Fun facts about cats

Posted: Friday, July 20, 2007

Cats literally cannot see what's right beneath their noses. They have a blind spot around the mouth because of their forward-facing eyes and short faces. The nose blocks the view of what is under it. That is why your cat sniffs around to find kitty treats on the floor and dips a paw into water to locate the surface before he drinks.

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Cats prefer their food served at 86 degrees Fahrenheit. They turn up their noses at food that has been in the refrigerator because it is too cold, not because it didn't come from a freshly opened can.

Cats live an average of 12 to 15 years. Those kept indoors and given good care commonly live 16 to 21 years or more. Indoor cats live longer because they are not exposed to such hazards as traffic, predators or getting lost. The Guinness Book of Records says the oldest cat in the United States was a Texan called "Grandpa" who lived to be 34.

The average domestic cat weighs 6 to 10 pounds, although heavyweights tipping the scales in the 20-pound range are not unusual. Males tend to be taller and longer than females. Their typical body length is up to 28 inches as compared with up to 20 inches for females.

Cats and dogs are not natural enemies. They usually get along together as well as would any two of either kind.

A cat who is embarrassed or uncertain about what to do will abruptly sit down and start grooming his coat. Performing that familiar routine has a settling effect.

The mouser of choice is a female. It isn't because the girls out-mouse the boys, but because a female cat has a smaller home range, and cats do most of their hunting on their own turf. Farmers long ago discovered that Miss Kitty kept the barn and barnyard free of mice while Tom was out mousing around in the fields.

"Tabby" isn't a breed but a pattern of markings on the cat's coat. The term is derived from "retabi," a patterned silk made in Persia centuries ago. The fabric had parallel, wavy lines, much like the coats of the first domesticated cats and their wild ancestors, the desert cats of North Africa.

The light background color and broken lines provided excellent camouflage in the desert. Ironically, we now call that pattern "mackerel tabby" because of its resemblance to the dotted stripes on fish.

More familiar to most of us is the "classic tabby," a pattern of swirls and blobs suggesting an irregular, bull's-eye target on each side of the cat's body. The classic markings date back to a mutation that occurred in medieval Europe.

The new coat was darker and its pattern better matched the European environment. That gave the mutants an edge, and they multiplied.

Classic tabbies outnumbered mackerel tabbies in England by the time its colonists set off for North America. Most of the cats the settlers took with them were the common classic tabbies. The result is a preponderance of classic tabbies in the United States and Canada today. The same is true of other countries that once were part of the British Empire.

The tabby gene is the bane of breeders who have been trying for more than a century to develop a solid orange cat. So far, every orange cat retains at least a trace of the tabby markings. Even the flame-point Siamese has stripes on its orange ears and tail.

Cats can hear ultrasound.

Their urine glows under black light.

The cat door was invented by Sir Isaac Newton, who also came up with the law of gravitation and other equally useful things.

• Linda Daniel has spent her life in the company of cats, most of whom simply showed up at her door. She's a believer in spaying and neutering to reduce the number of homeless cats. E-mail:

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