When we think of big cats like tigers or lions, it’s hard to ignore their majestic and powerful presence. Yet, when thinking of a house cat, their goofy demeanor tends to come to mind. But, if we take a closer look, we’ll discover some fascinating similarities between these formidable beasts and our beloved domestic felines.
To discover these similarities, we first have to look at their history. Domestic cats and big cats both have ancestral roots in the family Felidae. All members of this family are referred to as felids. The Felidae family consists of two subfamilies: Pantherinae and Felinae. Subfamily pantherinae is made up of lions, tigers, jaguars, and leopards. Subfamily felinae is comprised of every other non-pantherine cat, including the domestic cat. This common ancestry leads to some interesting commonalities.
Anatomy and Senses
One of the most apparent similarities between big cats and domestic cats lies in their physical characteristics. Both utilize retractable claws, allowing them to maintain sharp and lethal weaponry when hunting prey. Furthermore, their sharp teeth are designed for tearing and shredding meat, enabling them to consume prey effectively. Felids have a highly developed sense of smell that allows them to find food and potential mates. They also use their receptive whiskers in order to gain sensory information about the environment around them. Both big and domestic cats have incredible vision and hearing. On top of that, they both also possess strong, lithe body types, with tails used for balance.
Felids are some of the most adept hunters on earth. Big cats and domestic cats employ similar hunting strategies rooted in their innate predatory instincts. They both rely on stealth, patience, and calculated movements to salk and ambush their prey. Cats out in the wild are more actively hunting at dawn and dusk. Evolution has allowed for this trait to be exhibited in domestic cats as well, so you’ve maybe noticed your house cat being rambunctious at these times of the day. Whether it’s a lion stealthily approaching its target on the African savannah, or a domestic cat cautiously pouncing on a toy mouse, the tactics are strikingly similar.
From purrs to roars, the vocalizations of big cats and domestic cats exhibit resemblances. While the intensity and volume may differ, both utilize various vocal cues to communicate with their peers and express their emotions. Body language also plays a crucial role in conveying messages, whether it’s the raised tail of a confident lion or the twitching ears of an attentive house cat. Felines will indicate their territory through scratching objects, leaving behind a visual and olfactory marker. Cats also establish territories by “marking” objects or others with body fluids. If you’ve ever noticed your housecat rubbing their face on items or you, you may be surprised to find out that big cats do the same!
If you’ve ever observed a domestic cat meticulously grooming itself, you may be surprised to learn that big cats engage in similar behaviors. Both big cats and house cats spend a significant amount of time grooming their fur, not only to maintain cleanliness but also to establish social bonds.
Both house cats and wild cats enjoy a good nap. Felids will sleep anywhere from 15-20 hours a day. Out in the wild, this allows them to conserve energy for hunting, fighting, and defending their territory. Although most of our domestic feline friends may not need to hunt for their food anymore, that instinctual practice to sleep all day still resides within them.
Whether it’s a lioness frolicking with her cubs or your pet cat chasing a laser pointer, the essence of play remains fairly similar. Our cats here at Turpentine will engage in enrichment activities, just like your pet cat might. They enjoy a nice cardboard box or a handful of catnip too!
The Dangers of Owning Big Cats
With all these similarities, you might think it’s possible to keep a big cat as a pet. It’s important to remember that big cats are still wild animals. They are ALWAYS PREDATORS; NEVER PETS. There are many reasons these guys don’t make good pets, but the main consideration should be that they are extremely dangerous! Wild animals can attack without warning at any moment. Here at Turpentine, we like to say that it’s not a matter of IF they attack, it’s a matter of WHEN they attack.
All wild cats, even those who have been in captivity their whole lives, will maintain their natural instincts, and close interactions with them have had many catastrophic results. There have been over 300 dangerous incidents involving big cats since 1990. Many of the incidents are involving injury, but around 20 of those incidents have resulted in human fatality. Sadly, humans aren’t the only ones losing their lives when these interactions occur. Close to half of the animals involved have lost their lives due to these reckless encounters.
On top of these animals being extremely dangerous, big cats also have specific dietary and habitat requirements that are hard for an average person to provide. They require large amounts of space in which to fulfill their instinctual behaviors, and a significant amount of raw meat, which can be expensive and difficult to obtain. The nutritional requirements of big cats are complex, and a lack of proper nutrition could lead to various health issues or death.
Thankfully, there are now restrictions in place that federally prevent the private ownership of big cats with the passing of the Big Cat Public Safety Act. One could now face serious legal repercussions if they were to attempt to keep one as a pet. Instead of attempting to keep big cats as pets, it is crucial to support responsible conservation efforts, preserve their natural habitats, and appreciate them from a safe distance!