Note:  Do not rely on this information. It is very old.


Cat, the book-name of any species of the Felidae, of the group AEluroidea, of the order Carnivora. The family contains but one living genus - or, at most, two genera - and includes the typical carnivora. The lion, tiger, leopard, puma, jaguar, ounce, cheetah, and clouded tiger (all which see), are often called the large cats; and there are a number of smaller forms, to many of which the name "cat," with some distinguishing epithet, is applied. [Caracal, Ocelot, Serval, Tiger-cat.] Another division, distinguished by pencilled ears, may also be marked off from the main group. [Lynx.] The members of this family, widely distributed in both hemispheres, are specially fitted for a life of rapine; every part of the ordinary mammalian structure is organised for capturing, killing;, and devouring living prey. Externally, these animals may be recognised by their lithe, agile form, small rounded head, well-proportioned, muscular limbs; close adpressed fur, stealthy movements, and keen eager glance - all necessary for their predaceous mode of life. Anatomically, the chief characters are their strong claws - retractile in all but the cheetah, their carnassial teeth, the rounded skull, and the division of the auditory bullae into two parts by a bony partition. The tongue is furnished with little horny spines, used to rasp the flesh of their prey from the bones. In some forms, as in the domestic cat, the pupil of the eye is round only in the dark, when it is dilated to receive every available ray of light, but in the daytime it is contracted to a mere slit. "Wild cat" is a name given to several of the smaller cats of Asia and Africa, and sometimes to a feral race of Felis domestica, escaped from domestication. But the term is pre-eminently applied to F. catus, now confined to Southern Russia and the adjacent parts of Asia, Greece, Turkey, Central Europe, and Scotland. It has long been extinct in England, and probably never existed in Ireland, though there feral cats are of frequent occurrence, as in England. This animal is more strongly built than the domestic cat, and has a shorter tail, of uniform thickness, ringed with black and black at the tip. In general appearance it may be described as "a miniature tabby tiger." One killed at Cawdor Castle measured 45 in. over all. It is a solitary nocturnal animal, preying on birds, and small mammals, especially rabbits, and killing far more than it can eat; its disposition is very savage, and it has been known to attack man.

The domestic cat (F. domestica) is quite a distinct species, probably descended from the Egyptian cat (F. maniculata), which was certainly domesticated more than 3,000 years ago, and worshipped in some cities and embalmed after death.

The strain, however, is decidedly mixed, for the cat was domesticated in Europe more than 2.000 years ago, and there is little doubt that the Crusaders brought a distinct race with them from the East. The Jews must have been acquainted with the cat, but there is no reference to it in the Authorised Version, though it is mentioned in Baruch vi. 22. The great value set on these animals as mousers in the Middle Ages, is shown by the laws enacted for their preservation, and the severe fines inflicted on those who killed one. By a law of Howel the Good, a Welsh prince of the tenth century, anyone who stole or killed the cat which guarded the royal granary was to forfeit a ewe with its fleece and lamb, or as much wheat as would form a pile sufficient to cover the cat when held up by its tail with its nose touching the ground. The domestic cat runs into many varieties, chiefly of colour and fur. According to Dr. Mivart these are: (1) Black, with clear yellow eyes, and a few white hairs on the throat. The young show decided stripes or spots, especially on the limbs; (2) White, often with blue eyes, which are generally correlated with deafness; (3) Tabby - grey striped and mottled with black - probably the result of crossing with the wild cat; (4) Tortoiseshell, fawn mottled with black, generally females, though one good instance of a male is on record; (5) Grey, striped only over the fore legs; (6) Sandy, usually males. The Persian cat is remarkable for its size, and the length and fineness of its fur; the Siam cat is uniform fawn, with a dark muzzle; the Carthusian cat is uniform slate-grey, called "blue" by fanciers; the Manx and Crimean cats are tailless, but tailed specimens also exist in Man. Manx cats are sometimes called kangaroo cats, from the fact that the hind limbs are longer than the fore. There was said to be a breed with pendent ears in China, but Pere David has shown this story to be without foundation. It is on record that a domestic cat has attained a weight of 23 lbs., but this is far above the average. About twelve years is the ordinary life limit, but 18 years have been reached, and there are many cases of intermediate periods. The habits of the cat are far too well known to need description. With domestication, however, they have acquired a fondness for articles of diet they could never obtain in a wild condition - cheese, fish, and milk. They sometimes develop a taste for sweet things, and the writer once had a cat with a strain of Persian blood that was extremely fond of melon. The sexual passions of the cat are very strong, and the cry of the sexes to each other is so ear-piercing as to have given rise to the verb "to caterwaul."

The cat is kept chiefly as a mouser, and it is estimated that one cat will destroy about twenty mice a day. But cats also act as preventives, and their mere presence will do much to rid a house of rodent plagues. Apart from its value as a mouser, the cat is often kept as a pet, and it is the fashion to decry its affection and intelligence as compared with the development of those qualities in the dog. Those who do so have never taken the trouble to win the confidence of a cat, which is not an ardent, but a very constant lover. Whoever has done so, however, will have abundant reward for his pains. He will soon discover that the cat is not a whit behind the dog in intelligence, and its affection should be more valued because it is not lavished indiscriminately. The literature of the domestic cat is not voluminous. Mrs. Cashel Hoey's translation of Champfleury is a good book; but Pierre Loti's sketch Vies de deux chattes is the work of a true lover of cats, and should be read by all who doubt their intelligence and affection. Cats have suffered grievous things at the hands of animal painters. It is the fashion to depict them in human attitudes and occupations, and it is sad to see how plentiful these productions are in printsellers' windows. There is only one living artist - Mdme. Ronner - who can paint a cat, and the pictures just alluded to bear about the same relation to her work as do the fencing frogs and cricketing squirrels that one sees in country "stuffers'" windows to the admirable reproductions of bird-life in the galleries at South Kensington.