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
Lion Skull showing Carnassial Teeth
Lion Skull showing Carnassial Teeth - Twinkl
Differences between dog-like and cat-like families
Differences between dog-like and cat-like families

Differences between Dog-like and Cat-like Carnivores

The carnivores (taxonomic order Carnivora) are divided into two suborders - Caniformia (dog-like) and Feliformia (cat-like). Within each suborder there are a number of taxonomic families (see diagram on Felidae classification) and Felidae (true cats) are one of the Feliformia families. Here is a list of five differences between the two main groups of carnivores:

Dog-like (Caniformia)Cat-like (Feliformia)
Claws non-retractableClaws retractable
Coats plainCoats patterned
Diet omnivorousDiet carnivorous
More teeth in elongated skullLess 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.

Felidae Family Characteristics

The main defining characteristics of the Felidae cat 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
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