News and Research

Cats: General Articles


We've given you two headlines, the first (in blue) being the original, and the second (in red) aims to be a more informative headline, so you can gain an idea of what the article is about more quickly. The source is also given in case you want to track down the original article.

Joe in bread bin

Photo of Joe in a bread bin

"I think I'll have him lightly toasted!"


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Pigment drives muscle movement in cats' eyes

Pigment in iris can control cats' pupils

source: New Scientist vol 212, no 2837, November 5 2011 p18

A pigment in the iris of a cat's eye can control the movement of the pupil. This is also true of hamsters, dogs and other animals which are active at dawn, dusk and during the night. Previously, messages from the brain were seen as the way the pupil changed size. A team led by King-Wai Ya, from Baltimore's John Hopkins University, have found that a pigment called melanopsin also controls pupil size. This may help prevent such animals from being dazzled by sudden bright light. Fish, amphibians and birds use the pigment in the same way.

Animal empathy

Dogs and cats can develop empathy for humans

source: Mike Flattley
New Scientist vol 208 no 2791, 18th December 2010 p28

Humans can hunt more effectively when they can think like the prey they hunt, as is shown by the Kalahari bushmen. Anthropologists see this skill as part of the evolution of the human ability to develop strategies and influence events. More empathic predators are probably better hunters, and this may apply to cats and dogs. Both can understand human behaviour to some extent, and this has helped them to co-operate and live with humans. Cats and dogs behave differently when they relate to their own species. It is anthropomorphic to believe that only humans can understand others' behaviour. Evolution is likely to have favoured empathy as a useful survival trait.

In or Out?

Should cats live indoors?

Source: Feline Advisory Bureau Volume 39 (2) 2001
Starts Page 48, 3 pages long

The introduction of cat litter in the 1950s meant that cat owners now had a choice about whether to let their cats out or keep them indoors, but it is important to weigh up the pros and cons of both indoor and outdoor lifestyles, based on the individual cat and owner circumstances. Risks of outdoor life include road traffic accidents, poisoning, disease and loss, but such risks can be minimised by vaccination against infectious diseases, keeping the cat in at nighttime and neutering. On the other hand indoor cats do not have the same stimuli as outdoor cats and may display behavioural problems because of this, such as urine marking. They may also be unable to cope with changes in the confines of their indoor territory and may also become overweight due to lack of activity. So it is important to keep an indoor cat stimulated with toys and games, and a pair of cats would have the chance to interact unlike a lone cat. Purpose built enclosures or cat proof fencing would offer the best of both worlds, providing a safe outdoor environment without the risks associated with free roaming.

Cloners set sights on rare cats

Developments in cloning domestic and rare cats

source: Michael Le Page
New Scientist vol 185 no 2481, January 8 2005 p12

The first cloned cat was born in 2001, and this success has led researchers to try cloning as a way to help the conservation of endangered wild cats. A team led by Martha Gomez at the Audoben Center for the Research of Endangered Species, New Orleans, has cloned seven African Wild cats, or Felis lybica. The team is also seeking to clone Felis nigripes, or the black-footed cat, and the rusty spotted cat. Meanwhile, Genetic Saving and Clone, a Californian company, delivered a cat to a customer at the end of 2004, later than planned.

Wild beast watchers pounce on new sightings

Big cats living wild in Britain

source: John Vidal
Guardian January 11 2003 p10

The number of sightings of big cats in the wild in Britain increased to a new peak in 2002. The British Big Cat Society received over 1,000 reports , and some zoologists believe that the population of big cats in the UK is increasing. There have been sightings in every county, and a wide range of big cats sighted, including jungle cats, ocelots, pumas, leopards and lynxes. The cat society aims to collect evidence using special cameras able to take photos at night. The big cats usually follow streams and railway lines, and have become accustomed to cars and people. They only present a risk to the public if they are surprised or cornered. The cats could interbreed, which may lead to a population explosion.

