats.
- Not all domestic cats are purebred.
This last statement accounts for the more recent show category of "Household Pets" in which cherished domestic cats can be shown by their owners despite their lack of pedigree. This category, however, is not featured by all cat associations.
Domestic vs. Mixed Breed Cats
A mixed breed cat features a clear mix between two or more cat breeds. Mixed breed cats are not mutts in that their breed origins are unknown. However, in the case of mixed breeds the particular breed makeup has yet to be recognized as a new breed.
Interesting breed questions arise in cases such as the Bengal cat. This breed results from the crossing of an Asian Leopard Cat and a domestic male shorthair. The Bengal breed is recognized by cat associations such as TICA (The International Cat Association) and the ACFA (American Cat Fanciers' Association), but not the CFA, which continues to classify the Bengal as a wild cat.
Domestic cats may be more responsive to humans than their feral siblings, but the two species share a host of innate behaviors. According to the Feline Advisory Bureau, both wild and domestic cats:
- Are inherently carnivorous
- Are territorial, and will spray or guard their homestead
- Purr when content
- Exhibit the "Flehman" response when analyzing smells
- Dig holes within which to defecate; covering the area afterward
- Possess the same natural hunting instincts
The life expectancy of a domestic cat varies from breed to breed and can be highly individualized for cats. Lifestyle factors such as outdoor access, disease exposure, diet and genetics can account for the broad disparity in feline longevity. In fact, resources such as VetInfo.com stress the fact that indoor cats live significantly longer than their outdoor counterparts. A healthy indoor animal can often live as long as 15 years provided that it receives a balanced diet and ample exercise.
Common Health Issues
VetInfo also lists the following health issues as common:
- Dental problems: When pet owners neglect daily tooth brushing, many cats over 3 years old develop tooth decay and gum disease. Bad breath and discolorations on teeth are typical symptoms.
- Hairballs: Many hairballs are harmless but sometimes the undigested hair from frequent grooming causes intestinal blockages, which can be fatal without veterinary intervention. Regular hair balls are coughed up routinely. Some cats also develop chronic constipation from hairballs and require a special diet. Signs of intestinal blockage include inability to pass feces, abdominal pain and sometimes vomiting.
- Parasites and mites: Parasites like roundworms, hookworms, fleas, ticks and tapeworms, are common without a preventative treatment. Symptoms vary depending on the type of parasite. Signs include lethargy, weight loss, itchiness, parasites in stools, rashes and swollen stomachs.
- Urinary tract infections and kidney problems: Bacteria or a genetic predisposition are among the leading causes of these types of problems in cats. Symptoms vary depending on the infection or kidney condition. They involve increased thirst, decreased or increased urination, straining to pass urine or inability to urinate.
- Respiratory infections: Some cats are prone to viral or bacterial respiratory infections. Coughing, wheezing or fever can all be signs of an infection.
- Feline leukemia virus (FeLV) and Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV): FeLV and FIV are retrovirus, attacking the immune system and making the cat susceptible to secondary, sometimes fatal, conditions. It is important to vaccinate a cat against FeLV and FIV. Symptoms include ever, vomiting, lethargy and swollen lymph nodes.
- Feline infectious peritonitis (FIP): The corona virus causes FIP. Affected cats develop flu-type symptoms.
The Great Mystery
Though researchers are still theorizing regarding the origins of the domestic cat, there is no doubt that the relationships between humans and cats have resulted in close bonds over the centuries. A 2009 in Scientific American glossed over the mystery surrounding the domestication process. Some scientists believe cats naturally adapted to the human household environment of ancient Mediterranean civilizations in order to feed off table scraps. This wouldn't come as any surprise to modern cat owners. The clever feline naturally adapts to a variety of circumstances in order to acquire the adoration and rewards of its master. However, the multitude of similarities between domestic and wild cats serves to suggest that domestic cats are every bit as impressive as their feral counterparts, just smaller in size.