The main Felidae characteristic is that wild cats are obligate carnivores, which means they need meat to survive. Many of the wild cat physical characteristics are adaptations to enable them to detect and hunt prey.

Carnivore Characteristics

Wild cats (Felidae) are members of the carnivore group (Carnivora) which all share the following characteristics:

  • teeth and claws to catch and eat prey
  • meat eaters (carnivores)
  • carnassial (cutting) teeth to shear meat
  • large and sharp canine teeth
Carnivore skull (dog) showing types of teeth
Carnivore Skull (dog) showing Types of Teeth – Wikibooks

Differences between Dog-like and Cat-like Carnivores

Dog-like Families (Caniformia) Cat-like Families (Feliformia)
Claws non-retractable Claws retractable
Coats plain Coats patterned
Diet omnivorous Diet carnivorous
More teeth in elongated skull Less teeth in shorter skull
Locomotion plantigrade (flat footed) Locomotion digitigrade (on toes)

 

Although these characteristics are widely applicable there are always exceptions. For example locomotion in the dog family Canidae is digitigrade and not plantigrade as in other dog-like families.

Differences between dog-like and cat-like families
Differences between dog-like and cat-like families

Felidae Family Characteristics

The main defining characteristics of the Felidae family are:

  • obligate carnivores – need meat to survive (‘hypercarnivores’)
  • mostly solitary, secretive and nocturnal
  • many occupy forested habitats
  • huge variation in size 2 kgs to 300 kgs

Many of the wild cat physical characteristics are adaptations to enable them to detect and hunt live prey in their preferred habitat:

  • acute senses – hearing, smell, vision and touch
  • powerful and flexible bodies
  • sharp claws and teeth
  • well padded toes

Cat Family Characteristics – Video for Kids