Wild cats may be a lot bigger than Fluffy back home, but there’s a lot more similarities between wild cats and domestic cats than you think!
They both like cardboard boxes
This one of many unexplained similarities between wild cats and domestic cats! You might have noticed your house cat likes the cardboard box their toy came in a lot better than the actual toy itself.
There hasn’t been a lot of research when it comes to why cats like boxes, according to a 2017 report in Inverse, however there’s possible theories.
“One is that the box provides some insulation,” cat researcher Mikel Delgado of UC Davis told Inverse. “Cats’ thermoneutral zone … is between 85 and 100 degrees, so some cats probably like boxes because the cardboard might retain some of the cat’s body heat.”
They will chase laser pointers
“I think they like that it moves really fast,” Bass of Big Cat Rescue told Mental Floss. “They have to chase it. You can go up a wall, under things, like I do with my cat. They’re just fascinated with it.”
Laser pointers’ quick movements invokes cats’ predatory sequence — stalk, pounce, kill, and eat, says an entry on PetMD.com.
However, the laser pointers only complete the first two points of the sequence. Try switching to another game to complete the “kill” and “eat” parts of the sequence.
They groom themselves
“Cats love to be clean and grooming is their way to constantly keep clean,” says Sarah Ochoa, DVM. “This is also their way to bond with each other.”
Domestic cats spend about 30 to 50% of their time (when they’re not sleeping, that is) grooming themselves, Erin McCarthy writes in Mental Floss.
“It’s to get the scent off of them,” Susan Bass of Big Cat Rescue told McCarthy. “In the wild, if they’re lying in wait somewhere, and a gazelle gets a whiff of a tiger downwind, they’re going to run the other way.”
Gotta keep the prey close, if you know what I mean!
They rub their face on things
All Felidae members (the scientific name for all cat species) have scent glands that they use to rub up against things to mark their territory. These pheromone-releasing scent glands are located on their mouth, front paws, sides of the face, and tail base.
There’s a difference when it comes to head butts, aka head bunting. Wild cats will head bump things in their area to leave a warning sign to others that come into their territory.
Meanwhile, your friendly house cat might give you a head bunt to indicate affection.
They have similar vocalizations
However, most big cats can roar and little cats can purr. The ones that can roar are called the “great cats” — lions, tigers, leopards, and jaguars.
Some of the what’s called “lesser cats” cannot roar, though. These Felidae members include cougars, lynx, and bobcats.
I agree with Mental Floss’ Erin McCarthy when she says “there’s no such thing as ‘lesser cats,’” but hey — that’s the scientific term for these guys.
Anyways, back to similar vocalizations. House cats meow and chirp, and sometimes big cats make similar noises, McCarthy writes in Mental Floss.
They enjoy catnip
Some house cats can’t get enough of catnip, while others — namely 30 to 40% of them — are indifferent to the plant, also known as Nepeta cataria.
Wild cats like lions and jaguars react to catnip strongly, reads a report in National Geographic. Like house cats, there are variations in which wild cats react to the plant.
If you give catnip to cats — wild or domestic — they might lick, sniff, and roll around on the ground. If they have a lot of catnip, they might take a long nap afterwards. (Just as humans do when they have a particular plant, if you catch my drift … If you don’t, ask your children.)
They can sleep up to 20 hours
“Most cats sleep anywhere from 12 to 16 hours a day,” says Sarah Ochoa DVM, a veterinary consultant for DogLab.com. “Some house cats may sleep up to 20 hours a day because they know they don’t have to hunt … In the wild cats will also sleep a lot but not as long as a domestic cat.”
Both wild and domestic cats are predators and have evolved to sleep during the time they don’t spend hunting, reads a report in Animal Planet.
“This means that cats have to do quite a bit of chasing, and that chasing (hopefully) culminates in a huge burst of energy for the final takedown,” reads the Animal Planet report.
They’re weird eaters
Turns out that wild cats also have weird habits when it comes to their daily meals. Susan Bass of Big Cat Rescue told Mental Floss that some of the wild cats her organization rescues push their food on the floor.
“Some are very food aggressive,” Bass told Mental Floss.
“If there’s more than one cat in an enclosure, we separate them before we bring the food by. One will start gobbling it up and then go to the other one’s food.”
Domestic cats will move their food around in their dish, even pushing it to the ground sometimes.
