An Alphabet Of Cat Facts

by Theresa Meyers

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All-American

Tabbies are a vital part of American pop culture thanks to such striped celebs as Bill the Cat, Garfield, Hobbes, and Morris. Manufacturers use tabbies to advertise cat food, litter and a host of other products. Tabbies make us laugh, they make us cry, and whether red, white, or blue, they're as American as the Stars and Stripes.

Body

A tabby's body is a marvel of engineering. A cat's skeleton has more than 230 bones. Its pelvis and shoulders are more loosely attached to the spine that those of other four-footed animals, providing superior agility. A minimal collarbone combined with a small chest cavity allows it to squeeze through tight spaces. Powerful musculature produces speed and superior leaping skills, while its tail provides balance when the cat is airborne. Cats actually walk on their toes, known as digitigrade, and gives cats that extra edge when moving at high speeds.

Claws

Cat's sharp, hooked, retractable claws are sheathed in leathery pockets at the end of each toe, ready to go into action at a moment's notice. Why does your tabby use it's scratching post so often (or in my case... daddy's chair)? Contrary to popular belief, it's not sharpening its claws, but tearing off the sheaths ragged edges. Cats regularly shed their claws to expose the new, sharp ones underneath the sheath. They retract their claws to keep them sharp. Scratching also helps cats mark their territory by stimulating the release of a scent from glands located between the paw pads.

Defenses

In addition to needle-sharp claws, your tabby has a fantastic array of offensive weapons that include speed and agility. How will you know when your cat is on the defensive? Look for ears held tight against the head, a ridge of upright fur along the back and a twitching tail.

Ears

Those ears aren't there for decoration! Cats have three times the hearing ability of a d*g and can hear higher pitched noises. They can easily pick out sounds of up to 100,000 cycles per second - about the pitch of a mouse's squeak.

Fur

Your tabby's fur is fantastic! It's versatile, elegant, year-round wardrobe that's hard-wearing and easy to clean. While some cat owners complain about shedding, it's nature's way of ensuring a lighter coat for the warmer season. Extended daylight usually triggers shedding, which is why many indoor cats shed year-round. Your cat's coat is also a guide to its health. Fur should shine and be silky soft; if it's not, check for other signs of ill health.

Grooming

Your tabby devotes approximately one-third of its waking hours to grooming, about three hours of self-pampering a day. Cats groom themselves so fastidiously because of a matter of health and survival. The combination of saliva and a rough tongue helps your cat reduce its scent. That means it can hunt more effectively and keep its coat healthy. Frequent grooming also removes dead hair and skin, gets the blood pumping and tones muscles. Also, it isn't your cat's fur you may be allergic to, but its dander or a protein in its saliva.

Hair

What makes those fantastic stripes, swirls and spots on tabbies? Each individual hair. The tabby coat is a combination of two patterns, one on top of another. Agouti, the lighter background color, has alternating bands of light and dark color from base to tip.

Intuition

The sixth sense in cats has a name: Jacobson's organ. Located in the roof of your tabby's mouth, it's believed to communicate signals to the sexual receptors in your cat's brain. When the Jacobson's organ is stimulated, the cat invariably opens its mouth slightly and wrinkles its nose. You'll notice this response when your tabby finds a particularly interesting odor.

Jumping

Cats can leap an amazing five times their body length from a standing position. This ability is linked to your tabby's hunting instincts. Strong muscles in the hindquarters and back provide the necessary launching power. Also, it's keen eyesight allows it to judge distances with such accuracy that it knows exactly where it will land.

Kitten

Your tabby started life as one of several kittens in a litter, the average number is four to six. Because female cats can go into heat while pregnant, littermates may not share the same father. Kittens are born blind and deaf, which means they have to rely heavily on their sense of smell. Kittens use this sense to find their mother's nipples for nursing.

Life Span

Cats are alleged to have nine lives, but studies show that indoor cats have a longer life expectancy than outdoor cats. According to the HSUS, indoor cats enjoy an average life span of about 17 years, compared to outdoor cats that typically live only about two to five years. Who is the longest-living cat? The Guinness Book of World Records recognized Texan Grandpa Rexs Allen, who died at the age of 34 years in April 1998.

Morris

Three Morris cats have charmed audiences since the first orange-striped tabby was found in a Chicago area animal shelter 30 years ago. The original Morris became the poster cat for 9-Lives brand cat food. The current 9-Lives cat, Morris III, was also discovered at an animal shelter. Besides serving as spokescat, this philanthropic cat makes public appearances on behalf on homeless pets nationwide.

