Let’s learn about domestic cats

Our furry friends still share many traits with their wild ancestors

a photo of a cat licking it's nose

Cats can be great companions — and also little terrors.

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Sometimes having a cat for a housemate is great. It can be absolutely blissful when a kitty falls asleep purring in your lap. And they make great pest control. At other times — like when your crepuscular cat gets the zoomies at dawn and knocks something breakable off a shelf as it rushes by — you start to wonder whether it was a good idea to let an animal into your home.

Cats are domesticated animals. That means that they are descended from wild cats. Over thousands of years, those cats have evolved to live in our homes (though they still share many traits with their wild relatives). Now, about a quarter of U.S. households are also home to one or more cats.

Some people, though, are allergic to them. Up to one in five may have a cat allergy. These individuals are allergic to a small protein called Fel d1. It’s produced in a cat’s salivary and sebaceous glands. Cats spread this protein across their fur when they lick themselves. But scientists are working on ways to tame these allergies, from developing better allergy drugs to engineering hypoallergenic cats.

Want to know more? We’ve got some stories to get you started:

DNA tells tale of how cats conquered the world: Analyzing 9,000 years of cat remains points to two waves of feline migration (7/10/2017) Readability: 6.9

Yes, cats know their own names: They can pick out their own names when called, one study shows (5/3/2019) Readability: 6.8

DNA testing looks into dog breeds and cat history: Genetic tweaks can result in pets that belong to the same species but look very different (10/24/2019) Readability: 6.4

Explore more

Scientists Say: Domestication

Scientists Say: Crepuscular

Explainer: What are allergies?

Cool Jobs: Pet science

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Perform an experiment with your own cat and test whether they are right- or left-handed, or investigate their box preferences.

Sarah Zielinski is the Editor, Print at Science News Explores. She has degrees in biology and journalism and likes to write about ecology, plants and animals. She has three cats: Oscar, Saffir and Alani.

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