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Basic Information

Domesticated cats have been around for thousands of years and have been worshiped, cast out, eaten, mummified, and shunned. The Egyptians worshiped them and mummified them in tombs with the dead, black cats have been shunned and cast out by many superstitions accounts, and in some countries even the domesticated breeds have been food.

Since each cat has it's own personality, some make great companions and some are just loaners. Finding the right combination of human and cat household can be quite a task and often one or the other has to make concessions in the living quarters if the relationship is to work. How a cat is treated when it is young can have a lasting impact on how it behaves when it is older. Most cats cannot be taught tricks the way dogs are, but if a cat chooses to learn a trick you teach, consider yourself lucky.

There are many different behaviours that humans share in common with cats, including fear, aggressiveness, sadness, destructiveness, obsessiveness, and playfulness to just name a few. There are also several kinds of domesticated cat breeds. The Cat Fancier's Association recognizes 40 breeds for showing.

Many people can be classified as either a cat person or a dog person. Those who are not cat people may also suffer from ailurophobia - the fear of cats. Just like any other irrational phobia, it doesn't have to be a product of some event in the person's past, but can simply just be a present fear in their lives. Historical sufferers include Napoleon Bonaparte, Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Genghis Khan, Mussolini, and Hitler.[4]

The objection to cats (whether part of a phobia or not) may well result from their extremely invasive nature. Being both curious and extremely mobile they have a tendency to move from where they are welcome to places where they are not. No cat has ever been successfully trained to recognise and respect human property boundaries and besides invading outdoor areas where their normal behaviour can bring them into conflict with the owners they are also known to enter strange homes and workplaces, often to the annoyance of those inside and/or their own detriment (hence the proverb about curiosity killing the cat). They are also great invaders of human personal space, and due to an unfortunate mismatch in human and feline body language they have a tendency to seek out precisely those people least fond of them, even to the extent of climbing onto them.

The ecologically minded also object to the predatory behaviour of domestic cats, particularly in places where they are an alien species. Even a well fed domestic cat will hunt instinctively for birds and small mammals, notching up a significant number of kills in a year. Feral cats, hunting for subsistence, will kill far more.

Cats have been food for a long time, just as many animals are today. Dog is eaten in many parts of China, but only in Guangdong do people eat cat. In 2008 one business was reported to capture up to 10,000 cats per day from different parts of China. The cat snatchers are typically formerly unemployed people who use large fishing nets and are paid $1.50(US) per cat.[7] Koreans seem a little more interested in cats as food, but still not to the extent of it being a common meal1. Unsurprisingly cat (like dog) is also eaten in many places where food supplies become short - even some urban areas of England saw cat being sold as "roof rabbit" during shortages brought on by the U-boat blockades of WW1 and WW2. Once the head, feet, tail and skin are removed cat and rabbit carcasses are very hard to tell apart.

Cat fur can also be of merchantable quality and whilst not on a par with high end furs (like mink) or high performance ones (like bear or wolverine) can be used to assemble very wearable clothing. Obviously single coloured varieties are preferred for this as matching patterns across a number of pelts can be tricky … of course after the end it may not matter and the fact that your cat-fur coat is a mixture of tabby, tortoiseshell and striped ginger may well come a long way behind it keeping you warm in the nuclear winter. Where sumptuary laws apply, cat is likely to be a fur pretty much anyone is allowed to wear (absent specific cultural taboos) and a mixed pattern coat might well pass by without too much question (whereas, for example, a coat of pure black cat might be queried as perhaps being from some higher status beast).

Physiology and Biology

Cat allergens that trigger human reactions are usually related to cat hair and cat dander. Technically, it is often not the hair itself that causes the problem but the saliva proteins deposited on it by the cat's habitual grooming - but the end result is the same2. The Canadian Hairless Cat (or Sphynx Cat) eliminates a large portion of this problem. In 1967 a cat in Toronto gave birth to genetically mutated kittens that caught on.[8] Today the breed is among the most popular cats to be chosen by those with high allergen issues. They actually do have hair, but it is so short it does not feel like the hair we know of cats today. Whiskers and Eyebrows can either be present or not, varying from cat to cat, and their markings vary as much as other cat breeds, from patches, to stripes, to single colors.

