The cat (Felis catus), also known as the domestic cat or housecat to distinguish it from other felines and felids, is a small, furry, domesticated, carnivorous mammal that is valued by humans for its companionship and for its ability to hunt vermin and household pests. Cats have been associated with humans for at least 9,500 years, and are currently the most popular pet in the world. Owing to their close association with humans, cats are now found almost everywhere in the world.
Cats are similar in anatomy to the other felids, with strong, flexible bodies, quick reflexes, sharp retractable claws, and teeth adapted to killing small prey. As nocturnal predators, cats use their acute hearing and ability to see in near darkness to locate prey. Not only can cats hear sounds too faint for human ears, they can also hear sounds higher in frequency than humans can perceive. This is because the usual prey of cats (particularly rodents such as mice) make high frequency noises, so the hearing of the cat has evolved to pinpoint these faint high-pitched sounds. Cats also have a much better sense of smell than humans.
Despite being solitary hunters, cats are a social species and use a variety of vocalizations, pheromones and types of body language for communication. These include meowing, purring, trilling, hissing, growling, and grunting.
Cats have a rapid breeding rate. Under controlled breeding, they can be bred and shown as registered pedigree pets, a hobby known as cat fancy. Failure to control the breeding of pet cats by spaying and neutering, and the abandonment of former household pets, has resulted in large numbers of feral cats worldwide, with a population of up to 60 million of these animals in the United States alone.
As The New York Times wrote in 2007, "Until recently the cat was commonly believed to have been domesticated in ancient Egypt, where it was a cult animal", but a study that year revealed that the lines of descent of all house cats probably run through as few as five self-domesticating African Wildcats (Felis silvestris lybica) c. 8000 BC, in the Near East. The earliest direct evidence of cat domestication is a kitten that was buried alongside a human 9,500 years ago in Cyprus.
Nomenclature and etymology
The word cat derives from Old English catt, which belongs to a group of related words in European languages, including Welsh cath, Spanish gato, French chat (French pronunciation: [ʃa]), Basque katu, Byzantine Greek κάτια kátia, Old Irish cat, Frisian and Dutch kat, German Katze, Armenian katu, and Old Church Slavonic kotka. The ultimate source of all these terms is Late Latin catus, cattus, catta "domestic cat", as opposed to feles 'European wildcat'. It is unclear whether the Greek or the Latin came first, but, like Arabic qiṭṭ and Nubian kàdíís, they were undoubtedly borrowed from a word in an Afro-Asiatic language akin to Berber kaddîska, meaning 'wildcat'. The term puss (as in pussycat) may come from Dutch poes or from Low German Puuskatte, dialectal Swedish kattepus, or Norwegian pus, pusekatt, all of which primarily denote a woman and, by extension, a female cat.
While wildcats are the ancestral species from which domestic cats are descended, there are several intermediate stages between domestic pet and pedigree cats and these entirely wild cats. The semi-feral cat is a cat that is not owned by any one individual, but is generally friendly to people and may be fed by several households. Feral cats are associated with human habitations and may be fed by people or forage in rubbish, but are wary of human interaction. Pseudo-wildcats are descended from domestic cats, but now tend to live entirely independently from people.
A group of cats is referred to as a "clowder", a male cat is called a "tom" (or a "gib", if neutered), and a female is called a "molly" or "queen". The male progenitor of a cat, especially a pedigreed cat, is its "sire", and its female progenitor is its...