They open their mouths to smell better
You know that “stink face” that your house cat makes after sniffing something? That’s the face they make when they’re trying to smell something better.
Cats have an excellent sense of smell. Their noses have tens of millions of scent receptors along with a special scent-detection organ called Jacobson’s organ.
This organ is located at the base of their nasal cavities and allows cats to “taste-smell” things. Hence why they open their mouths ever so slightly when smelling.
Jacobson’s organ is not only found in cats but also snakes, lizards, dogs, cattle, and pigs.
They like to play
Whether big or small, cats are curious creatures and need to keep their minds busy.
Susan Bass of Big Cat Rescue told Erin McCarthy of Mental Floss the various ways that wild cats act like domestic cats — including how they play.
Big cats enjoy ripping up rolls of toilet paper (just like domestic cats), playing in boxes, chasing laser pointers, playing with balls and more. Also, cats love to explore new items.
“(Big cats are) going to be more curious about anything new in their immediate area,” Bass told Mental Floss.
“Wild and house cats share a need to perform the predatory sequence — stalk, pounce, kill, and eat,” says Dr. Jennifer Coates, DVM, an advisory board member for Cat Life Today. “In wild cats, this obviously serves the vital role of providing nutrition through hunting. But since these behaviors are hardwired, house cats need an outlet for them as well.”
There’s a couple methods for play that Coates recommends:
1) You can use a feather wand or laser pointer to encourage stalking and pouncing. 2) Then, throw a stuffed animal in the kitty’s vicinity so they can make a “kill.” 3) Finally, giving them a couple of treats will satisfy the cat’s predatory sequence.
They scratch objects
And they use those sharp, retractable claws to scratch the heck outta some trees — live trees and cat trees you buy at pet stores.
Fun fact: Only cheetahs don’t have retractable claws — these are semi-retractable to help them run fast — but all other cats do.
When cats scratch trees, scratching posts, cat trees, your couch, etc, it helps condition their nails but is also a way for cats to mark their territories. Cats have scent glands on their paws. When they scratch, those pheromones are released onto the objects they’re marking.
They like to play with toilet paper
Some cats love to play with toilet paper (hide whatever toilet paper you have left from cats by the way …). They’ll scratch the heck out of it, leaving shreds of toilet paper all over the floor of your home.
Turns out big cats also enjoy creating toilet paper massacres.
Toilet paper was placed in enclosures of servals, bobcats, lynx, and ocelots at Big Cat Rescue, representative Susan Bass told Mental Floss. The result? The same shredded toilet paper situation that’s annoying to clean up.
At least they have fun!
They “make biscuits”
Also known as “kneading,” this is when cats push their paws in and out against blankets, pillows, other cats, and even YOU, in a rhythmic fashion. If you’ve made bread before, you’ve likely done the same move.
Turns out big cats also knead sometimes too!
“It’s probably for the same reason house cats do it,” Bass of Big Cat Rescue told Mental Floss. “It’s natural to do it as they nurse as babies, and sometimes they continue to do it after they are past nursing when they are happy.”
They’ll eat grass to aid digestion
Although cats are obligate carnivores (more on this very important topic within a few slides so stay with me!) they will munch on some grass when they have an upset tummy. They’ll sometimes regurgitate right after though.
“Cats are obligate carnivores and therefore require a primarily protein-based diet. Many cats eat grass and the reasons are only speculated,” Dr. Chris Menges, DVM and Beckie Mossor RVT tell Science 101 via email.
“The theory regarding aiding in digestion is the theory that the grass works somewhat like a laxative since cats lack the enzyme necessary to break down vegetation,” they say. “While we are unsure about they why wild cats have been observed eating grass and many of the same speculations is applied to the reason they do so.”
So if you see a cat — either big or small — eating grass, don’t fret! They’re supposed to do that.
Ever notice that your kitty will be zooming across the room in the middle of the night, knocking stuff over and jumping on the bed? Cats are nocturnal creatures, says a blog post on Scottsdale Pet Hotel’s website, and like to hunt at night with their terrific night vision.
Hence, the multiple disruptions at night time.
Turns out big cats also like to take advantage of night time hunting too. Their night vision, ability to hear high frequencies, and super stealth stalking abilities give them a major advantage over prey.
They’re meat eaters
Repeat after me: DON’T FEED YOUR CAT A VEGAN DIET.