Zoologists who believe that there are many wild cats in Britain include London zoo's Quentin Rose, who has identified 18 reports of ocelots and jungle cats, that he believes are reliable, as well as 27 leopard sightings and 32 sightings of pumas. Glasgow zoo's Paul Paterson believes that big cats are being imported by rich owners, and are then being dumped. Some of these exotic imports can breed with domestic pet cats, with some hybrids also producing offspring. He believes that the Dangerous Wild Animals Act may have led many people to dump exotic pets. Meanwhile, the police are calling for more controls of dangerous animals, while a government wildlife officer argues that there is little hard evidence, like road kills, and killings of livestock, to support these claims.

Thereby hangs a tail

Debate on Munchkin cat breed

source: Sarah Hall
Guardian March 29 2002 p12

Animal welfare groups in Britain are concerned about the arrival of a new breed of cat, the Munchkin, which has very short legs. Cat Association of Great Britain director, Therese Clarke, sees the cats as similar to freaks of nature, and thinks it unfair to breed cats unable to hunt, climb and jump. Cat Fancy is also concerend, as is the British Small Animals Veterinary Association, which sees possible welfare and health implications arising from breeding animals that have extreme features in their anatomy. The importers of the cat, a couple from Essex, argue that the cats are normal, except for thier short legs, and vets say the breed has no apparent problems. Mucnhkins were developed in Louisiana in the early 1980s. Munchkin kittens are born when a Munchkin is mated with a normal cat.

In a league of their own

History of Cats Protection and cats as pets in Britain

source: Justine Hankins
Guardian, Weekend May 4 2002 p69

Cats Protection (CP) is an organization that was set up in London, England, in 1927 to teach the general public about cats and improve their status. It has changed its name from the Cats Protection League.

The way that people see cats has changed since the 19th century, when there were many cats in cities. There was a cat in nearly every home, according to the RSPCA in a publication that came out in 1857. Harrison Weir was an early pioneer in public relations for cats, and he organized the first cat show, at Crystal Palace, London, in 1871.

The Cats Protection League started out at a time when there were no shelters, few urban vets, and rehoming had not begun. One of the organization’s early drives was to ensure that cats were killed humanely, and CP even made an appeal for equipment for chloroforming cats. The organization later advised on cat care in the 1939-1945 war, such as feeding cats using rations, and ensuring they were safe in air raids. The war resulted in a population explosion for feral cats.

Cats became companion animals for ordinary people for the first time during the 1950s. This was partly because ordinary people were better off, and because it was easier to neuter cats, with a drop in the cost and more vets available to do it. Cheap flea and worm treatments and cat food also became available. A later trend towards women working outside the home, and more single-person urban households has tended to favour cats, and more people now prefer cats than dogs.

The position of cats has improved since CP was set up, but cats still need help. CP has 29 shelters and helps some 170,000 cats annually, with 250 voluntary branches. The organization’s phone number is 01403 221919, and it has a website at

Top cats

Cats in Britain and at the Supreme Show

source: Michael Holden
Guardian Weekend November 10 2001
starts p 40, 6 pages long

There are some eight million cats in Britain, and cats have become more popular than dogs, since they fit better into urban lifestyles with owners who may live alone and be out all day. Feral cats are increasing, as are GM cats. The Mammal Society is concerned about cats as cruel hunters.

The Supreme Cat Show is held in Birmingham, and is a major event for some British cat owners. Cats have to win qualifying heats to be allowed to compete. The show started in 1976, though cat showing took off in the late 19th century. The Governing Council of Cat Fancy (GCCF) was set up in 1910, and still operates, setting standards for cat breeds.

There is intense competition at the Supreme Cat Show, though competitors do not seek monetary rewards, and competition is said to be more intense at dog shows. Cat breeders can however, make large amounts of money, though the sums involved are sometimes exaggerated.

New breeds often appear from the US, and are fashionable for a while. They include lightweight Singapura cats, Ragdoll cats that appear boneless, since they are very relaxed, and Bengal cats that reportedly have leopard in them. Some new breeds are seen as unacceptable by the GCCF, such as Ultra Persians, which suffer from breeding problems. Bengal cats have achieved celebrity status, and are confident cats with a domestic nature, despite their looks, according to Simon Gubb, who shows the breed.

Attitudes to cats are contradictory, with some people seeing them as dependent, and taking great care to feed them well, while also seeing them as liking to do their own thing. There are concerns about cats shows, and deliberate breeding of cats, when more than 100,000 cats are in rescue centres, and the UK has an estimated one million feral cats. Cats are also living creatures, so there are problems with seeing them as art forms.