Name

Where did the name tabby originate? Many sources credit Attibiah, an ancient district in Baghdad, with that honor. Artists in this weaving center produced a beautiful and expensive watered silk fabric, called tabby cloth (and later taffeta), which lent its name to the only cat that could match its subtle, glistening patterns.

Optics

All experts agree that cats can see things humans can't. Your tabby's eyes are six times more sensitive than yours to short-wave ultraviolet light, and it has excellent night and binocular vision, which enables it to accurately judge distances. It sees movement more easily than details. That glow-in-the-dark sheen in your tabby's eyes is light reflecting off the retina and may aid the cat with night vision.

Patterns

The typical striped tabby pattern provides the perfect background for a variety of striking accessories. These include: thin, expressive mascara lines on cheeks, around eyes and over the top of the head; a distinctive "M" on the forehead; necklaces; buttons; bracelets or anklets; rings around the tail and a distinctive dark band that runs down the spine. No two tabby patterns are exactly the same.

Quick

Cats have been clocked at 31 miles per hour - lightening fast for such short legs! Cats can cover about three times their own body length per leap. Quick reflexes are essential to a cat's hunting skills.

Red

Red tabbies owe their color to their red genes, which convert all black pigment to orange. When mixed with the tabby pattern genes, the red gene produces an orange cat with a vibrant red tabby pattern. Ever wonder why some red tabbies have muted coats and others a rich red? A process called rufism controls the intensity of the yellow pigment in the coat with polygenes, each of which has an incremental effect. The pale ginger tabby is at one extreme and the vivid, deep red tabby is at the other.

Superstitions

In the Middle Ages, cats were thought to have venomous fangs and were considered the cause of all kinds of problems ranging from soured beer to the spread of disease. Some old world superstitions live on: Today some people still fear that a cat will smother a baby, while others believe that cats will leave the house of a sick person before he or she dies.

Tail

Most cats' tails contain anywhere from 14 to 28 coccygeal vertebrae. And while a tail is critical to your cat's ability to leap and jump, some cats do just fine with only a stub of a tail containing about three vertebrae.

Utilitarian

Cats have played many roles in human society, from goddess in ancient Egypt to minion of the devil in Medieval times. The Egyptians worshipped cats in the form of the cat goddess, Bastet, who was the deity of love and fertility. Apparently, the Burmese also believe cats to be sacred. A British officer during WWII, painted images of cats on the army vehicles to gain Burmese support for Allied forces.

Variety

Tabbies are a colorful bunch. Some of the most common colors include brown, blue, red, cream, and silver. If your tabby has white patches, don't pout. All tabby patterns and colors can be accompanied by a splash of white. White spots on the stomach or chest are called lockets, and white feet are known as mittens. Tabby-and-white cats typically have equal amounts of each color. The van pattern occurs when a cat has more white than tabby in its coat, with the result that the tabby appears only on the head and tail. In cases where cats' genes have a Siamese accent the tabby markings will appear on the face, feet, ears, and tail. These are referred to as lynx-point tabbies and have bracelets, tail rings and facial markings.

Whiskers

Cats use their whiskers alot, but how they work is something of a mystery. Each cat has a set of approx. 25-30 whiskers that are individually attached to nerves in the skin. They usually grow in four rows above the mouth and eyes. Cats use their whiskers in the dark to identify things they can't see, or to navigate through underbrush. If you touch a cat's whisker, the cat will automatically close its eye on that side. It's nature's way of protecting the eye from twigs or blades of grass. The whiskers are so sensitive that cats with bad eyesight use them to feel their way around.

X-Chromosome

The X-chromosome affects a tabby's coloring. If your mackerel, classic, spotted, or ticked tabby has the sex-linked orange gene in its heritage, it will display some patching. The red or cream colors will either be intermingled or appear as separate patches on the tabby's head, body, legs, or tail. The patched tabby, much like the calico or tortoiseshell coat pattern, usually appears only in female cats.

Yawn

Just how much do cats sleep? The average is about 16 hours per day. Since cats tend to sleep lightly, they make up for quality with quantity. Even in REM sleep, they are still attuned to possible danger and can wake in an instant.

Zodiac

You and your tabby have one more reason to celebrate the New Year. Every 12 years the Chinese calendar rolls around to the Year of the Cat. According to Chinese astrology, people born in the Year of the Cat are considered decent, clever and with a high regard for others. They're also often aloof and oversensitive. Years of the Cat include: 1963, 1975, 1987, 1999, and 2011.

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