A cat is a small domesticated carnivorous mammal with soft fur, a short snout, and retractile claws. It is widely kept as a pet or for catching mice, and many breeds have been developed.
The average lifespan of pet cats has risen in recent years. In the early 1980s it was about 7 years, rising to 9.4 years in 1995. U.S. data from the Banfield Animal Hospital suggest an average lifespan of 12.1 years in 2013, with regional variations from 10.7 years in Deleware to 13.2 years in Colorado However, cats have been reported as reaching into their 30s, with the oldest known cat, Creme Puff, dying at a verified age of 38.
Cats are known for their cleanliness, spending many hours licking their coats. The cat's tounge has backwards-facing spines about 500 micrometers long, which are called papillae. These are quite rigid, as they contain keratain. These spines allow cats to groom themselves by licking their fur, with the rows of papillae acting like a hairbrush. Some cats, particularly longhaired cats, occasionally regurgitate hairballs of fur that have collected in their stomachs from grooming. These clumps of fur are usually sausage-shaped and about 2–3 cm long. Hairballs can be prevented with remedies that ease elimination of the hair through the gut, as well as regular grooming of the coat with a comb or stiff brush. Some cats can develop a compulsive behavior known as phcycogenic alopcia or excessive grooming.
Among domestic cats, males are more likely to fight than females. Among ferral cats, the most common reason for cat fighting is competition between two males to mate with a female. In such cases, most fights are won by the heavier male. Another common reason for fighting in domestic cats is the difficulty of establishing territories within a small home. Female cats also fight over territory or to defend their kittens. Neutering will decrease or eliminate this behavior in many cases, suggesting that the behavior is linked to sex hormones.
Cats hunt small prey, primarily birds and rodents, and are often used as a form of pest control. Domestic cats are a major predator of wildlife in the United States, killing an estimated 1.4–3.7 billion birds and 6.9–20.7 billion mammals annually. The bulk of the predation the United States is done by 80 million feral and stray cats. Effective measures to reduce this population are elusive, meeting opposition from cat enthusiasts In the case of free-ranging pets, equipping cats with bells and not letting them out at night will reduce wildlife predation. Free-fed ferral cats and house cats tend to consume many small meals in a single day, although the frequency and size of meals varies between individuals. Cats use two hunting strategies, either stalking prey actively, or waiting in ambush until an animal comes close enough to be captured. Although it is not certain, the strategy used may depend on the prey species in the area, with cats waiting in ambush outside burrows, but tending to actively stalk birds.
Domestic cats, especially young kittens, are known for their love of play. This behavior mimics hunting and is important in helping kittens learn to stalk, capture and kill prey. Cats also engage in play fighting, with each other and with humans. This behavior may be a way for cats to practice the skills needed for real combat, and might also reduce any fear they associate with launching attacks on other animals.
Female cats are seasonally polyestrous, which means they may have many periods of heat over the course of a year, the season beginning in spring and ending in late autumn. Heat periods occur about every two weeks and last about 4 to 7 days. Multiple males will be attracted to a female in heat. The males will fight over her, and the victor wins the right to mate. At first, the female rejects the male, but eventually the female allows the male to mate. The female utters a loud yowl as the male pulls out of her because a male cat's penis has a band of about 120–150 backwards-pointing penile spines, which are about 1 mm long; upon withdrawal of the penis, the spines rake the walls of the female's vagina, which is a trigger for ovulation. This act also occurs to clear the vagina of other sperm in the context of a second (or more) mating, thus giving the later males a larger chance of conception.
After mating, the female washes her vulva thoroughly. If a male attempts to mate with her at this point, the female will attack him. After about 20 to 30 minutes, once the female is finished grooming, the cycle will repeBecause ovulation is not always triggered by a single mating, females may not be impregnated by the first male with which they mate. Furthermore, cats are superfecund; that is, a female may mate with more than one male when she is in heat, with the result that different kittens in a litter may have different fathers.
Feral cats are domestic cats that were born in or have reverted to a wild state. They are unfamiliar with and wary of humans and roam freely in urban and rural areas. The numbers of feral cats is not known, but estimates of the US feral population range from 25 to 60 million. Feral cats may live alone, but most are found in large colonies, which occupy a specific territory and are usually associated with a source of food. Famous feral cat colonies are found in Rome around the Colosseum and Fourm Romanum, with cats at some of these sites being fed and given medical attention by volunteers.
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