We’ve debunked the myths, now PugetPets explores some amazing cat facts. Our feline friends’ lovable personalities make them special to us, and their associations with humans reach deep into antiquity. Cats have made surprising contributions to human myth, history and religion. Felines also have mind-blowing specialized biological traits, the ability to create a unique “language” to communicate with humans, and some astonishing world records to their credit. Cats are so amazing, that we think they deserve a full curriculum. Read on to explore cat facts in History, Biology, Language Arts and Math!
Cats and humans have associated with each other for nearly 10,000 years. Cats always seem to evoke strong emotions in human beings. They have been both venerated and reviled throughout human history.
Ancient Egyptians are well known for their cat-worship. Smuggling a cat out of ancient Egypt was a crime punishable by death. Traders eventually smuggled out the novel creatures and sold them to wealthy people as exotic pets. When a family cat died in ancient Egypt, family members would mourn by shaving off their eyebrows. They also held elaborate funerals for their deceased felines. Families had pet cats embalmed and fitted with wooden masks. They then placed the kitty mummies in the family tomb or in a pet cemetery together with tiny mummies of mice.
Ancient Egyptian cat veneration was not always so loving, however. Egyptians also farmed cats in large numbers and slaughtered them for mummification. They then sold the mummies as religious relics. In 1888, an Egyptian farmer discovered a vast burial of mummified cats. Large numbers of these were sold at auction to be ground up and used as fertilizer in Great Britain.
In Europe during the middle ages cats became associated with witchcraft and the Devil. A celebration of St. John’s Day was not complete without stuffing cats into sacks and tossing them into bonfires. This may be the origin of our expression to “let the cat out of the bag.” On other holy days, people celebrated by tossing cats from church towers. During the time of the Spanish Inquisition, Pope Innocent VIII also condemned felines as evil. Thousands of cats were burned as a result of his edicts. Many experts believe that this felicide led to an explosion of the rat population, which contributed to the effects of the Black Plague, also called the Black Death or the Great Plague, a disease which wiped out as much as 60% of Europe’s population. The total human population took 200 years to recover.
Cats do not have the ability to taste sweet. In 2005 scientists from the Monell Chemical Senses Center discovered that cats’ genetic composition lacks a crucial protein for tasting sweetness. This is consistent with what we know about cats’ dietary needs. Unlike dogs, cats in the wild eat meat exclusively. Our pet cats would too, if it were up to them. Unfortunately, most commercial pet foods contain grain products, around 20% on average, which may help explain the predominance of feline diabetes. It’s a fact: feline metabolism simply cannot handle all the carbohydrates in those foods.
“But my cat loves ice cream!” You might say. And it’s true, many cats will eat ice cream, fruit, cookies or other sweet things, but this does not mean they are tasting the sweetness. In all likelihood it is the salt or fat content of the treats that is appealing to your cat. Hungry for more information on feline nutrition? See our August 17, 2017 post.
We often refer to a short, light sleep as a “catnap.” Cat guardians, however, might be inclined to take issue with this phrase. Any observer of cats knows that cats sleep a LOT. In fact, research shows that cats spend an average of two-thirds of every day sleeping. This means that a nine-year-old cat has been awake for only three years of its life!
A cat’s front limbs are attached to the shoulder by free-floating clavicle bones. This allows cats to get through any space into which they can fit their heads. Humans, by contrast, have clavicle bones that are connected to our shoulders, making it less likely for us to find ourselves in a tight squeeze!
Think you and your cat have a special ability to communicate with each other? You’re right! Does it ever seem to you that your cat’s meows sound like human language? In his book, Cat Sense: How the New Feline Science Can Make You a Better Friend to Your Pet, John Bradshaw reveals how the cat’s meow is a way cats have learned to communicate specifically with humans. “People think of it as an absolutely classic cat behavior … but it’s something they’ve learned to do to get our attention,” writes Bradshaw. “It’s really something they’ve adopted as a way of communicating with humans.”
Because of this, there is no universal language of meowing. Rather, individual cats learn and develop their own system of meows that works best to get their messages across to their humans. So if you feel your cat’s meows sound hurt, pleading, querying, irritated or content, this might not be anthropomorphism. Your cat’s vocal intonations may in fact be deliberate imitations of your own. For more on cat language, check out our November 2, 2017 post.
Cats purr when they’re happy, right? True, and the most familiar demonstration of this is newborn kittens purring while they nurse. But happiness or contentment isn’t the most accurate translation of the sound’s meaning. Cats are also known to purr when sick, injured or dying. According to John Bradshaw, purring means something more like, “don’t go anywhere, please.” If you are petting your cat, the purr probably is telling you “keep doing that. I like it.” In other words, the cat’s purr is a request for care or attention, rather than simply a statement of happiness. “They haven’t got a good way of asking for help — it’s not in their language — so they do the next best thing, they do the purring thing,” says Bradshaw.
Well, okay, it’s not exactly math, but a lot of surprising numbers come up when we start looking into cat facts. For example, did you know that cats make around 100 different sounds, while dogs make only about 10? Or that cats are the most popular pet in the world? There are more than 500 million domestic cats in the world today. Wrap your head around that number! Good at percents? So are cats. A housecat’s genome is 95.6% tiger!
What about weights and measures? The heftiest cat on record was Himmy, a Tabby from Queensland, Australia. He weighed 46 pounds, 15.2 ounces and died at the age of 10. The oldest cat ever on record was Creme Puff, from Austin, TX. She lived to be 38 years and 3 days old! Creme Puff’s guardian, Jake Perry, had two world-record aged cats. This has lead some to wonder whether the cats’ unusual diet, including things like asparagus and coffee (a no-no for cats!), had anything to do with their longevity.
Another famous record-holder was Towser, a female long-haired tortoiseshell cat from Scotland. According to the Guiness Book of World Records, Towser holds the record for catching the most mice. She is estimated to have caught 28,899 mice in her lifetime. The method used to arrive at this estimate involved a defined period of observation combined with statistical extrapolations. Born on April 21st, 1963, Towser presided over the pest management program at Glenturret Distillery for 24 years and was honored by the city of Glenturret with a bronze statue.
If you’re like us here at PugetPets, you can’t get enough cat facts. Has our cat curriculum (PURR-iculum?) wet your appetite for more? Want to share cat facts with others? You can get a free Android app that will send cat facts to your friends. The app also sends dog and sloth (yes, you read that right) facts, too, if you’re so inclined. Who knew? Check out the app here and get even more amazing cat facts on demand!