Glossary of Cat Words

tortie cat

What do you call a group of cats?

    • Clowder/Clutter: Either term can be used for a group of cats.
    • Felidae: This term encompasses the entire family of cats, both wild and domestic, including big cats such as tigers and cougars.
    • Kindle: A kindle is a group or litter of kittens.

Cats by Gender

    • Dam: A dam is a mother cat with a litter (also referred to as a Queen).
    • Queen: Female cats were first described as queens in England by breeders, most likely as a joke, and possibly in recognition of the fact that cats are matriarchal. The term eventually became the standard descriptor for breeding females.
    • Sire: A sire is a kitten’s father. The word can also be used as a verb, as in “to sire kittens.”
    • Tom/Tomcat: The use of tom for unneutered male cats originated with a book called The Life and Adventures of a Cat (1760) that detailed the exploits of a promiscuous feline hero named Tom (authorship of the book is unknown, but has been variously attributed to Henry Fielding or William Guthrie). This book also gave rise to other slang terms, such as “tomcatting” to describe promiscuous human male behaviour. Prior to The Life and Adventures of a Cat, male cats were called rams.
    • Stud: A stud is a tomcat used in a breeding program.

Types of Cats

    • Domestic/Random-Bred: A domestic is a cat that lacks a pedigree, although the term is frequently used to refer to any member of the Felis silvestris catus species.
    • Felid: A felid is any domestic or wild cat.
    • Felis silvestris catus: This is the scientific name for a domestic or purebred cat.
    • Feral: A feral is a cat that once lived with people but has subsequently became homeless, or a domestic cat that lives wild in an outdoor colony rather than with people
    • Meezer: This is an affectionate term for a Siamese cat.
    • Moggy: Moggy is used in the UK to refer to cats of mixed breed or unknown ancestry.
    • Odd-Eyed: Odd-eyed cats have eyes of two different colours. This trait is often found in white cats that have one blue eye and one eye of another colour. More than half of all white cats with two blue eyes are deaf in both ears, whereas in odd-eyed white cats, deafness usually only afflicts the ear on the blue-eyed side.
    • Polydactyl: A polydactyl is a cat that has additional toes.
    • Purebred: To be called a true purebred, a cat must have two parents of the same breed and also of unmixed descent since the breed was first recognized (though certain outcrosses are permitted for some pure breeds).
    • Wild Type: The wild type is a natural pattern rather than one that arose via selective breeding (for example, the brown-striped, shorthaired tabby).

Cat Behaviours and Abilities

Crepuscular

Cats are actually crepuscular rather than nocturnal, meaning that they are most active during twilight (dawn and dusk) rather than throughout the darkest part of the night. Because their prey tends to be most active at twilight, cats evolved to take advantage of this. Crepuscular animals may also become more active during a full moon.

Flehmen Response

When cats look as though they are grimacing with their mouths open, they are actually reacting to an interesting smell by drawing scent molecules into an organ they have in the roofs of their mouths called the vomeronasal organ or Jacobson’s organ.

Righting Reflex

The righting reflex is the ability of a falling cat to change its body orientation in midair in order to land on its feet. However, contrary to popular belief, cats don’t always land on their feet.

Cat Fertility

Colostrum

Colostrum is the mother cat’s milk, which offers a potent mix of nutrients and boosts the immune systems of newborn kittens. For this reason, cow’s milk isn’t a good substitute for mother’s milk. Orphaned kittens should be provided with kitten milk replacer instead.

Heat/Oestrus/Estrus

Heat is a female cat’s period of sexual receptivity, characterized by certain behaviours such as yowling, rolling around on the floor, trying to escape outdoors, and being more affectionate than usual. An unspayed female goes into heat every 2-3 weeks and stays in heat for anywhere from 3-16 days.

Superfecundation

Superfecundation is the ability of a female cat to have a single litter by multiple fathers. It’s often the reason why kittens from the same litter look dramatically different from one another.

Superfetation

A cat that is already pregnant may go into heat and become pregnant with a second litter. The result is that she carries two litters at different stages of development, a phenomenon called superfetation. Either the second litter will be born alongside the more mature litter, in which case the premature kittens may die, or the second litter may hang on until its due date, which can present difficulties for the nursing mother after they are born.

Weaning

Weaning is the process of transitioning kittens from mother’s milk to solid food. This process can begin at around 4-5 weeks of age and is usually completed by 8-12 weeks.

Cat Anatomy

Hock

The hock is the portion of a cat’s rear leg that on a human would be called the ankle.

Nictitating Membrane

Known also as the third eyelid or haw, this transparent whitish inner membrane closes to moisten and protect the eye. In a cat that is sick or suffering from an eye infection, it may stay across the eye even when the outer eyelids are open.

Papillae

Comprising tiny little hooks, the papillae line a cat’s gut and tongue. For this reason, cats shouldn’t be given wool to play with unsupervised, as it can get caught on these barbs, forcing the cat to swallow over and over again.

Quick

The quick is the visible vein that runs into the base of a cat’s claw. When trimming the claws, it’s important not to cut into this portion, as nicking the vein will cause pain and bleeding.

Stifle

The stifle is the part of a cat’s rear leg that on a human would be called the knee.

Tapetum Lucidum

The tapetum lucidum is a reflective area inside the cat’s eyeball that bounces light back to enhance night vision. This feature causes cats’ eyes to glow in the dark and in flash photographs.

Vibrissae

The vibrissae are the coarser hairs commonly known as whiskers. Contrary to popular belief, cats don’t use their whiskers for balance, but whiskers do aid in navigation and hunting.

Human Reactions to Cats

Ailurophile

An ailurophile is a cat lover. Famous ailurophiles have included Abraham Lincoln, Mark Twain, Winston Churchill, and Florence Nightingale.

Ailurophobe

An ailurophobe is a cat hater or a person who is afraid of cats. Famous cat haters have included Pope Gregory IX (who began the mass persecution of cats) and American president Dwight D. Eisenhower (who ordered his staff to shoot any cats near his home). Anecdotal reports suggest that Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, and Napoleon may have been phobic of cats, and many accounts also name Adolf Hitler as a cat hater, but it’s unclear whether he hated cats, feared them, or disliked them due to allergies.

Miscellaneous Cat Words

Elizabethan Collar

The Elizabethan collar is the cone that pets wear after surgery to prevent them from aggravating an injury or surgical site by licking, chewing, or scratching.

Free-Feed

Also known as free choice, free feeding involves leaving some food (usually kibble) out all day and night so that a cat can eat whenever it wishes.

Onchyectomy

Onchyectomy is the technical term for declawing, a serious and painful procedure that involves removal not only of the claws, but also a portion of bone in each toe. Declawing is traumatic for cats and it can trigger lifelong behavioural problems.

Obligate Carnivore

Cats are obligate carnivores, which means that they have evolved to consume an all-meat diet and have no need to seek out carbohydrate-rich plant-based foods. By contrast, dogs are omnivores, capable of easily digesting and extracting energy from both animal and plant-based food sources.

For more cat articles, see the main Cats page.

References:

    • Choron, S.; Choron, H.; & Moore, A. (2007). Planet Cat: A CAT-alog. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company.
    • Dodman, N., Dr. (2010). “Thwarting the Alarm Clock Cat.” PetPlace.com.

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