Biology and Behavior

Silky Paws and Predator in One

Every cat has its own personality. Cats may resemble one another but every cat has its very own character and behavior. This pronounced individuality is probably their most important characteristic – one that makes cats so popular among human beings. Nevertheless, given their origin and biology, cats share many characteristics.


Ideal partners

Contrary to their reputation of being highly independent creatures, cats can build intense and deep relationships with human beings. For many people, a friendship with a cat is a wonderful and precious thing indeed. In line with their individuality, cat’s relationships with human beings also differ tremendously. Every relationship between a cat and a person is unique.


Cats, however, are not only individualists but also highly adaptable. And they expect the same of their human counterparts, for instance consideration and thoughtfulness. If owners are able to adapt to the habits and wishes of their cats, the resulting relationship will prove to be fruitful for both parties.


Cats are still "wild" animals

The cradle of the house cat (felis silvestris f. catus) is Africa. The original form of the house cat is the African wildcat or desert cat (felis silvestris f. lybica). In comparison to the dog and to other animals (cattle, goats, sheep), the cat is a young and still primordially natural domestic animal. Cats were „only“ domesticated approx. 5,000 years ago, in Ancient Egypt, where they were appreciated as mice hunters and venerated as goddesses. Specific racial breeding only set in at a much later point in history. The first cat show ever organized took place in London in 1871 and lead to the formation of cat breeding associations.


A short history of domestication and breeding means that house cats are still able to live independently of human beings – even if they are abandoned by them.


The European Wildcat (felis silvestris silvestris) did not play a role with regard to the evolution of the house cat. Cross-breeding between house cats and European wildcats or other wildcat species (e.g. the Bengal Cat), however, is possible and further proof that house cats still have a lot in common with their wild relatives.


Born Hunters

Today, we know of approx. 100 recognized races or species of cats – a modest figure, in comparison to dogs. However, the majority of cats today do not belong to any specific race.


Even the most sophisticated and well fed of cats will want to hunt, even if only in play. Young cats need to learn and practice hunting behavior, because hunting is in their genes as well as being an important activity that takes up much of their daily activities.


All kinds of animals – from insects to small birds or mice all the way to rabbits – are potential prey for cats among whose most frequent skills is the raised-hide hunting method. In other words, cats can sit and wait patiently for hours for a mouse to pop out of its hole or a bird to come within reaching distance, before they pounce on their prey, as quick as lightning, at just the right moment. Despite this commitment, hunting success is not guaranteed and a cat must also learn to come to terms with failure. Cats often play with their prey, sometimes for hours on hour. This might seem brutal is, however, natural behavior.


Good Buddies

Cats hunt on their own but they are far from being loners or rogues. Contrary to common perception, most cats (approx. 90%) are sociable not only towards human beings but also towards other cats. Their social behavior differs from that of dogs in many respects (cats, for instance, hardly ever behave subserviently). Amongst others, cats adopt welcoming rituals (pushing their heads towards you, purring or meowing in a friendly manner); they lie and sleep with body contact, lick each other and play together. Naturally, cats can also behave aggressively – just like human beings. Breeding female cats, primarily related cats, sometimes join forces to ensure brood care; whereas tomcats do not contribute to the upbringing of their young.


Decisive early development

Whether a cat behaves socially or is a loner; whether it is shy of humans or trusting, is decided during what is referred to as the imprinting phase at the beginning of its life. If a cat is in contact with its siblings between its 2nd to 8th week of life or with other cats (in the same household) or human beings, then it will maintain such social contact for the rest of its life.


Lazy cats

With the exception of humans, cats have hardly any natural enemies. Therefore, they do not have to be ready to run away at any time. This is expressed in a cat’s behavior. If cats are not hunting, they enjoy doing nothing in particular for 16 hours a day on average. This does not mean that they spend this time sleeping but much rather observing what is going on around them. And if there is a good opportunity to „take action“, for instance to play, they will cheerfully take it.



During the calmer hours of the day, cats will clean themselves extensively. Cats will lick one another as well, less out of a need for cleanliness, but more as an expression of friendship during which body odor substances are exchanged and a "family smell" is created.


9 lives

There is hardly a cat’s characteristic that could not be expressed with superlatives: their senses are outstanding (sense of smell, touch, and hearing, eyesight) as well as their physical capabilities (rapidity, skillfulness, ability to climb, strength). And this is far from being all: cats find it easy to learn, in particular young cats. Thanks to all these characteristics, cats are true survivalists. The sole thing that is truly dangerous to them and where they stand unprotected, unless vaccinated, are viral diseases. A cat’s average life expectancy is 10 to 15 years; whereas some cats can easily grow up to over 20 years of age.



Katze balanciert auf Zaun
© phoenix/

Further literature on the topic

  • Turners Katzenbuch. Wie Katzen sind, was Katzen wollen − Informationen für eine glückliche Beziehung. Denis Turner, Kosmos Verlag, 2004.
    ISBN 978-3-440-09339-9
  • Katzenseele. Wesen und Sozialverhalten.Paul Leyhausen, Kosmos Verlag, 2005.
    ISBN 3440098648
  • 232 x Katze. Sie fragen - wir antworten. Karin Schneider, Ulmer Eugen Verlag, 2008.
    ISBN: 3800157500
  • Mit Tieren leben im Alter. Gäng und Turner (Hrsg.), Ernst Reinhardt Verlag, 2005.
    ISBN 978-3-497-01757-7