House Cats and Big Cats Differ in Size, But That’s About It

Written by Suzanne Redfearn for Nat Geo WILD and USA Today
Article originally appeared in a special edition of USA Today for Nat Geo WILD

Soul of the Cat
JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA- A female Siberian kitten, climbing down a tree, very cautiously. (Photo credit: Creative Being/Beverly Joubert)

Did you know that there are very few differences between your house cat and endangered big cats like the lion, tiger, cheetah and leopard? The main difference: size. Otherwise, genetically and behaviorally, they’re pretty much the same.

Even in the lab. Scientists recently were able to sequence the genomes of tigers, snow leopards and lions, and found that they share 95.6 percent of their DNA with domestic cats sitting in window sills and lying on beds across the world.

That’s not a surprise. Just look at all the behaviors and other traits they have in common.

1. Night vision: You can see your cat’s eyes glow at night. The same thing goes for big cats. All cats have a “tapetum lucidum,” a layer of tissue in their eyes that reflects light back through the retina, increasing available light to the photoreceptors in the eye. The result? Night vision that’s six times better than ours. All the better to stalk prey.

2. Sensitivity to movement: The thick shaft of the cat whisker is filled with tiny, super-sensitive nerves that help your furry buddy — and a lion — easily judge the size of the space they’re in, measure distance and detect changes in the air to suss out what’s around them. It’s like a very sophisticated GPS and radar system, helping big cats be the apex predators that they are, and helping your house cat catch mice and other critters.

3. Retractable claws: Over time, cats both big and small evolved to be able to bring their claws out when they’re needed for digging into prey or scaling a tree, then pull them back in to preserve their sharpness until they’re needed again for tearing or climbing. There’s an exception, though: the cheetah. A cheetah’s claws stay out at all times, to better grip the ground as they move at high speeds after prey.

4. Agility: All cats are nimble and agile, with their long tails aiding in their extraordinary balance. House cats and big cats alike can jump very high and land very well when descending from high up.

5. Stalking their prey: Both big cats and house cats will watch their prey from a distance, moving extremely slowly toward it with muscles tensed, then suddenly run at it in a burst of speed, ending with a pounce.

6. Climbing trees: House cats climb trees and so do big cats. Leopards are known for climbing up trees with their prey in tow, so they can eat without being disturbed by other predators. Cougars, cheetahs and even lions sometimes climb up trees.

7. Marking territory: Big cats and house cats alike will spray to scent-mark their territory with urine. Big cats like lions and jaguars will rub secretions from glands onto objects to mark them like your house cat rubs on you with the side of his face and neck to mark you as his.

8. Tight spaces: Your house cat likes to be in boxes and under the covers. Big cats like leopards and cheetahs like to be in dens. Both especially want small, private spaces when it comes time to give birth or nurse a wound.

9. Stripes and spots: Cats big and small have stripes, spots or rosettes throughout their coat. Big cats like cheetahs, leopards and tigers use their unique patterns for camouflage, while solid coats like that of the lion blend into open territory. House cats still have these patterns from their ancestor, the African wildcat, from which they descended 10,000 years ago when some African wildcats were brought to the Middle East and domesticated.

10. Grooming themselves: All cats big and small groom themselves. They have a sandpaper texture on their tongue, called “papillae,” that does double duty, helping cats work meat off of bones and work dirt out of their coats.

So when you tune into Big Cat Week tonight to watch Soul of the Cat and see a lion stalking a wildebeest or a leopard climbing up a tree, look down at your furry pal with a new appreciation for his genetic code and the awesome abilities he shares with his wild cousins.

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Big Cat Week 2017 on Nat Geo Wild!

It’s that time of the year again! Big cats are taking over Nat Geo WILD starting on Monday Feb. 20 at 9/8c. Big Cat Week is an extension of the Big Cats Initiative, which aims to halt the decline of big cats in the wild. You can learn more and get involved by visiting NatGeoBigCats.org.

Big Cats Week 2017

We are so excited to tune in! If you love domesticated cats, you will especially want to tune in to Soul of the Cat to see how beloved pets are similar to big cats.

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February is Healthy Kisses Month at Petplan

“Veterinarians always talk to clients about maintaining the dental health of their furry friends, especially in February during National Pet Dental Health Month. The problem is, the need for dental insurance is rarely part of that conversation,” says Petplan Veterinary Advisory Board member Dr. Ernie Ward. “Petplan’s Healthy Kisses Campaign is the perfect opportunity for both veterinarians and pet parents to start a dialogue. Having pet health insurance that covers dental injuries and illness can make a huge difference in a patient’s life — and on their owner’s wallet.”

“Dental health is too important to the overall wellbeing of your pet to ignore,” says Elyse Cannon, Petplan’s Veterinary Manager. “That’s why Petplan took great care in ensuring comprehensive coverage for dental injuries and disease when designing our policy. Many pet parents don’t realize how critical taking care of your pet’s teeth is, but good oral health can add two to five years to a pet’s life.”

We hope this infographic helps you know how to keep your pet’s pearly whites in tip top shape!

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Unlikely Companions

Unlikely Companions: The Adventures of an Exotic Animal Doctor (or, What Friends Feathered, Furred, and Scaled Have Taught Me about Life and Love) is a fun read about what it is like to be an exotic pet vet.

As an exotic pet owner (Yuki the hedgehog) I was really excited to see the other side of the coin so to speak. So often we think just about dogs and cats, but all pets need care.

We have had a lot of “exotic” pets, and finding a good vet that can treat them isn’t always easy. Dr. Hess (the author) would be an amazing vet to visit, as she not only cares about the pets, but the people as well.

The book starts out with a mystery concerning adorable sugar gliders, but we also hear the tales of many other patients. This “week in the life” book is an enjoyable read. It’s certainly fast paced, just like her practice!

As an animal lover I loved hearing the stories, with a lot of good advice on care mixed in, about different animals. Of course, there were moments that were sad too, as not every patient makes a recovery. These moments show how much Dr. Hess and her staff care about the pets and their people though, and shows a side of vet care that we pet parents often don’t see.

Unlikely Companions is a great read for any animal lover. Written in a style that reminds me a bit of a journal, it’s a look not just at the vet practice, but at Dr. Hess’s life as well. And of course, what would a fun story be without a head of curly hair that is irresistible to her patients?

*I received a copy of the book in exchange for my review.

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