Companion Animals

In a perfect world, animals would be free to live their lives to the fullest: raising their young, enjoying their native environments, and following their natural instincts. However, domesticated animals cannot survive "free" in our concrete jungles, so we must take as good care of them as possible.

People with the time, money, love and patience to make a lifetime commitment to an animal can make an enormous difference by adopting from shelters or rescuing animals from a perilous life on the street.


Cats have long been valued by humans for companionship and are the most popular companion animal. There are over 500 million domestic cats throughout the world. Descended from African wildcats, they began to share homes with humans about 10,000 years ago.

Domestic cats are still similar in anatomy to wild cats, with strong, flexible bodies, quick reflexes, sharp retractable claws and teeth adapted to killing small prey. They have excellent hearing, sense of smell and night vision.

Cats are felids, which are mammals that include lions, tigers, cougars, jungle cats, wildcats, mountain cats, sand cats and other wild cats. They all share a common ancestor that lived around 6–7 million years ago in Asia.

Domestic cats are not radically different from wildcats, so they can interbreed. Unlike dogs, cats have not undergone major changes during the domestication process. They are still capable of surviving in the wild.

Despite being solitary hunters, cats are social animals and communicate with a variety of vocalizations, as well as cat pheromones and body language. They are known for their love of play. They also engage in play fighting with each other, other species and humans.

Fascinating Cat Facts

  • A group of cats is referred to as a "clowder", a male cat is called a "tomcat", an unaltered female is called a "queen" and a baby cat is referred to as a "kitten".
  • Most cats weigh between 8.8 and 11 lb, though some, such as the Maine Coon, can weigh over 25 lb. Very small cats can weigh 4 lb or less. The largest cat on record weighed 47 lb. The smallest adult cat on record weighed 3 lb.
  • The average lifespan of a cat is 12.1 years, while some live much longer. The oldest cat on record lived 38 years.
  • Female cats tend to be right pawed, while male cats are more often left pawed.
  • Cats have the cognitive ability to sense human emotions and mood.
  • Cat can travel at a top speed of approximately 31 mph over short distances.
  • Cats greet one another by rubbing their noses together.
  • Cats usually only meow to communicate with humans, not other cats.
  • Cats sleep 70% of their lives.
  • Cats make over 100 different sounds.
  • Cat brains are 90% similar to human brains — more similar to human brains than dog brains.
  • Cats have survived falls from over 32 stories onto concrete, due to their “righting reflex.”
  • The ability of cats to find their way home is called “psi-traveling.” Cats either use the angle of sunlight, or magnetized cells in their brains, as compasses.
  • Most cats don't have eyelashes.
  • Cats dislike the water because their fur does not insulate well when wet.
  • Cat noses are ridged with a unique pattern, just like human fingerprints.
  • Cats rub against humans to be affectionate and to mark their territory with scent glands located around their faces, tail area and paws.
  • Adult cats have 30 teeth; kittens have 26 teeth.
  • Cats are extremely sensitive to vibrations and can detect earthquakes 15 minutes before humans.
  • Eating grass rids a cats' system of fur and aids digestion.
  • In one litter of kittens, there can be multiple fathers.
  • A cat's back paws aren’t as sharp as their front paws because the back claws don’t retract and thus get worn.
  • Cats have 1,000 times more data storage than an iPad.
  • Cats can change their meow to manipulate humans.
  • Cats can detect cancer.

Amazing Abilities

Extra lumbar and thoracic vertebrae account for the cat's spinal mobility and flexibility. Unlike human arms, cat arms are attached to the shoulder by free-floating bones that allow them to fit through any space they can fit their heads. A cat's skull is unusual among mammals, having very large eye sockets and a powerful and specialized jaw. Within the jaw, cats have teeth adapted for killing prey and tearing meat.

Cats, like dogs, walk directly on their toes, with the bones of their feet making up the lower part of their leg. They are capable of walking very precisely by placing each back paw directly in the spot of the corresponding front paw, minimizing noise and tracks. This also provides sure footing when navigating rough terrain. Unlike most mammals, cats move the two legs on one side of the body before the legs on the other side. Camels and giraffes also walk this way. As their walk speeds into a trot, a cat's gait changes to that of most other mammals.

Cats have protractable and retractable front claws. In their normal position, the claws are retracted to keep them sharp by preventing wear. This allows the silent stalking of prey. Cats can voluntarily extend their claws on one or more paws for hunting, climbing, self-defense, kneading or for extra traction on certain surfaces.