“Cats are obligate carnivores, meaning that they need to eat meat to survive,” reads a post on ASPCA’s website. “There are a number of reasons why cats don’t do well on a vegan diet, but it all essentially comes down to this: they aren’t adapted to it.”
“Feeding a cat a plant-based diet is a lot like feeding a cow a meat-based diet — their digestive system isn’t geared to handle it, and they will not thrive on it,” it continues.
Big cats are of course the same. Unlike most domestic cats, wild needs need to hunt for their food unless they live in a zoo or big cat rescue.
They get along with dogs (sometimes)
If you’ve ever been to the world famous San Diego Zoo in San Diego, California, you might have noticed the cheetah enclosure has a dog in it. Turns out that the cheetah and doggo are besties!
These special friendships are called “interspecies friendships” and are more common between domesticated animals.
If trying to determine if your cat would get along with a doggie pal, take their personalities — not breed — into consideration, according to animal behaviorists Jackson Galaxy and Zoe Sander.
Other tips they relay to Mental Floss include: 1) train your dog and 2) give a cat their own territory.
They climb up high
“They will see us waving from such great heights/Come down now, they’ll say/But everything looks perfect from far away/Come down now but we’ll stay,” Ben Gibbard from the Postal Service once sang.
To my knowledge, Gibbard was probably not singing about cats’ love of climbing up things.
However, both big and small cats like to climb — your kitty at home might just be climbing their cat tree while panthers, pumas, jaguars, and other wild cats are scaling trees. Being in “such great heights” allows kitties to survey their areas.
“In the wild, a higher place serves as a concealed site from which to hunt,” feline behaviorist Bridget Lehet told PetMD.
“Big cats in the wild have a natural instinct to do a full body stretch scratching on trees,” reads a report from Cats International. “This behavior is to stretch all body muscles and allows them to remove the sheath of their growing nail to keep them healthy and trimmed.”
“It also serves as a way for them to leave their scent behind for others to know who was their last,” it continues.
Your cat shares this same instinct but will do this on a smaller scale — small cats do small stretches. Get your kitty a scratching post to help them get their stretches in!
They like to play with balls
The way that ball toys move is very appealing to cats. When rolled across the floor, ball toys’ movement “mimics the movement of scampering mice or other prey animals, which will entice cats to chase,” reads an article in Fetch by WebMD.
If you want to really entice your kitty to play, perhaps put treats or catnip in the balls.
That makes it more rewarding and exciting!
Big cats are seen to play with balls too — they also enjoy the movement that ball toys provide. Of course there are not balls in nature, but cats in zoos and big cat rescues have toys to play with.
They have 38 chromosomes each — except these two cats
All cats in the feline animal kingdom have 38 chromosomes except Geoffrey’s Cat (left) and the Ocelot (right). These have “two less with 36 chromosomes in each cell,” reads a posting on Scottsdale Pet Hospital.
Geoffrey’s cat is a type of wild cat native to southern and central regions of South America and it looks cute as HECK!
Ocelots are spotty boys and grrrrls (get it? get it?) that look kind of like jaguars or cheetahs. But they’re NOT — they’re OCELOTS!
Along the same veins … all cats also share 95% of the same DNA, Dr Chris Menges, DVM and Beckie Mossor, RVT tell Science 101 via email.
They have something to say
“Cats of all sizes are very vocal creatures with lots of things to say,” says biologist David Seerveld of AAAnimal Control. “Common sounds that are shared among different animals in the cat family are purring, chirping, roaring and screaming.”
However, not all cats make the same noises …
“Bobcats can make many of the same noises that (house cats) make, like purring, hissing, or chirping,” Seerveld continues.
Tigers don’t purr like bobcats or house cats. Their special way of communicating includes “chuffing,” which Seerveld says sounds like they’re pushing out a heavy, vibrating breath. Lions and other big cats roar, of course.
The like strollers (sometimes)
A brave domestic cat can be convinced to sit in a stroller (like a baby) and be pushed around the neighborhood to catch some rays of sunshine. If you choose to cart around Fluffy, make sure you select a stroller with a zippered front so they don’t jump out!
Also… Seems like baby wild cats enjoy a ride in a stroller. But do not try to put a baby wild cat in a stroller unless you’re a wild cat professional. Otherwise they will scratch the heck out of your FACE.
They both cover their unmentionables
We’re talkin’ cat scat, baby!