Green-eyed monsters

Case of missing Turkish angora cat, and the history of the breed

source: Malcolm Macalister Hall
Independent on Sunday March 18 2001
starts p10, 4 pages long

A couple from Lowestoft, England, claim that their Turkish angora cat, called Toni, has been kidnapped. Reports of the cat’s value have appeared in the press, and range between 75,000 pounds sterling and 250,000 pounds. Dealers argue, however, that Turkish angoras are sold from between 300 pounds and 500 pounds.

Turkish angoras are not recognised by the Governing Council of Cat Fancy (GCCF), though the Cat Association of Great Britain does recognise them. The GCCF instead recognises ‘British angoras’, said to be a cross between Balinese and Siamese cats. There are claims that the GCCF does not recognise Turkish angoras due to the British angora breed having been started by one of the GCCF’s executive.

Pedigree cats are not always well cared for, according to Celia Hammond, who rehomes cats. She finds that people often neglect pedigree cats, and want to rehome their breeding stock when they find cat breeding is less lucrative than they thought. Cats may be confined in sheds and not groomed.

Turkish angoras have been bred in Turkey, at Ankara zoo. Press reports claimed that the breed had become rare due to an epidemic, but the zoo denies this, and has 17 pairs of the breed, all pure whites and original-line, and will sell kittens for a price estimated at 40 pounds sterling for one kitten. One estimate gives 300 Turkish angoras in Germany, where they are especially popular, and 600 of this cat breed in the whole of Europe. There are restrictions on exporting white Turkish angoras from Turkey, though they are sometimes smuggled out.

The Collinses argue that their cat could have been worth 250,000 pounds, taking stud fees into account, and have made allegations relating to who could have taken the cat.


Study of Scottish wildcats and interbreeding with domestic cats

source: Claire Ainsworth
New Scientist April 14 2001 p15

A team from Reading University, England, has studied how far Scottish wildcats have been affected by interbreeding. The team used genetic fingerprint analysis of a sample of 230 wildcats, together with 74 domestic cats from Scotland and England. The team has found many wild hybrid cats, but they have also discovered a group of wildcats that is genetically distinct, with no recent interbreeding with domestic cats.

European wildcats, or Felis silvestris silvestris, are found in woodland areas throughout Europe, though not in Wales and England. There are also African wildcats, Felis silvestris lyhica, which share a common ancestor with European wildcats. European and African wildcats are thought to have diverged over 20,000 years ago. Domestic cats are descendants of African, rather than European wildcats.

Scottish wildcats show more hybridisation than Italian wildcats, and this is because Scottish wildcats almost became extinct after persecution by gamekeepers during the early 20th century and 19th century. Male wildcats will seek feral domestic cats to breed, if no female wildcats are available. Wildcats enjoy legal protection, but proof is needed that any cats killed are wildcats arther than feral tabbies or hybrids. A genetic test to prove this is likely to be developed.

Frisky cats abandon traditional values

Study of Italian cats' mating habits

source: Roger Dobson
Independent December 11 2000 p8

Researchers from Milan University, Italy, and Claud Bernard University, France, have studied the mating habits of cats in a square in Rome, Italy. The researchers observed 81 cats for three months, and found that the female cats had relationships with as many as 10 toms over three days. Cat society used to be organised round controlled polygamy, with each male controlling a patch and permitting two or three females onto his territory. Female cats chose their areas according to the abilities of males to produce high quality kittens. Changes in the urban environment have changed cats' behaviour. Food is more plentiful, and feral domestic cat populations have grown to high densities. Individual territories have disappeared, and big multi-female and multi-male groups have emerged, the researchers say.

Providing volumes of care

Library Cat Society set up in Minnesota

source: Kirsten Rosenberg
The Animals' Agenda March-April 2000 p17

Phyllis Lahti set up the Library Cat Society with its own newsletter, after she rescued a cat from a storm in Minnesota and housed it in the library where she worked, since her own two cats would not accept a newcomer. The cat's preferred spot in the library became the reference room. The society's members provide homes for cats abandoned in and near libraries. Library mascots generally receive a good reaction from the public, though some library board members are less keen.