Cats are able to tolerate quite high temperatures. They conserve heat by reducing the flow of blood to their skin and lose heat by evaporation through their mouths. They can only sweat a little, with sweat glands located primarily in their paw pads. They pant for heat relief only at very high temperatures. Their kidneys are so efficient they can survive on a diet of meat alone, with no additional water, and can even quench their thirst by drinking seawater.

Cats are carnivores and have difficulty digesting plants. About 20% of a cat's diet needs to be protein. They are dependent on a constant supply of the amino acid arginine and cannot produce taurine. They do eat grass occasionally. Since cats cannot fully close their lips around something to create suction, they lap with their tongues to draw liquid upwards into their mouths. Cats have relatively few taste buds compared to humans and cannot taste sweetness. Their taste buds instead respond to bitter tastes, acids and amino acids.

Special Senses

Cats have excellent night vision and can see at only one-sixth the light level humans require to see. Unlike some big wild cats, domestic cats have slit pupils. They see in color, but have limited ability to distinguish between red and green.

Cats have excellent hearing and can detect an extremely broad range of frequencies. They can hear higher-pitched sounds than either dogs or humans. They do not use this ability to hear ultrasound for communication, but it aids in hunting since many rodents make ultrasonic calls. Cat hearing is extremely sensitive and is among the best of any mammal. Their movable ears amplify sounds and help them sense the direction from which the sound is coming.

Cats also have an excellent sense of smell. They are very sensitive to pheromones which they use to communicate through urine spraying and marking with scent glands.

To aid with navigation and sensation, cats have dozens of movable whiskers on their bodies, especially on their faces. Their whiskers are highly sensitive to touch and provide information on the width of gaps and the location of objects in the dark. They work by touching objects directly and by sensing air currents. They also trigger protective blink reflexes to protect the cat's eyes from damage.

A Day In The Life

Free ranging cats are active both day and night. A house cat's activity is quite flexible and varied, and often synchronizes with their human family. Cats allowed outdoors are known to establish territories from 17 to 69 acres in size.

Cats conserve energy by sleeping more than most animals, usually 13–14 hours per day. They dream often throughout the day.

Cats use many vocalizations for communication including purring, hissing, growling, snarling, trilling, grunting and many forms of meowing. Different body language, including position of ears and tail, relaxation of their body and kneading of paws, indicate their mood. No one knows how a cat purrs. Cats have no unique anatomical feature that is known for causing the sound.

Cats are known for their cleanliness, spending many hours licking their coats. The cat's tongue has backwards-facing spines which act like a hairbrush.

Cats hunt small prey, primarily birds and rodents. They use two hunting strategies, either stalking prey actively, or waiting in ambush until the animal comes close. Many present their prey to their human guardians. Some experts believe this is done because the cat is trying to teach its human to hunt, or is trying to feed their inept human.

Most cats have a fondness for perching in high places. In the wild, a higher place may serve as a concealed location to hunt from and gives the cat a better observation point. During a fall from a high place, a cat can reflexively twist its body and right itself using its acute sense of balance and flexibility.

Among domestic cats, males are more likely to fight than females. Cats arch their backs, raise their fur, turn sideways and hiss to appear more impressive and threatening. Often, the ears are pointed down and back to avoid damage and to listen for any changes behind them. They may also vocalize loudly and bare their teeth to further intimidate their opponent. Fights usually consist of grappling, slapping and biting. Serious damage is rare, as the fights usually don't last long.

Prolific Breeders

Female cats are seasonally polyestrous, which means they may go into heat over and over during the course of a year. The mating season begins in spring and ends in late autumn. Heat periods occur about every two weeks and last around 4 to 7 days. Multiple males will be attracted to a female in heat. The males will fight over her and the victor wins the right to mate. Cats are superfecund; that is, a female may mate with more than one male when she is in heat, and different kittens in the litter may have different fathers.

The gestation period for cats is about 66 days. The size of a litter is usually three to five kittens. Babies are weaned between six and seven weeks old, and teens normally reach sexual maturity between 5–10 months. Females can have two to three litters per year, so they can produce up to 150 kittens by the time they reach ten years old. They can be spayed or neutered as early as 7 weeks to limit unwanted reproduction. This surgery also prevents undesirable sex-related behavior, such as aggression, marking (spraying urine) in males and yowling (calling) in females.

