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Cats: Mystery and Majesty

Updated on February 21, 2017
DzyMsLizzy profile image

Liz loves animals. Seeing them ill, hurt, or killed breaks her heart. She advocates for "adopt, don't shop" and TNR programs for feral cats.

Cats enjoy napping in the darndest poses
Cats enjoy napping in the darndest poses | Source

Why Do Cats Put On Airs?

Scientifically, a cat is a furred mammal of the genus Felidae, and species Felis Catus. Beyond this, there are several sub-divisions that describe all the different types of cats, from large wild cats such as lions and tigers, down to our beloved pet cats.

Sometime in the far distant past, the smaller wild cats, such as lynx and bobcats were probably encouraged to stay around the camps of primitive man for rodent control. Out of these primeval cats developed our domestic version.

However, as any cat-lover can vouch, no cat has ever totally lost its wild tendencies. They are not very much at our beck and call as a dog can be. Cats can be trained, but it is a much more time-consuming process, and depends fully upon the individual cat. Not all of them are amenable to training, especially the performance of tricks, which I’m sure they consider beneath their dignity.

They Were Once Godesses...

In ancient Egypt, cats were worshipped as living representations of the goddess, Bast, or Bastet. Renowned for their ability to see in near total darkness, they were credited with the defeat of the serpent Apep, who threatened Ra, the sun god, on his daily rounds. Bast was the daughter of Ra, and took the protection of her father very seriously.

Cats were given free rein in this society, and a temple was built to honor them. The harming or killing of a cat in ancient Egypt was punishable by death. Today’s house cats have not let us forget this heritage: it may well explain their tendency to be haughty and independent, doing as they please, when they please, if they please.

Purr phenomenon narrated by Stephen Hawking

What About That Purr?

Ah, yes; the soothing purr. Music to the ears of the cat lover. All domestic cats purr; the large cats such as lions and tigers do not, at least not in the way we think of a purr from our housepets. They can, however, make a sort of “chuffing” sound, on exhalation only, that serves more or less the same purpose—to indicate contentment.

Did you know however, that cat’s also purr when in distress or pain? Females will purr while giving birth, and a cat in pain will purr to comfort itself as well. It is best described as biofeedback. When our newest adopted kitten came home after her spay surgery, she was in some pain, as the clinic had given her the pain meds prior to surgery, instead of afterwards. (Poor kitty!) So, she hid, and I heard this noise and traced it to her. She was purring to herself, but it was a very different sounding purr than the “I’m happy and comfortable” purr. This sound was much deeper, rumble-y, more like a cross between a purr and a growl. It was a very big sound coming from a teeny kitten!

Purrs come in many sizes

A cat’s purr, by scientific measurement of the sound waves, comes in on average, at about the same frequency as an idling diesel engine, or about 26 cycles per second--it can also range upwards to about 150 cycles per second. The lower range has been shown to be the exact frequency that will stimulate both bone growth and healing. No wonder growing kittens purr so much!

A Poem About Cats

Cats are graceful, for the most part, and carry themselves with a regal bearing. They are special and they know it. Many years ago, I penned this couplet to describe the unique stage presence of cats:

O Kings, O Princes, self-importantly garbed with éclat;

None of you can hope to match the sensuous grace of the cat.

Makin' Biscuits!

Why do cats go through the motions of "making biscuits" on your lap, a blanket, or in their bed? The alternate-paw pushing motion all cats do when content is variously known as mushing, kneading, treading, milk-treading, making biscuits or making muffins. Sometimes, some cats will at the same time take a part of the subject surface or object into their mouths and suckle on it. Indeed, that is the origin of the behavior; it begins when they are born, and is done while they are nursing to stimulate milk let-down from the mother cat.

As they grow up and move on to diets other than mother's milk, they retain this behavior as a soothing, settling-down-for-sleep activity. Kittens who are weaned too young, or taken from their mother too early, whether by accident or deliberately can become obsessive in the matter. They sometimes develop odd accompanying behaviors.

One of my cats, for example, (pictured at top of page), does not suck on the blanket, but on his own tail! He is about 12 years old, and has done this since he was a kitten. We adopted him as a rescue, so we don't know his early history, but I do suspect he was indeed taken from mom-cat far too young. Nothing we've been able to try has dissuaded him from this behavior. Unfortunately, he is a long-haired cat, and this habit results in almost daily hairballs found on the carpet.