Cats are relatively tidy animals and they don’t want their scat lying around for the world to see. They want to cover it up with kitty litter, dirt, whatever — just something to hide it from the world.
“Cat feces contain unique identifying scents (and pheromones) that other cats are very aware of and can use to gather information from,” David Seerveld of AAAnimal Control says. “For most cats, this means if they don’t bury their feces, other cats in the area will be able to identify them, track them, and potentially poach their territory.”
They tip toe … into your heart
And legit cats of all kinds really do walk on their toes figuratively and literally.
“Cats are digitigrade mammals, meaning they do, in fact, walk on their toes. Humans and bears, conversely, are plantigrade mammals,” reads an article in The Daily Cat.
“We walk on the soles of our feet, with the toes only touching the ground briefly toward the end of each step,” the article continues.
And here’s several differences between wild cats and domestic cats …
They have different pupils
If you look deep into your kitty’s eyes, you might notice that they have little oval-shaped slits for pupils. However, when it’s dark out, your kitty’s pupils will expand to big, black saucers. This is so they can let light in to see better — kind of like the aperture of a camera. (I know that’s probably a big word for you, but there’s this thing called “Google” …)
Big ol’ kitties, however, don’t have oval-like slits for pupils. Instead, their pupils are big and round all the time, no matter if it is light or night out! Their pupils react to light just like ours — they get big or small depending on how light it is outside. (Remember that aperture word, my friend?)
House cats hate water — wild cats don’t
Do not, under any circumstances, place your cat in a tub of water. Don’t do it, Brenda! Do you want your face scratched off?
Domestic cats you keep as pets usually aren’t fans of water. They don’t want to play in it like your doggie might want to.
Wild cats like tigers go HAM for getting wet n’ wild. Go to any zoo with wild cats, and you might see them splish-splashin’ around in little tubs of water.
Why do they do that, you ask? The primary reason that wild cats go into the water is to cool off, says an article in How Stuff Works.
“There are several types of domestic cats that actually overall enjoy the water, swimming, showers, and playing in water, like their big cat cousins,” Dr Chris Menges, DVM and Beckie Mossor, RVT tell Science 101 via email.
Wild cats don’t purr
Well, pumas actually do purr but lions and tigers don’t. This is because pumas and domestic cats have a hyoid bone which attaches the larynx to the skull, says an article on Scottsdale Pet Hotel’s website. This hyoid bone allows the purrs to happen when you give kitty some nice pets.
Pumas’ purrs, unlike domestic cat purrs, are much louder! You know what they say: The bigger the kitty, the bigger the purr.
On the other hand, wild cats can roar but domestic cats cannot. (Which would you rather be able to do — purr or roar?)
- Animal Planet. “What is the normal sleep time for a cat?” Accessed March 12, 2020.
- ASPCA. “Why Can’t My Cat Be Vegan?” May 2, 2018.
- Big Cat Rescue via Facebook. Accessed March 16, 2020.
- Cats International. 2016. “Comparing Tigers and Our Cats: Similar in Many Ways – Difference in Size.” Accessed March 16, 2020.
- Coates, Jennifer, DVM. Cat Life Today.
- Coates, Jennifer, DVM. PetMD. February 20, 2017. “Why Are Cats Obsessed with Laser Pointers?”
- Conger, Cristen. How Stuff Works. “Why do tigers swim?”
- Dean, Signe. National Geographic. February 3, 2017. “5 ways your tabby is just like big cats in the wild.”
- Fetch by WebMD. “Playing With Your Cat: Toys and Games.” Accessed March 17, 2020.
- McCarthy, Erin. Mental Floss. March 3, 2016. “11 Ways Big Cats Are Just Like Domestic Cats.”
- Menges, Chris, DVM and Mossor, Becky RVT. Basepaws.com.
- Ochoa, Sarah, DVM. Dog Lab. Whitehouse Veterinary Hospital.
- Paoletta, Rae. Inverse. November 8, 2017. “Why cats love boxes, according to science.”
- PetMD. “Why Do Cats Eat Grass?” Accessed March 16, 2020.
- Seerveld, David. AAAnimal Control.
- Scottsdale Pet Hotel. “10 Similarities Between Domestic Cats & Cats of the Wild.” Accessed March 16, 2020.
- Weymouth, Monica. PetMD. “Why Do Cats Like Heights?” Accessed March 16, 2020.
This article was originally published on Science101: Amazing similarities between wild cats and domestic cats.
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