Feral Cats

Feral cats are domestic cats that were born in, or have reverted to, a wild state. They are unfamiliar with and wary of humans and roam freely in urban and rural environments. There are 25 to 60 million feral cats just in the United States. They usually live in colonies, occupying a specific territory with a source of food. A grass roots effort to humanely reduce the feral cat population is called 'trap-neuter-return'. Cats are trapped, neutered, immunized and then released. Volunteers continue to feed and care for the cats throughout their lives. An established colony helps to prevent other feral cats from moving into an area.


The keeping of dogs as companions has a long history. Dogs began from a single domestication thousands of years ago. They are not a descendant of the Gray wolf as previously believed. They were originally domesticated from a now extinct wolf.

Dogs were the first domesticated animals and have been widely kept as working, hunting and companion animals. Domestic dogs have been selectively bred for millennia for various behaviors, capabilities and attributes. There are currently up to one billion dogs around the world.

Domestic dogs inherited complex behaviors from their wolf ancestors which were pack hunters with complex body language. These sophisticated forms of social cognition and communication may account for their trainability, playfulness and ability to fit into human households and social situations.

Dogs still share some behaviors with their wild relatives. They defend their territories and mark them by urinating, serving notice to other animals that it is their territory. Many dogs also bury bones or toys for future use, just as wolves bury a kill to secure the meat for later.

Modern dog breeds show more variation in size, appearance and behavior than any other domestic animal. They are highly variable in height and weight. The smallest known adult dog was a Yorkshire Terrier that weighed only 4 oz. The largest known dog was an English Mastiff which weighed 343 lb. The tallest dog was a Great Dane that stood 42 inches at the shoulder.

The most widespread form of interspecies bonding occurs between humans and dogs. These intelligent, social, emotional and playful creatures have learned to communicate and interact with humans in a way no other species can.

The genius of dogs is that they use humans to get what they want. At one point in wolf evolution, a group of wolves decided to take advantage of humans. Dogs domesticated themselves through a natural process and have become a part of the human family. No other species can read our gestures as well as dogs can. It allows them to be incredible social partners with humans. Their ability to interpret our gestures also helps them complete tasks they can’t complete on their own.

Fascinating Dog Facts

  • The largest breed of dog is the Irish Wolfhound. The St. Bernard is the heaviest.
  • The world’s smallest dog breed is the Chihuahua.
  • Dogs experience all the same emotions humans do, especially love.
  • While dogs are better at living in the moment than humans, it's a myth that dogs have no sense of time.
  • Dogs have their own complex language that includes vocal sounds, body postures, facial expressions and scent.
  • Feral dogs have figured out how to use subways to travel to the best food sources.
  • Dogs chase their tails for a variety of reasons: curiosity, exercise, play, anxiety, predatory instinct or fleas.
  • Different smells in a dog’s urine tells other canines whether the dog is female or male, old or young, sick or healthy, happy or angry.
  • Male dogs raise their legs while urinating to aim higher to leave a message that they are tall and intimidating.
  • Puppies have 28 teeth, while adult dogs have 42.
  • Dogs and humans have the same type of slow wave sleep (SWS) and rapid eye movement (REM) when sleeping. Twitching and paw movements are signs that a dog is dreaming.
  • Dogs can be trained to detect epileptic seizures and diseases.
  • Dogs’ eyes contain a special membrane that allows them to see in the dark.
  • Dogs can detect when storms are coming.
  • A dog’s normal temperature is between 101 and 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Dogs only sweat through the pads of their feet.
  • Dog nose prints are as unique as human finger prints and can accurately identify them.
  • Dogs have three eyelids: an upper lid, a lower lid and a third lid which keeps the eyes moist and protected.
  • A dogs entire body, including the paws, is covered with touch-sensitive nerve endings.
  • Dog noses secrete a thin layer of mucous that helps them absorb scent. They lick their noses to sample the scent through their mouth.
  • Petting dogs is proven to lower human blood pressure.
  • A dog’s sense of smell is 10,000 – 100,000 times more acute than humans.
  • When dogs kick after defecating, they are using scent glands on their paws to further mark their territory.
  • Dogs can detect cancer too small to be detected by a doctor, and can detect lung cancer by sniffing a human's breath.

Amazing Abilities

Most dog breeds have good vision. Dogs do see in color, but not the same way that humans do. A dog's vision is similar to people with red/green color blindness, meaning they can see bluish and greenish shades but not reddish ones.