A cat is a puzzle for which there is no solution.

— Hazel Nicholson


Anyone familiar with both dogs and cats will notice that the hearing of both animals is vastly superior to our own, insofar as frequency range and low-volume detection goes.

However, dogs, upon hearing a sudden unfamiliar noise will often charge around, tongue lolling, tail-wagging trying to find the source of the noise. Cats, on the other hand, seem to have an uncanny ability to instantly zero in on the source, and snap their heads to attention in exactly the right direction.

What is the hearing range for our dogs and cats compared to ourselves? Well, sound is measured in terms of frequency, labeled as "hertz," and abbreviated as "Hz." This is a term strictly related to the pitch, or tone of the sound, and is unrelated to the more commonly known term of decibels, which exclusively relates to the volume, or loudness, of a given sound regardless of its pitch.

Below is a chart showing the comparative hearing abilities between ourselves, cats and dogs.

Low Range
20 - 35 Hz
20 - 35 Hz
67 Hz
Mid Range
3,000 Hz
8,000 Hz
6,000 Hz
High Range
20,000 Hz
64,000 Hz
45,000 Hz

Despite this keen hearing, cats are also guilty of having very selective hearing. The won't come when called, seemingly not hearing you call them from 2 feet away, yet, they will hone in on the tiniest sound and come running.

Even the whispered 'wfft' of shoelaces being tied will bring them on the double from the other end of the house to "assist" with the process.

The Best Toy of All: A Box!

Two of our cats trying to claim a box.
Favorite toy?  Whichever one the other cat has!
Video by author. 

Cats are Aloof, and Can't Get Along?


Many, many people have more than one cat; some have several, and some shelters use open housing for over 100 cats. As with any group of animals living together (including humans!), there are bound to be occasional disagreements and spats. But for the most part, cats get along quite well with other kitties.

We have 6 cats in the house, and they get along most of the time. However, the youngest two, (just like human children), can be troublemakers and stir the pot, causing a bit of a fracas. It doesn't last long, and is really a way for them to release pent-up energy. We are always vigilant that no one gets hurt. If they start to get carried away, a squirt bottle takes care of it quickly.

In the old days, it was well known that whole colonies of what folks referred to as "barn cats" would cooperate and share shelter, and that females would even nurse each others' litters. They are quite capable of living alone, but watching them interact with humans, and cuddling with people or other kitties soon makes it obvious that being alone is not what they truly prefer.

Large groups of cats can and do get along quite nicely.
Large groups of cats can and do get along quite nicely. | Source

Nine Lives?

The common myth that cats have nine lives no doubt comes from their uncanny ability to hear and pinpoint sounds that equal danger, as well as their speed and agility. Cats have been known to escape from places and situations that seem incomprehensible to us. Often, these are incidents in which either we humans or a dog would lose our lives or be severely injured.

Because the cat is small, speedy and agile, he is often able to scoot away from danger, whether it be a toppling table or a collapsing building. Even the marvelous skills of the cat do not always save him from harm, so it pays to be sure our feline friends are kept safe. Just because cats have been known to survive falls from several stories, or encounters with cars does not mean they should be exposed to those dangers.

Your furry, purry friend indeed has only a single life, just like the rest of us, so please treasure it as you do your own.

© 2012 Liz Elias


Submit a Comment
  • DzyMsLizzy profile imageAUTHOR

    Liz Elias 

    9 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hello, katyzzz--

    I'm so pleased that you liked the article so well. Thank you very much for your input and praise. Yes..society has many lessons yet to learn of how to properly treat kitties....

  • katyzzz profile image


    9 years ago from Sydney, Australia

    Amazing not dizzy at all ms lizzie, I just adore cats and you have put a great deal of effort into this hub, no doubt it was a labour of love.

    I love cats, society, if only.....and now I add just one more z

  • DzyMsLizzy profile imageAUTHOR

    Liz Elias 

    9 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hi, Nell,

    Thank you for such great praise! I'm pleased you enjoyed the hub. That is interesting about falling. There was recently a news item about a cat who fell from something like 8 stories (about 80 feet), and landed safely, because he managed to land in a bush.

