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Brief Biological Overview of the Domestic Cat

Tony LaCroix

Animal Legal and Historical Center
Publish Date:
Place of Publication: Michigan State University College of Law
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Brief Biological Overview of the Domestic Cat


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Felis silvestris catus is the scientific name for the domestic, or house cat, whose closest relative is the species Felis silvestris lybica, the African Wild Cat. Cats were first domesticated in Egypt about 4,000 years ago, see Pamela Jo Hatley, Feral Cat Colonies in Florida: The Fur and Feathers are Flying, 18 J. Land Use & Envtl. L. 441, 442 (2003), where they were highly regarded because they ate rats which ate supplies of grain. Cats often form wild colonies, in which they communicate with each other by use of up to one hundred different vocalizations, including purring, hissing, and clicking.

The domestic cat covers a wide geographical range, from Antarctica to urban cities as well as temperate farmlands, and is the most popular pet animal in America. Shawn Gorman & Julie Levy, A Public Policy Toward Management of Feral Cats, 2 Pierce L. Rev. 157, 157 (2004). Cats in captivity typically live from fourteen to twenty years, while the oldest known cat lived to the age of 36. Cats live longer if not permitted to go outdoors, where they are more prone to catch disease or become injured in a fight, and if they are spayed or neutered, thus eliminating the possibility of testicular or ovarian cancer, and reducing the risk of mammary cancer.

Cats are athletic animals, which can reach running speeds of up to thirty miles per hour for short distances. They have incredible vertical jump capabilities, able to clear a seven-foot fence from a stationary position. Id. They are also unique in that they do not have rigid collar bones, allowing them to pass through openings the size of their head. 

Although treasured as companions in ancient Egypt as well as in the modern Western World, this is not the case in other areas, where cats are considered to be food, and treated much as are chickens and cattle in America.  


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For a brief summary of legal issues facing feral cats, click here.

Click here for a more in-depth overview of feral cats.

Also see the Detailed Discussion of Feral Cats

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