The Average Cat, Beyond Genetics

The Average Cat, Beyond Genetics

At Basepaws, our mission is to advance pet health. Our focus is on feline genetics, however, we know that genes are just part of the picture. Our continued goal has been to collect diverse information on cats that goes beyond genetics (phenotype data). As we collect more data, this will help us refine and improve our understanding of the interplay between genetics, lifestyle and environment when it comes to health, traits and behavior. This blog presents a snapshot analysis of our ever growing phenotype data, focusing on key trends and features describing the ‘average’ cat. You can read the full report here.

Study Method

We asked our customers to fill out a 92-question survey focusing on their cat’s health, litter box habits, nutrition, physical characteristics, temperament, and behavior. The data analysis presented here is based on the answers provided by a small sample of our customers (3341 cat owners). When reading through the text, please keep in mind that wherever percentages do not add up to 100%, this is either because respondents were allowed to select multiple answers to a question or due to rounding error. 

Findings in a Nutshell

Just over half of surveyed cats are female. Most are younger than 6 years old, exclusively indoor cats, spayed or neutered (Figure 1). The all-time favorite female name is Luna, while Milo and Oliver compete for the prime spot in male cat names. If cats reside in multi-pet households, most of them cohabit with other cats (55%), while 20% live with dogs. Other pets cohabiting with cats are fish, rabbits, reptiles, tortoises, and turtles.

Figure 1: Key demographics for the studied cohort of cats

More Findings

When it comes to pet parents’ approach to feline health, 72% report having visited the veterinarian for a cat wellness checkup in the past 6 months. Over half of all cat owners (57%) rely on conventional medicine alone, while 42% prefer a mixture of conventional and alternative medicine therapies and ~1% trust holistic medicine exclusively.

The most commonly reported cat weight range by Basepaws customers is 10-12 lbs (25% of cats), followed by the 8-10 lbs range. According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, the ideal weight for most domestic cats is 8-10 lbs, with the specific ranges for Persian, Siamese and Maine Coon being 7-12 lbs, 5-10 lbs, and 10-25 lbs, respectively. When asked about their cat’s body shape (using an image for guidance), 45% classified their cat as overweight or obese.

Looking into clinically diagnosed complex diseases, we asked pet parents about disorders affecting the heart/circulatory system, the urinary tract, respiratory system, gastrointestinal tract, endocrine system, immune system, musculoskeletal system, and dental health. You can see a summary of the disease prevalence statistics in Figure 2.

Most prevalent feline diseases

Figure 2. Top 3 most prevalent diseases within each category based on responses to the Basepaws survey. HCM - Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, UCM - Unclassified cardiomyopathy, UCS - Urinary crystals or stones, CS - Chronic systemic, IBD - Inflammatory bowel disease, FIV - Feline immunodeficiency virus.

It is a well known fact that dental health is a serious problem for cats. Some estimates suggest that 50%-90% of cats older than 4 years of age suffer from some kind of dental disease. The most prevalent dental disease in our cat cohort is gingivitis, affecting 13% of cats. In addition, 18% of cat owners report bad breath being a problem for their cat, with 3% of people selecting the description ‘combo smell of death and decay’ for it. Sixty-four percent of cat owners in our survey do not use any preventative dental care routine for their pet, which is likely contributing to the high prevalence of dental health problems. 

Next, we focused on feline physical appearance. Figure 3 shows a portrait of the average cat, representative of the most prevalent physical traits in our cat cohort.

The Average cat

Figure 3. A representation of the average cat based on the most common cat features identified in the Basepaws survey results.

Feline Temperament

Next, we looked past the striking looks of our feline companions and delved into feline temperament. Contrary to the popular misconception of cats being aloof and disinterested, most of the cats in our survey are very amicable creatures (Figure 4). Eighty-seven percent of pet parents used the word ‘affectionate’ to describe their cat, while only 22% used the word ‘aloof’. Additionally, 98% of cats were reported to react with excitement, happiness and love when petted/stroked on the head and neck area. Petting/stroking of the back or tail area produces a positive response in 82% of cats. Being hugged or kissed is well-received by 60% of cats and belly rubs - by 52%. When it comes to objects that elicit excitement and happiness in cats, the top response was toys (72% of cats), followed by scratching posts/pads (59%), perch towers and high places (57%), and laser light (55%). Visitors to the pet parent’s home and familiar cats in the home are associated with friendly and playful behavior in 67% and 63% of cats, respectively. The most common activities that cats dislike are playing fetch, rough-housing, and going outdoors. In addition, car rides elicit fear or aggression in 64% of cats and so do thunderstorms and fireworks (41% of cats).

cat temperaments

Figure 4. Ranked popularity of adjectives used to describe the temperament of domestic cats in the Basepaws survey.

Conclusion

At Basepaws, we strongly believe that pet parents are a unique source of valuable information related to their pet’s health and behavior. While clinical studies, peer-reviewed scientific papers and veterinary records are immensely important in advancing our understanding of pets, pet parents are usually the ones who can provide the most detailed observations over the longest periods of time. Our report highlights the value that a citizen scientist approach can bring to increasing our knowledge of pets. We hope you learned something new reading this. We sure did. The most exciting part is what comes next - overlaying the phenotype data provided by pet parents onto genotype data in order to find new gene variants associated with traits, diseases and behavior. Stay tuned.

Acknowledgements 

We are thankful to all our fellow citizen scientist customers who are continuously filling out our phenotype/health history survey, answering questions about their cats. Your time and dedication is helping us learn more about our beloved domestic companions, making them a little less mysterious, one answered question at a time.

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