20 Important Cat Terms Every Owner Should Know

Owning a cat is one of the most enriching and rewarding things a person can do. Regardless of the breed, color, shape, or size of a feline, they make great and loving companions. Plus, they sometimes get themselves into hilarious situations, so they’re entertaining as well. Also, if you live on a farm or another place that is prone to rodent infestation, a cat will help keep the pest populations down. Cats and humans have lived alongside one another for over 9000 years. The earliest known example of a cat living with a human is found at the Neolithic site Shillourokambos. This site is located on the island of Cyprus. When archaeologists excavated the area, they found a cat buried next to a human – an intentional co-burial. The grave is estimated to be about 9200 to 9500 years old.

With such a long history of cohabitation, it is not surprising that humans have come up with a variety of words to describe our furry feline friends. A lot of these terms are quite important to know if you are a cat breeder or if you enter your cat into shows. However, anyone can benefit from learning more about their pet – it will help you to understand them better. So, if you want to expand your cat-related vocabulary, read on to learn 20 Important Cat Terms Every Owner Should Know.

Moggy

Moggy is a word, primarily used in Britain, that refers to a domestic cat that is not of any particular breed. It is not too common to hear it in the United States, as most people will use the terms mongrel or mutt. However, mongrel and mutt can also apply to dogs, leading to confusion. So, calling a mixed-breed cat a moggy might be a better choice. The term originates from early 19th-century England. Mice were called “moggies”, and cats were thus “moggy catchers”. So, when a cat was not of any certain breed, they were relegated to just being a moggy catcher – which was later shortened to the term we use today.

Feral

A feral cat is one of a domestic breed that lives outdoors, and has almost no contact with humans. They will often be fearful or even aggressive in their dealings with humans. Long-term socialization has little effect on a feral cat’s behavior towards people, though they will become more comfortable with a person who feeds them frequently. Feral cat populations can quickly go out of control if certain measures are not taken. One common solution is a trap-neuter-return program. Feral cats will be captured, sterilized, and then returned to the outdoors where they were found. They will sometimes be placed on a farm instead, especially if the spot they were found is unsafe.

Tom

The common term for a male cat is a tomcat. This term is especially relevant when you are talking about a non-neutered male, as the “tom” prefix is generally dropped from common speech when a fixed male is being discussed. Tomcats may be found in the wild, on the streets, or in breeding programs. They are more aggressive than females, and may fight with other cats. They will also engage in typical male cat behaviors, such as spraying. If you have a domestic tom that you aren’t planning to breed, neutering your cat is the best option.

Queen

Queen is the term used when you are describing a female cat that has never been spayed, and will carry at least one litter during her time. This term is not used for any cat that has been spayed – even one that had a litter before – and only applies when the cat could become pregnant. This type of cat is called a queen because they are the ones in charge when they are in heat. Toms will crowd them, obsess over them, and even fight over them. A queen cat will idly sit by until the most dominant (and thus strongest genetically) cat comes out on top.

Pedigree

If a cat is of a certain pedigree, it is a member of an established breed (or even family line) of cats. The pedigree of a cat will directly affect its value – both monetarily and in any sort of cat show. Pedigree cats will generally display most of the desirable traits that their breed has been designed to. In order for a cat to be considered purebred, it must have documentation on its parents, and must be registered with some sort of organization. For example, in the United States the American Cat Fanciers Association handles registration and breed standards.

Clowder

Clowder is an old English term that has been repurposed to mean a group of three or more cats. It’s similar to saying a pack of dogs, a pride of lions, or a school of fish. It is simply an overarching term that has no regard for the type, gender, or breed of the cats in question. The term first appeared in the early 19th century, and probably was a corruption of the word ‘clutter’. It may have also been a combination of the word ‘clutter’ and the word ‘clot’. Either way, it is a great term that should be in more frequent use in the 21st century.

Microchipping

One of the best things you can do to protect your cat is have it microchipped. In this process, a tiny electronic chip enclosed in a glass cylinder – altogether about the size of a grain of rice – is injected into the cat’s skin. This chip will activate when it is scanned by a veterinarian or other person with access to a scanner. Though the chip is not a GPS device, when it is scanned it will access a database and match up the chip ID with your information. That way, if your cat ever gets lost and is found by someone who gets it to a scanner, the veterinarian will be able to contact you promptly. Cats rarely get lost, but this is great insurance against any chance that they will.

Cattery

A cattery is a commercial housing system for cats. Most catteries are used for breeding, providing a place where many cats and kittens can have the space they need to flourish. They generally have outdoor and indoor areas to best meet their cats’ needs. These catteries are heavily regulated by the government. Another type of cattery is a boarding cattery. This is like a cat hotel, serving as a temporary residence for a cat while the owners take a vacation, move houses, or other situations in which the owner cannot be present. Boarding catteries are just about as heavily regulated as breeding catteries, with strict standards placed on quality of care.

Shedding/Molting

The shedding or molting process occurs when your cat lets some of their fur fall out in order to control their body temperature. For example, when summer rolls around most cats will begin to shed because they no longer need the excess fur that is necessary to stay warm in the winter. A cat’s shedding can be controlled with frequent brushing. You can brush your cat daily – most of them love to be brushed. Just be careful not to irritate their skin with overly-vigorous brushing. When you do brush, you will be able to control where the fur ends up instead of finding cat hair all over your clothes and house.

Brindle

If a cat is described as brindled, the term refers to a distinct coat coloring pattern that the cat displays. It is similar to tiger stripes, though it is far more subtle. Plus, the stripes aren’t the same as those of a tiger – they can be irregularly shaped, and may vary in thickness and location. Cats that display a brindled coloration include tabbies, tortoiseshells, and sometimes calicos. Any cat that displays a brindle type of coloration will have a distinct striped pattern, with light fur and dark fur alternating to create a gorgeous effect.

