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House Cats & the Big Cats

House Cats & the Big Cats

The house cats can’t roar and lions can’t purr, but these tiny felines that humans have been living with for thousands of years share a lot with their big, wild cousins of the jungle.

If you have a cat in your house as a pet, then you’ve probably noticed some of the behaviors reminiscent of its wildcat ancestors who lived in the deserts and the jungle. Felines may have moved in with us in our houses and become more socially aware creatures as a result, but they still stalk prey and mark their territory just like their wild cousins, the lion, tiger and jaguar. These big cats—lions, tigers, jaguars and leopards are all members of the Pantherinae cat subfamily. This means they diverged from the rest of the cats at least six million years ago. But if you watch these beautiful majestic animals closely, the similarities with your house cats are not hard to spot.

According to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2014, many of the differences between wild cats and domestic cats are in the genes that govern each one of their personality traits, such as aggression and the way they stalk prey. Wild cats are much more aggressive by nature in real life, but house cats are more likely to form memories and learn through reward based stimuli, as well as tolerate and even enjoy human interaction and contact, and living with the family dog. They understand the nature of people better than wild cats.

Although they have nearly identical brain in structure, wildcats have slightly larger brains (for their size) than domestic cats.

The shape of the pupil, unlike the vertical, slit pupils of our domesticated felines, the large cats have round pupils. According to a study published in the journal Science Advances, this difference is just related to their lifestyle.

Domesticated cats always purr but never roar, whereas, lions roar but never purr due the anatomical differences in throat anatomy between the two felines.

Other than their differences, it is true that Tigers and housecats share around 95 percent of the same DNA. Tigers are closely related to other big cats, so it goes without saying that there are plenty of ways in which the housecat is similar to its wild cousins.

Both wild and domestic cats spend between 14 to 20 hours a day sleeping. They have great senses of smell and both will use their open mouths to smell better. They are both obligatory carnivores, which means they rely, primarily, on a meat diet, being much better able to digest meat proteins over plant material. They both groom themselves a lot, anywhere from 30 to 50 percent of their waking hours. Both felines, will stalk their prey and generally confine their hunting to dusk, nighttime, and dawn. Cats of all shapes and sizes enjoy a good session of laser pointer chase, unraveling a role of string or toilet paper, and even playing in boxes. Or just playing with other cats. Mostly due to the genetics of certain family lines, half of both wild and domesticated cat populations will react strongly to and enjoy catnip. All types of cats use similar methods to mark their own territories, including, spraying, face rubbing to distribute their scent via the glands on their faces, to scratching a tree trunk if you’re a lion, the couch if you’re a cat. Much like the meowing and chirping you hear from your cat, big cats have their own ways of “talking” to one another that can sound similar. Domesticated cats often play with their food or hide it (after catching a mouse).  Wild cats will often hide their kill by moving it somewhere else or burying it, in order to save it for a later meal. No one knows for certain why cats actually knead, perhaps, it’s a carry-over from nursing and a show of contentment, but we do know that wild felines also engage in this endearing behavior.

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