Cats physiology has some unique elements to it. They have loose skin that permits the mother to carry her young by her mouth and can allow cats to turn on their predators or prey even if gripped in battle. Cats have about 50 vertebrae (over 20 in their tail) and humans have about 30. Cats do not have a fixed clavicle bone like humans do, so they can fit through spaces about the size of their head if they are pressed to do so. Cat teeth are very much like scissors are highly designed for slicing meat - cats are obligate carnivores and struggle to digest non-meat food. Evidence appears to suggest that cats are more or less unable to taste "sweet", a flavour mostly associated with plant derived sugars. The gentle gnawing bite a cat might do to your finger is more likely just their attempt at bonding or perhaps their way of using you as a chew toy to clean their teeth. Cats have more than 30 muscles in each ear allowing for a wide range of audio abilities, and when they fold their ears back in a fight or in play they can actually hear behind themselves. This could be useful for checking your back if you were playing a cat character and about to get in a fight - hint, hint3. Cats also obtain significant assistance from their vibrissae - the long, stiff facial whiskers dotted around their head. These serve a number of functions including judging the size of openings, but play a significant role in close range targeting by way of measuring subtle vibrations in the air4.

When cats walk, they directly register their foot placements, which means that the back feet are placed almost directly where the front ones went. This means fewer foot prints to track, and sure footing for the back feet if it's uneven/unstable terrain. It also reduces the number of things stepped on that could produce noise. This is also used by other mammals like dogs, but unlike dogs, cats walk by putting both paws of one side forward first and then the other side second. That means instead of Right-Front and Left-Back, as most mammals do, they put both right legs forward first and then both left legs. This is also how camels, horses (pacers specifically), and giraffes walk. That means the cat has to have more balance than the dog (and most other mammals) because one half of it's support limbs are off the ground at a time when moving fast. At a slow pace it could mean only one paw is off the ground at a time.

Cheetahs are the only cat that cannot retract their claws. Domesticated cats tend to be more polydactyl due to a genetic mutation way back and can have 6 or 7 toes on each foot, but most have 5 toes on each front paw and 4 or 5 on each back paw.

It's very common to hear that cats see better at night than humans do, but they actually see worse in daylight than humans. Cats hear higher pitches than humans, by a long shot and actually hear an octave above dogs. Going back to what was stated earlier about a cat choosing to learn a trick you teach, it would be very rare for a cat to come running at the use of a 'dog whistle' even though they can hear it. Cats can smell 14 times better than humans can - yes, they know when you haven't showered - but they have lost the sense of taste for sweet things - no wonder they'll lick the salt off your fingers.[5]

Another useful bit of cat physiology is their attraction to the herb catnip, which appears to serve as a recreational drug for them, provoking disinhibition and euphoria in low doses leading to prostrating intoxication, loss of motor control and gastro-intestinal disturbance in high doses (although since a high dose is often taken orally, some of the GI effects may result from the consumption of plant matter by an obligate carnivore). Contrary to popular, catnip is not universally attractive and about one in three cats show little or no response to it (but may respond to one of several alternatives, including valerian). Also, indicative experiments demonstrate that most species of big cats have at least some attraction to catnip - although it is unclear how common the attraction is across species.

Cats as Predators

Your typical "outdoors cat", one that owns people and has a home it returns to frequently, will still make an average of 28 kills per year. [9] Most of these kills are birds. This is despite the fact that such a cat doesn't have to kill anything in order to survive, it just needs to wander back home to get food more-or-less on-demand. Hunting is instinctual for cats, and many forms of playful kitten behavior are biologically-programmed training for later hunts. After The End, cats will continue to hunt, and quickly adapt to the lack of humans left around. Cats are the equipped to be extremely successful predators in the overgrown windowless skyscrapers that will stand for decades after man's passing. See Post-Apocalyptic Decay for further details. This predatory instinct leads them to become a serious ecological hazard in biomes that evolved without an equivalent predator - Australia for example has suffered significant harm from predation by cats. Also, some studies have suggested that even ineffective hunting can reduce the life outcomes of prey species - for example a cat besieging a bird's nest will cause at least one of the parent birds to switch from foraging to guarding behaviour to the detriment of the supply of food to their nestlings. A well fed domestic cat, besieging the nest out of boredom or instinct can sit there all day aside from the occasion trip to its foo d and water bowls…

Cats and the Occult

Cats are the subject of a great many superstitions - some of them dependant on the colour of the cat in question - which involve them being harbingers of good (or bad) luck, portending weather and other events. Exactly what these superstitions are will depend on your culture, with many of them being mutually contradictory. More generally, cats also have strong associations with magic and the spirit world and are sometimes depicted as liminal creatures walking on the boundary between worlds (which may have a lot to do with their crepuscular activity patterns and life on the fringes of human society). They are often seen as common choices of shape for a familiar to adopt, and even if not actually demonic in character are sometimes depicted draining the life from the very old or very young.

"If the devil lived in any animal, it was the cat."
- Edward, Duke of York, 15th Century

Cats' status as creatures of supernatural evil is confirmed by the fact they can be entrapped by a properly drawn binding circle5. Ironically, many folkloric traditions specifically ascribe to cats the ability to cross magical boundaries, presumably as part of their liminal nature.

