National Cat Day
Today, October 29th, is National Cat Day. Obviously we couldn’t let this day pass without celebrating somehow, so we’ve assembled some cat-tacular facts about our feline friends to help you get through the day. After all, we do love all animals here at SRUC and provide education on animal care. Should questions about cats ever come up in a quiz or the like, you’re paw-fectly well armed to answer.
Yes, we’ll stop with the awful puns.
1. Cats are with us because they feel like it.
If there’s one thing we all know about cats, it’s that they suit themselves, (speaking as the author of this piece, it’s the main reason why I personally like them). A very individual animal, this trait causes them to be aloof and utterly baffling to figure out.
A recent article on National Geographic suggests that cats actually started domesticating themselves around 8,000 years ago (rather than humans bringing them in), where they and farmers ultimately found a mutually benefical relationship in controlling rodent populations. As such, it was illegal to slay cats in Egypt because of the great job they did in controlling rats (as well as, you know, being considered divine guardians of the afterlife).
Fun fact: The Egyptian word for cat is “Mau”.
Fun fact 2: The oldest known cat grave was found on Cyprus and is around 9,500 years old
Pet cats are physically smaller than their big cat relatives, but actually they’re not that different in nature to them. According to Gary Weitzman, head of the San Diego Humane Society, cats haven’t become entirely domesticated yet as per dogs, but have become more sociable creatures in comparison to wildcats, which is one of the many reasons why humans are drawn to them.
Cats’ brains are actually more physiologically similar to humans’ brains than dogs. They have a lesser intellectual capacity for social behaviour but are far more capable of solving complex problems. That is of course, if they feel like it.
The real question is who is actually the pet?
2. Tabby cats exist due to domestication
No, this isn’t some odd genetic experiment led by a Frankenstein-esque character. Tabby cats didn’t genetically exist until the domestication of cats began to mix up the gene pool in the cat population in the middle ages – humans began carting the animals around the globe.
It became one of the few traits to tell the animals apart as up until that point there was little in the way of obvious markers to know the difference between the various species.
In the 18th century, tabby cats began to become synonymous with domesticated cats with the inevitable onset of selective breeding to achieve particular traits in the animals. This is probably only because cats let it happen.
3. A cat’s nose is like a human fingerprint
Cats have amazing physical capabilities –
- Their eyesight enables them to see at night time with 7 times less light than humans require (although their daytime eyesight is severely diminished)
- Their ears, which can move independently through 180 degrees, can detect sounds of up to 64kHz – approximately 3 times as much as a human with great hearing
- Their whiskers are used to detect the dimensions of a space to see if they can fit through it
- Their shoulder bones are not fixed so they can squeeze into tiny gaps
- They can “taste” the air – they have an extra organ that enables them to do this with controlled breathing
- A cat’s purr is at the precise frequency to aid muscular and bone regeneration, which is useful when you can jump 6 times your body length and survive a fall of 320 metres onto solid concrete…
- Among the 100 or so sounds a cat can produce, it is able to mimic the sound of a human baby when it wants food
You probably already knew all of that, but what you might not know is that each and every cat has a unique ridge pattern on its nose which is more like a human fingerprint. Good luck persuading a cat to put a nose print on a legal document though…
4. Mythological creatures
Cats have, over the centuries, gathered a great deal of mythology behind them.
The Egyptians saw them as divine creatures, being the guardians of the afterlife and ultimately erected the Sphinx as a monument to this belief.
In fact, cats were held in such high regard in Ancient Egypt (not just because of their practical use) that when a pet cat died, a family would go into mourning and the cat would be buried with the same funerial honours as a human, with the humans actively shaving their eyebrows as a mark of respect.
Russia, Japan and China consider cats to be lucky, with the image of the waving cat a common sight in Asian businesses. In fact, Japan has a cat shrine called neko jinj which is located on Tashirojima Island.
Not every civilisation has been as kind to the cat, however. In the middle ages, Pope Innocent VIII ordered the mass killing of cats because he decided that they were demonic.
Cats were also implicated in the spread of the European plagues of the middle ages, despite actually serving a useful purpose in controlling the rats that were transporting the fleas carrying the deadly virus.
Cats are of course associated with witchcraft, another story that dates back to the middle ages, being considered demonic familiars, and sadly the mass ceremonial burning of cats was something that was celebrated in various cultures. In particular, the black cat breeds bear this burden and it’s not something that has really gone away.
It probably doesn’t help that Spanish-Jewish folklore believes that Adam’s (from the garden of Eden) first wife, Lilith, became a black vampire cat, sucking the blood from sleeping babies.
The interpretation of the black cat as a sign of good or bad luck varies from place to place, with as a rough generalisation, the USA considering them bad luck and here in Britain they are considered good luck.
However, in the fishing communities of East Fife, it is considered incredibly bad luck for a fisherman to encounter a black cat en route to the harbour, with the very superstitious actually going back to their homes to restart the journey to their boats to undo the bad luck.
Thankfully for the cat, another of its many mythological traits is having 9 lives, which will enable it to overcome anything thrown its way!
5. Cats as companions
We all know that dogs are considered “man’s best friend”, and whilst dogs tend to be more obedient and loyal than cats, there is no real truth in the notion that cats are generally scheming, calculating, disloyal creatures that make Prince Machiavelli jealous.
There’s a reason why cats are waiting for you when you get home from work, why they’re so excited to see you after an absence and why they brush against you to mark you with their scent.
Cats’s brains, as we mentioned earlier, are more physiologically similar to a human’s, and as such they process emotions in the same region of the brain. Cats can also recognise your individual voice.
Take comfort in knowing that generally, an adult cat won’t miaow to any other creature than a human in a bid to communicate. Generally cats communicate with one another through more aggressive means – spitting, hissing and growling.
Cat owners are likely to have their risk of heart attack and stroke reduced by 1/3, owing to the calming nature of petting a cat. The fact that a cat spends 70% of its day asleep is probably an important part of this.
How you can help cats.
There are many ways in which you can help cats. Adopting or rehoming sheltered cats is of course a great way to help, giving a second chance to unfortunate cats.
Of course we also offer a range of animal care courses that can provide you with the necessary skills to volunteer or work at shelters and various care centres.
Though if you’re a dyed-in-the-wool animal lover and want to dedicate your life to caring for animals, you can also study veterinary nursing with us.