    I'm glad you enjoyed the photo of my silly "Tigger." He's about 12 years old; the largest of our cats; for all practical purposes,the most senior of the bunch, and the biggest WUSS! He lets the younger male chase him! I keep telling him, "Tigger, if you don't run, he can't chase you!" LOL

    I always enjoy your visits.

  • Nell Rose profile image

    Nell Rose 

    9 years ago from England

    What a fantastic hub about cats! I wondered if purring was a form of healing, now I know, amazing! I remember reading somewhere that a cat can fall from a first floor roof and be safe, and from one about 30ft high, but not in the middle. Evidently its because of the way they fall. they tend to spin in the air, and if the height is not just right they can hurt or kill themselves, and your photo of your cat is gorgeous! lol!

  • DzyMsLizzy profile imageAUTHOR

    Liz Elias 

    9 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hello again, prairieprincess-

    Indeed, cats have a very unique heart-stealing gene. My father was not a 'cat person,' but was won over by the first cat I had, when my kids were young. My dad would be visiting, and "Imp" would jump in his lap, whereupon my dad would say, "What's the matter with you? Don't you know I'm the man who doesn't like cats?" However, Imp would bring a jacks ball to play fetch, and my dad was sold.

  • prairieprincess profile image

    Sharilee Swaity 

    9 years ago from Canada

    Dizzy, I had read about that island, too, and was very impressed. I have always loved cats but my husband did not like cats when we met. Now that we have three of them, the three girls have captured his heart and he can be seen cuddling with all of them at very regular intervals. The thing I love about cats is how they are so in tune with us humans. Take care!

  • DzyMsLizzy profile imageAUTHOR

    Liz Elias 

    9 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hello, prairieprincess,

    Thank you ever so much for the praise and the votes!

    I wonder, too, about other cultures having more reverence for cats. There is also the Japanese 'cat island,' where the residents take care of the cats, and which suffered greatly in the big tsunami, yet still, in spite of their own tragedy, people were still trying to make sure the cats were rescued.

    The only worry I have with such 'reverence' as letting them roam freely is the dangers to which they are exposed, including disease, predation, and vehicles.

    I wish my house and arms and budget were all big enough to rescue ALL the kitties! Glad to meet a fellow cat-lover. I do not understand people who do not like kitties.

  • prairieprincess profile image

    Sharilee Swaity 

    9 years ago from Canada

    Dzy, this was delightful! I recently met a lady from Oman and she told me that cats there are allowed to run freely. I wondered if this was related to the Egyptians thinking the cats were Gods. And I had read that in Israel, cats were running everywhere, too. It does seem that the Middle East has much more reverence for cats than we in the West do.

    As a fellow cat lover, I loved this hub. Voted all the ups!

  • DzyMsLizzy profile imageAUTHOR

    Liz Elias 

    9 years ago from Oakley, CA

    @ Sharyn's Slant--Thanks very much for your input. I'm pleased to meet another 'cat person.' We usually call the behavior "mushing," but also "makin' biscuits." Glad you got a chuckle out of it.

    @ tammyswallow--Thank you very much. Yes, cats certainly do retain a very regal bearing. I'm pleased you liked the article; it's always nice to meet a fellow cat lover.

    @ cclitgirl--Nice--sounds like you have a wonderful "kitty krew." We have 6 of the darlings, and yes, they each have their own personality. Yes, they will rule your lives. We have a plaque that reads, "This house owned and operated for the comfort and convenience of the cats." ;-) Thank you very much for sharing about your pets.

  • cclitgirl profile image

    Cynthia Calhoun 

    9 years ago from Western NC

    I do love my kitties. They rule my life. :) Everything you described, my cats do. They also have distinct personalities, don't they? I mean, one that I have looks and acts like a sumo wrestler. The other looks and acts like Ralphie in a Christmas Story. So, of course his name is Ralphie. They all go traipsing around with our dog, Hash Brown. It's a riot. Life wouldn't be the same without them. :D

  • tammyswallow profile image


    9 years ago from North Carolina

    I do think that cats were once Godesses. They remain so regal. Great hub and very interesting! I am a fellow cat lover.