In contrast, they have also been highly regarded by some cultures as guardian animals due to their role in killing pest species that predate food supplies. They are considered ritually clean in Islam. Japanese folklore/art has a good luck cat, the Maneki-Neko statue. The fictional Orlanthi culture in the Runequest setting Glorantha are well known for their veneration of cat as guardian.

The ancient Egyptians venerated cats as the symbolic animal of the goddess Bast - usually depicted as a woman with a cat's head. Several other gods of Egyptian Mythology also had feline heads, such as Maahes, Mafdet, Pakhet, Sekhmet, and Unut, but Bastet was the main goddess of the domesticated cat. Via Interpretatio Graeca, Bast was syncretized with Artemis and Diana, making them into cat goddesses as well.

Other Mythological Characters associated with Felines of one sort or another include:
In Chinese Mythology, the cat-goddess Li Shou was put in charge of running the universe, but gave the responsibility away to humans so the cats could spend their time laying in sunbeams and chasing butterflies.
The fearsome Nergal of Mesopotamian Mythology took the form of a lion.
In Slavic Mythology, Ovinnik took the form of a black cat.
To the pre-Incan Mochica people, the chief god Ai Apaec had the fangs and whiskers of a Jaguar.
The Hindu Goddess Parvati has a sacred tiger companion named Dawon.
In Norse Mythology, Freyja has a chariot drawn by cats.
The Kasha is a corpse-stealing yokai of Japanese Mythology that sometimes appears as a cat, and sometimes as an oni in a flaming chariot.

Cat-Related Tropes

These are tropes pertaining to cats, cat-related characters, and/or human's reactions to cats.

See Also


Successful cat-binding

More fun with cats:
Random Kitten Generator
Cat Name Generator
Lolcats (Cats with personality)
Guinness World's Fattest Cat
Guinness World's Smallest Cat
Fiction: The Cats Of Ulthar by H.P. Lovecraft Free Online Version

Game and Story Use

  • A role playing adventure where the heroes are all Cats might be fun since each cat has a completely different personality with different motivations.
    • Classic story lines can be told with cats in place of main characters: Sleeping Beauty, The Emperor's New Clothes, Soylent Green.
  • A conspiracy of black cats invading the town would be a good superstitions storyline to follow.
  • A character could take on a "burden/flaw/hindrance" of a grumpy/finicky/troublesome cat familiar/companion/pet.
  • A city that has run out of their primary food source may ask the heroes to find a new source of cats.
  • Likewise, expect someone in the scuzzier end of the city (if not everyone) to be on the lookout for the less mangy sort of cat for the fur trade … and possibly the pot.
  • The evil master/mistress at the end of the adventure may just be an Egyptian Queen Cat demanding worship and treasures.
    • Not-Blofeld may turn out to be the cat's puppet, rather than its owner … which was not quite the plot of Jennifer Morgue.
    • In some editions of That RPG a housecat can be a significant threat to starting characters, let alone civilians. This problem has been much analysed - and mocked - over the years and is generally accepted to be a problem with low end granularity of the system.
  • "He made me his cat carrier! And what did he give me for it? Nothing!" … delivering a pedigree cat, nervous or otherwise, might turn out to be an unexpectedly complicated job for PCs. Finding and retrieving a mislaid cat could be even harder.
  • "Witch cats" out to suck the lives from sleeping infants are one thing … but how about guardian cats that hunt down and kill the rat-spirits that gnaw holes in the barriers between reality and the spirit world?
  • Where cats are a big thing, expect catnip to be one also - expect it to be a major issue where sapient cats (or cat-furries) are involved - possibly even to the extent of an opium war.
  • Cat parts would make obvious power-components for charms and other magic-items - a cloak of cat fur or cat-leather shoes might have stealth related powers, cats eyes might be key to brewing a potion of night vision or their brains for a dexterity or reflexes booster. Perhaps a cats floating clavicle might be of use in an item that eases the way across barriers … perhaps even those between dimensions, or other magical barriers. A dried cats foot might also make an amulet for one of these purposes - or perhaps its tail, preserved as a ward against falls from height?
  • Attaching (the key to) the mcguffin to a cat's collar remains an underused trope - the idea being that the owner or one of their close friends can catch the cat relatively easily, but that it will flee from strangers and make itself scarce if their home is trashed by a search team. Of course, this could equally lead to the object in question being lost when the cat kicks its collar off in the landscaping … or reappearing in a coyote turd … or being picked up the hopper of a road sweeper with the other roadkill.
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