Stropping

Stropping generally refers to the act of sharpening a knife. However, cats also strop. A stropping cat will drag their claws against a rough surface – it could be a scratching post, or it could be the arm of your couch. Either way, it is a natural process that should not be stopped with punishment or declawing. When a cat strops, it is attempting to remove the old, dead outer sheath of their claws. This will expose the healthy claw underneath, which is sharper and better than trying to work around the old outer layer. Stropping also acts as a sharpening process for the cat’s claws.

Flehmen Reaction

The flehmen reaction – also known as the flehmen position and flehmen response – is a certain behavior that is present in many mammals, including cats. It is characterized by the animal pulling back its upper lip to expose its front teeth, inhaling with the nostrils closed, and holding the position for several seconds. This behavior is most commonly seen when an animal comes into contact with some sort of odor or taste. Occasionally, the site of interest is also licked. Other times, the flehmen response is observed after the animal stretches out its neck and holds its head high in the air. If you see your cat display this behavior, don’t worry – it is natural, and no cause for alarm.

Vibrissae

Vibrissae, another word for whiskers, refers to the long, large hairs that are found on and around the muzzle of a mammal, including a cat. They are used for tactile sensing, and are the most sensitive tactile indicators that a cat possesses. Cats may use their whiskers to feel their way around at night without bumping into anything. This can happen because the whiskers can pick up even the slightest change in air currents, and will pick up interruptions created by objects. Another use for whiskers is to help a cat figure out whether it will fit through a certain opening.

Ailurophile/Ailurophobe

These two terms are opposites. An ailurophile is somebody who really loves cats. They are also known as cat fanciers, and may own several cats or be a part of a cat fanciers’ organization. Ailurophiles may collect cat-related memorabilia, and they will always spend lots of time with their feline friends – hours every day. On the other hand, an ailurophobe is somebody who is scared of cats. They may have had a bad experience with a cat in the past – especially if they ever came across a cornered feral cat. Even if they never had a bad experience, some people just don’t like cats. Either way, ailurophobics will avoid cats by any means necessary.

Catnip

Catnip (also known as catmint) is a species of perennial that features brown-green foliage with triangular or elliptical leaves. They also flower, bringing forth showy and fragrant buds that can be pink or white and purple. Catnip gets its name from the intense attraction that felines have to the plant. Catnip contains nepetalactone, which is a chemical that has distinct behavioral effects on cat species. When they take in the substance – either through smelling it or consuming it – they will display a variety of effects including drooling, sleepiness, or even energetic behavior (such as jumping around and sprinting). The substance is harmless, and the effects last only about 15 minutes at maximum.

Nictitating Membrane

A nictitating membrane is a type of inner eyelid. It can be pulled across the eye to protect the eye from dirt, wind, or attacks while maintaining visibility. Animals that have one of these translucent eyelids include some reptiles, birds, and sharks. They are also present in some mammals, including cats. A cats nictitating membrane is largely vestigial. Perhaps ancient ancestors of modern housecats had fully-functioning nictitating membranes, but over time the muscle fibers became less and less developed. Today, the third eyelid is rarely visible – and if it is, it is generally a sign of a detrimental health condition.

Jacobson’s Organ

Jacobson’s organ, otherwise known as the vomeronasal organ, is an auxiliary olfactory sense organ found in many animals, including cats. It was first discovered in 1732, but was not well understood until Ludwig Jacobson studied it in 1813. This organ is primarily used to detect pheromones. In a cat, the vomeronasal organ is located on the roof of the mouth. It is used to analyze scents, especially when male cats detect the presence of a female in heat. The scent is collected in the cat’s mouth, and then flicked upwards with the tongue into the organ. This is what a cat is doing during the flehmen response.

Breed Standard

A breed standard is essentially a “blueprint” for the ideal characteristics of any particular breed. They are defined by organizations – such as the American Kennel Club for dogs, the American Poultry Association for chickens, and the American Cat Fanciers Association for cats. The standards are meant to reflect the original purpose or use of the specific breed. Breed standards have many uses. Primarily, they are used to identify breeds and in the registration of animals. They can also be used as the main list to which a show animal is compared. For example, if you brought a white Persian cat to a show, the standards require pink noses and paw pads and deep blue or copper eyes. Cats that varied from this standard would not be scored as highly.

Host

The term host generally refers to the animal in which a parasite lives and benefits from. The host is often harmed by these parasites, but is rarely killed. Parasites tend to be much, much smaller than their hosts, and are often not even visible to the naked eye. Cats may play host to a variety of parasites. Most of these are worms – including roundworms, tape worms, stomach worms, and eye worms – and are easily visible to the naked eye. They can be removed through the administration of anti-worm medication. Other parasites that may a cat may host could be fleas, mites, or ticks. Fleas and ticks are insects that consume blood from the cat for nourishment. Mites also consume blood, but are members of the arachnid family.

Alter

If you are a responsible pet owner who does not wish to breed your cat, then altering it is quite important. To alter a cat means to remove some part of their body that is involved in sexual reproduction to ensure that they are not capable of producing young. The procedure is known as neutering for a male, and spaying for a female. Altered cats often do not display as many aggressive behaviors as those who are unaltered. This is especially true for male cats. Besides the prevention of unwanted litters of kittens, altering your cat can eliminate spraying in males, and caterwauling (mating cries) in females. Plus, if your cat ever gets outside it won’t return pregnant or impregnate a female. This will, over time, reduce the population of feral cats.

Whether you are a prospective cat owner, or have already adopted a feline friend, it is important to know as many things as possible about your animal. Hopefully you have gained some useful knowledge by reading through this list of important cat terms.


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