  • Sharyn's Slant profile image

    Sharon Smith 

    9 years ago from Northeast Ohio USA

    Thank you for this great article Ms. Lizzy ~ I love cats and learned some new things here too. "Makin' biscuits" made me laugh out loud. Never heard it described like that, but it is so true, ha.

  • Peggy W profile image

    Peggy Woods 

    9 years ago from Houston, Texas

    "They can be a bit devilish, eh?" Agreed...but they are also so darn sweet and loving most of the time. They DO have a way of having things done THEIR way and WHEN they wish. I guess they have never forgotten their status as "goddesses." Ha!

  • DzyMsLizzy profile imageAUTHOR

    Liz Elias 

    9 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hi, Peggy--

    You are so right: Kitty just wants to be sure your are working, and "snoopervise" that you are doing it correctly!

    One of our kittens insists on curling up on my chest right under my chin when I am trying to read in bed, effectively blocking my view of the book. Not sure if she's trying to censor my reading, or demanding attention, for if I put the book down and start petting her, she leaves. LOL They can be a bit devilish, eh?

    Thanks much vor the votes; I'm very pleased that you enjoyed the article.

  • Peggy W profile image

    Peggy Woods 

    9 years ago from Houston, Texas

    I was raised with both dogs and cats. We currently have 2 cats and 1 dog. Dusty...our "Top Cat" (or so he thinks) is on the desk in front of the computer screen right how. He likes to make sure that we are doing our jobs correctly! He is quite the supervisor! Ha! Up, useful and interesting votes. Enjoyed this. Cute pose in that top photo!

  • DzyMsLizzy profile imageAUTHOR

    Liz Elias 

    9 years ago from Oakley, CA

    @ Minnetonka Twin--I'm glad you enjoyed the article. Cats are indeed very different from dogs in more ways than just the obvious. Thanks very much for contributing.

    @ Feline Prophet--Indeed, indeed they should! Thanks so very much for stopping by!

  • profile image

    Feline Prophet 

    9 years ago

    Everyone should know more about these fabulous creatures! :)

  • Minnetonka Twin profile image

    Linda Rogers 

    9 years ago from Minnesota

    Cats are amazing and so different than dogs. I have two dogs probably because I raised with dogs but I think cats are very interesting. Great information about their behaviors. Thx

  • DzyMsLizzy profile imageAUTHOR

    Liz Elias 

    9 years ago from Oakley, CA

    @ KristenHaynie--Thank you so much for stopping by. I'm glad I was able to provide new and useful information.

    @ AmysAgriculture--"But of course we are superior," the cats will say. Thanks very much for commenting; I'm pleased to be able to let people know about these wonderful little animals. My cat, pictured at the top of the article, is part Maine Coon. He's a big boy, who loves to squish himself into the smallest cat bed.

    @ Seeker7--Thanks very much for such high praise! I'm delighted that you so enjoyed this article. Yes, the interaction between cats and dogs can be highly amusing, and yes, cats know they are "superior" right from birth. Don't forget--they weren't "companions" to a goddess--they WERE the goddess--it explains their haughty bearing. You must address them accordingly. ;-)

    Thanks very much for the praise and the votes.

  • Seeker7 profile image

    Helen Murphy Howell 

    9 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Lizzy this hub is awesome! As you know I'm a dog person rather than a cat person. But the cats that my family have are adorable and you've explained quite a lot of things that I hadn't realised before - especially about the comfort purring.

    You're right as well about the cat zeroing in on noise and the dog going around trying to find it. I think this is because the dog's primary sense is smell. Dogs hear the sound which gets their attention, but it's the smell that counts. But I love the way cats seem to always look down their noses at the way dogs jump about all over the place - it's hilarious. And even my cousin's new wee kitten has that look! They definately know that they were once - and still feel they are - companions to a goddess.

    Fascinating hub + voted up awesome!

  • AmysAgriculture profile image


    9 years ago from Michigan

    I love my maine coon cat with all my heart, but never knew how superior cats were. This HubPage was a real eye-opener, with a lot of great facts that I never knew!

  • Kristen Haynie profile image

    Kristen Haynie 

    9 years ago from Scotia, CA

    This is very interesting. I had no idea that cats will purr when distressed to soothe themselves. I have also always wondered why cats do that "kneading" thing. Thanks for the information!


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