Dogs can detect sounds far better than humans, hearing sounds at four times the distance. They have ear mobility, allowing them to rapidly pinpoint the exact location of a sound. Eighteen or more muscles can tilt, rotate, raise or lower a dog's ear.

While the human brain is dominated by a large visual cortex, the dog brain is dominated by an olfactory cortex. The olfactory bulb in dogs is about forty times bigger than in humans, with 125 to 300 million smell-sensitive receptors. Their sense of smell is one hundred thousand to one million times more sensitive than a human's. Their wet nose is essential for determining the direction of the air current containing the smell. Cold receptors in the skin are sensitive to the cooling of the skin by evaporation of the moisture by air currents.

The average lifespan of dogs is 10 to 13 years, however, many live much longer. The world's oldest living dog lived 26 years, 9 months.

Dogs are omnivores and can adapt to a wide-ranging diet. They are not dependent on meat nor a very high level of protein as was once thought. Dogs will healthily digest a variety of foods, including vegetables and grains. Unlike wolves, dogs have adaptations in genes involved in starch digestion that contribute to an increased ability to thrive on a starch-rich diet.

Part Of The Family

Companion dog populations grew significantly after World War II as suburbanization increased. In the 1950s and 1960s, dogs were kept outside more often than they are today. From the 1980s, there have been changes in the role of the companion dog, such as the increased role of dogs in the emotional support of their human guardians. The broadening of the concept of the family, and a better understanding of dog intelligence and emotions, have led to dogs actively shaping the way a family and home are experienced.

Studies show dogs help to mediate family member interactions. Most dogs also have set tasks or routines undertaken as family members. Increasingly, humans are engaging in activities centered on the needs and interests of their dogs. An estimated 1 million dogs in the United States have been named the primary beneficiary in their guardian's will.

Dogs have the same response to voices and use the same parts of the brain as humans to do so. This gives dogs the ability to recognize emotional human sounds. They have over 100 known facial expressions, many of them made with their ears. They also communicate with a variety of vocal sounds. One of the primary functions of a dog's tail is to communicate their emotional state.

It is estimated there are 77.5 million people with dogs in the United States. Nearly 40% of American households have at least one dog. 67% have just one dog, 25% two dogs and nearly 9% more than two dogs.

Shelter Dogs

Every year, between 6 and 8 million dogs and cats enter US animal shelters. Approximately 3 to 4 million of those dogs and cats are euthanized yearly in the United States. However, the percentage of dogs in animal shelters that are adopted has increased since the mid-1990s, from around 25% to 40% or more.

Exotic Pets

Many people appreciate the mystic and beauty of exotic animals such as reptiles, amphibians, birds or mammals of non-native species or individuals of native species that have been raised in captivity. They succumb to the temptation of purchasing critters, reptiles, amphibians and other exotic animals, often on impulse. Too often little thought is put into the care and commitment necessary to properly provide for these animals. Parents frequently purchase the animals as learning aids or entertainment for their children who are far too young to be responsible for an intelligent, emotional, living being.

Most critters, reptiles, amphibians and exotic animals are mass produced by the pet trade...just like puppies from puppy mills. They are viewed by the pet trade businesses as money making objects. Profit is placed above their welfare. They are denied veterinary care, exercise and socialization. Many are captured from the wild and transported long distances. They are packed into crates and trucked or flown hundreds of miles to brokers and pet stores...often suffering or dieing in the process.

Life in captivity for these animals often leads to neglect, pain, emotional distress and death. Many suffer from malnutrition, unnatural and uncomfortable environments and extreme stress from confinement. While they may look cute and cuddly, wild animals are wild and have very special husbandry requirements. The stress of captivity, improper diets, and unnatural breeding practices to pump out “products” takes its tole on these fragile animals. Trauma and injuries are common, and they are tossed aside when their novelty fades.

Pet shops treat animals as if they are no different than pet supplies or bags of animal food. They have no standards for whom they peddle the animals to. Internet businesses ship live animals to anyone with a credit card.
Although some of us may treat our companion animals well, many are treated poorly and neglected. Most spend only a short time in a home before they are dumped at a pound, given away or released into the wild. Selling these animals denies homes to millions of homeless and unwanted animals who await adoption in animal shelters.

If you have the time, resources and compassion to make a home for a critter, reptile, amphibian or exotic animal, adopt rather than supporting the inhumane pet trade industry. Like dogs and cats, millions of mice, rats, guinea pigs, hamsters, gerbils, reptiles, exotic animals and "pocket" pets are available through humane societies, shelters and rescue groups each year.