Domesticated housecats share an amazing amount of DNA with tigers – 95.6% actually. In evolutionary history, our furry feline pets became domesticated not that long ago, around 5,000 to 12,000 years. There are many similarities between domesticated cats and wild cats, but why can big cats roar and domesticated cats can’t? It all comes down to a small bone. Cats that roar can’t purr, and cats that purr can never roar.
The cat family (Felidae) is split with the big four cats who roar – lions, tigers, jaguars and leopards – in the sub-family Panthera, and cats who can only purr in the sub-family Felinae, which includes the domesticated cat as well as the bobcat, cheetah, mountain lion and other small wild cats. The mountain lion is the largest of the small cat species, and the tiger is the largest of the big four cats that roar.
What’s interesting about the cat family is their shared instinctive behavior. A head-butt is an appropriate greeting; a wiggle of their behind signals a readiness to pounce; they knead, paw at their food and have an exceptional sense of smell. Around half of all domesticated cats love catnip, which is the same in big cats. All cats, regardless of size, hiss, yowl, snarl, spit and growl. They all love to play, and even wild cats are obsessed with boxes. But when it comes to the ability to roar, not all cats can because of a small bone called the hyoid, which is a U-shaped bone in the throat that sits above the larynx. Read More »
Cats are amazing creatures. They are graceful, elegant, somewhat moody and hilarious to watch sometimes. If you have any doubt about that, just look up “funny cat videos” on the internet and you’ll be giggling for hours (and yes, I speak from experience).
Have you ever watched a cat race across a yard and then jump halfway up the trunk of a tree before it begins climbing? How about watching a cat easily leap from the ground to the top of a fence? How do they do that? When you see them perform these amazing feats, you begin to understand how closely related your domestic house cat is to a big jungle cat.
Thanks to evolution and the way felines have adapted to their environment over the years, both jungle cats and house cats have extremely strong back legs and a great deal of flexibility. This is because their ancestors mostly lived in trees and had to leap out to catch their prey before climbing back up the tree with their meal. Imagine a leopard carrying an antelope carcass up a tree; he’d need to have really strong hind quarters.
Dogs have been by our side for at least 30,000 years and are completely domesticated. Cats, on the other hand, didn’t join the human family until 9,000 years ago. You may not think of your adorable kitty as a wild animal, but according to new research that tracked the genome of cats, our feline friends are only semi-domesticated.
Dogs, cats, and other carnivores share a lineage with a 55 million year old ancestor called Dormaalocyon latouri, a tiny two pound tree dweller believed to have dined on smaller mammals and insects. Scientists think it looked like a cross between a squirrel and a very small panther, with a cat-like snout and prominent tail. One of the earliest ancestors of mammals found, it lived in humid forests. Evolution is a complicated and surprising process.
Our house cats have only been living with humans for a relatively short period of time, and little is known about their domestication. Unlike dogs that live in a social structure, cats are solitary creatures. The most likely reason cats began to interact with humans was because the felines hunted rodents in food supplies which were in close proximity to people, and humans rewarded docile cats that stayed close by with food. However, cats have never fully given up their solitary nature.
Scientists are still debating where in the world wolves were first domesticated. Some believe it happened in the Middle East, while others say Eastern Asia. It’s even been suggested that the Americas could have been one region of domestication. So far, the exact area (or areas) where dogs became “man’s best friend” remains elusive.
The origin of cats, however, is known. A study done five years ago traced cats back to where they were first domesticated. Based on DNA evidence, the Fertile Crescent is the most likely birthplace of felines. Researchers have even been able to trace feline DNA back to the wildcat that started the process of domestication.
The Fertile Crescent is an area in the Middle East that spreads out from Turkey to northern Africa and east to Iraq and Iran. The ancestor of modern day cats began their domestication when humans gave up their nomadic life and settled down to raise crops and livestock. DNA mapping of the feline genome traces cats back to a single wild maternal ancestor, the Near Eastern wildcat that still lives in the remote deserts of the Middle East.
Like the wolves that discovered it was in their best interest to hitch themselves to humans, the Near Eastern wildcat did the same thing. The process of feline domestication occurred around 10,000 years ago. This was originally thought to be about the same time wolves were “transforming” themselves, but new research and evidence has found the domestication of dogs may have actually began much earlier – from 19,000 to 32,000 years ago.
Ok, first things first —“Why do cats eat grass” is the million dollar question. Several theories have been bandied about, but the reality is that no one knows for sure. It’s not like we can ask our cats why grass is so appealing to them even though 95% of the time it comes right back up. Oh, we can ask them alright, but I’m not even sure they know the answer.
So…do cats eat grass because they have a dietary deficiency? Do they munch on the green stuff to induce yakking because they’re not feeling well? Do they just like the way grass tastes? Is the predisposition to eat grass something cats inherited from their wild feline ancestors? Is grass beneficial for cats? Could it be harmful?
Those are all great questions, but so far, only the last one has a definitive answer (more on that later). Let’s explore some of the theories on why cats eat grass.
The Juices in Grass Contain Folic Acid
Folic acid is an essential vitamin for a cat’s bodily functions. Folic acid also aids the production of hemoglobin, the protein that moves oxygen in the blood. A folic acid deficiency could lead to anemia and stunted growth. So the theory is that cats might instinctively know they’re deficient in folic acid and they eat grass to correct the situation.
The sand cat might just be the cutest of all wild cats, and it’s also one of the smallest. Don’t let that sweet face and tiny body fool you, though – this desert wild cat is tough as nails! Well yeah…it would have to be, to survive the harsh conditions where it lives.
Found in both sandy and stony deserts, the habitat of the sand cat (Felis margarita) ranges from North Africa’s Sahara Desert through the Middle East into Central Asia. Although “sand cat” might seem to be a nickname related to its habitat, it is the cat’s actual name. Also called the sand dune cat, these plucky felines have adapted to the extreme temperatures and dry conditions in the desert. Their feet are thickly padded with fur to insulate them from the hot sand. They have large ears which help them hear their prey, and they are excellent hunters – a small rodent like a mouse does not stand a chance against a sand cat!
This hardy feline can survive in temperatures ranging from 23° F to 126° F. During extreme heat, the sand cat stays cool by retreating to an underground burrow. They use abandoned fox or porcupine burrows, but are also good at digging and will enlarge the small burrows of gerbils or other rodents.
Perhaps most impressive of all is that sand cats do not need to drink a lot of water. Although they do drink water when it’s available, if necessary they can get the moisture they need from their prey. This allows them to live comfortably in areas that are far from a water source. Read More »
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