December 5, 2023

Cracking the Code: Understanding the Purr-fect Language of Cats

Our beloved feline companions have been a part of our lives fur-ever, right? They cuddle with us, entertain us with their quirky antics, and—admit it—completely mystify us at times. But have you ever wondered about their origins and those peculiar behaviors they're known for?

In honor of December being "National Cat Month", we're going to unravel the captivating history of cats and decode the unique language they use to communicate with us.


Unearthing the Mysteries: Where Did Our Domestic Cats Come From?

They say all modern cat species trace their roots to one ancestor—the Middle EasternWildcat, Felis Sylvestris. They share similar skeletal structures, which is a big clue.

Now, here's where it gets exciting: DNA analysis conducted in 2007 shook things up.They compared the DNA of various wildcats to our domesticated fur balls and found something intriguing. The DNA of the African Wildcat was mingling with that of purebred and mixed-breed kitties. This discovery adds more weight to the theory of a common ancestor.

Time-Traveling Back to Domestication: When Did Cats Become Our Companions?

Pinpointing the exact moment when cats became our pals is like chasing a feather on a string—it's not easy, thanks to their similar skeletons.

Our first hint of cat domestication came in 1983 when a cat jawbone was dug up inCyprus during an archaeological excavation. Experts estimated that this kitty's domestication journey began a whopping 8,000 years ago. What made it interesting was the unlikely arrival of cats on the island through human-operated ships. Fast forward to 2004, and another game-changer: a cat found buried with a human, dating back 9,500 years.

In 2017, the University of Leuven dove into the mystery, analyzing DNA from 200cats found across various archaeological sites. What they uncovered was astounding. Cats aged from 100 to 9,000 years old, with some dating back an astonishing 12,000 years.

Some historians even suggest that the initial domestication might have started around 12,000 years ago in the Middle East's Fertile Crescent. As humans began farming and storing grains, mice and rats showed up. Cats followed suit, and a mutually beneficial relationship emerged. People quickly recognized the cats' talent for pest control, leading to their cozy spot in our homes as cherished companions.

From Jungle to Living Room: Inherited Instincts

Today, domestic cats share a whopping 95% of their DNA with tigers, and they've inherited a bunch of instincts from their wild ancestors. Here's where it gets intriguing:

Cat Nap Experts: Both wild and domestic cats are pros at snoozing, clocking in an impressive 16to 20 hours of sleep daily.

Carnivore Club: Cats, big or small, are obligate carnivores. In plain English, they need meat in their diet for all those essential nutrients to be met.

Hunting Mastery: The art of the ambush, where cats lie in wait and pounce on prey, is a skill passed down from their big cat cousins. Plus, they're on the prowl mainly during dusk and dawn.

Grooming Galore: Cats, wild or housebound, dedicate a solid 30-50% of their time to grooming. But it's not just about staying clean; it's also about masking their scent for stealthy hunting.

KneadingMagic: That adorable kneading your kitty does? It's not just kneading dough. It's a trait they've inherited from their wild ancestors, a way to create comfy nests and check for hidden threats.

TerritorialTouches: Whether they're leopards or your fluffy friend at home, cats share a common instinct—territorial marking. Think spraying, face rubbing (thanks to scent glands on their heads), and scratching (courtesy of scent glands in their paws). 

Multilingual Meows: Cats can develop distinct "meow" patterns for specific individuals, including their owners. It's as if they have their own secret language for different members of the household.

NightOwls: Cats are crepuscular animals, which means they are most active during dawn and dusk.This behavior harkens back to their wild ancestors, who were more successful hunters during these low-light times.

Purring Mystery: Cats are known to purr when content, but did you know they can also purr when injured or in pain? Researchers believe this is an instinctual way for cats to signal distress to their owners, seeking help and comfort.

Catnip Fascination: Around 50-70% of cats are affected by catnip, which can cause reactions ranging from excitement to relaxation. This fascination with catnip is an inherited trait, with genes determining a cat's sensitivity.

The Slow Blink Trust Fall: When a cat gives you a slow blink, it's akin to a trust fall. By closing their eyes in front of you, they are showing vulnerability and complete trust in your presence. 11. Gaze Communication: The way a cat looks at you can convey a lot.A slow blink is friendly, while prolonged staring can be perceived as a challenge or threat. Pay attention to their eye movements to understand their mood.

Cats Understand Human Emotions: Studies have shown that cats can discern their owners' emotions and react to them. They are more likely to approach a crying person with purring and comforting behaviors.

Whisker Wisdom: Cats use their whiskers to gauge whether they can fit through tight spaces. These sensitive whiskers help them navigate and avoid getting stuck.

Tail Secrets: A cat's tail is a communication powerhouse. For instance, a raised tail with the tip curled can signify a content cat, while a puffed-up tail often indicates fear or aggression.

Mirror, Mirror: Some cats can recognize themselves in mirrors, a cognitive skill previously believed to be limited to humans and certain primates. They may react with curiosity or even playfulness.

Hiding in Stressful Situations: Cats have a strong instinct to find hiding spots when they feel stressed, threatened, or unwell. This behavior is rooted in their survival instinct, as it allows them to stay out of sight from potential predators.

Belly-Up Position: When a cat lies on its back, it can be a sign of trust. In this vulnerable position, they expose their belly, which is a sensitive area. Cats do this to show they feel safe and secure in their environment. However, it doesn't always mean they want belly rubs; proceed with caution!


As we journey through these remarkable revelations, we'll uncover the echoes of their wild origins in the everyday antics of our feline companions. So, let's dive in and embrace the captivating world of cats, one enigmatic meow at a time!