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The Verge Review of Animals: the domestic cat

Elizabeth Lopatto

This is the first column in a series, where Verge staffers post highly subjective reviews of animals. Up until now, we've written about animals without telling you whether they suck or rule. We are now rectifying this oversight.

Everyone knows cats are metal as hell.

"Kill 'em all and let God sort 'em out." -cats Seriously: as obligate carnivores, cats must eat meat — like all other obligate carnivores (a fellowship that includes mink, dolphins, and sea lions), they've lost their ability to make certain amino acids. They must kill to survive. This probably explains why, as any cat owner can attest, one of their moods is best described as kill 'em all and let God sort 'em out. To execute this mission, these creatures essentially have razorblades attached to their hands. Their tongues are optimized for stripping flesh from bone, and they can see in the dark, have excellent depth perception, and are extremely attuned to motion. Here's how crazy their vision is: cats' eyes, unlike ours, don't need to be lubricated by blinking — the better for keeping watch on prey.

Cats are both more recently domesticated than dogs and less domesticated, since intermixing with feral populations has meant humans haven't weeded out all their wild traits. But unlike dogs, they got smarter during the domestication process. This is an animal that knows a win-win situation and exploits it.

Even cats' parasites are capable of controlling cats' prey

That's not all. Cats are capable of controlling mice — their prey — with chemicals in their urine. And they're the preferred home of the parasite Toxoplasmosis gondii; though the single-celled parasite infects many animals (most human infections in the US are due to lamb, pork, and venison, not cats), it can only reproduce in cats, which means that even cats' parasites are capable of toying with cats' prey. T. gondii infections in mice make them attracted to the smell of cat. There's some evidence that T. gondii can even mess with human brains.

mine

But despite being asocial killing machines, they've snuggled their way into our homes and hearts. They're the rare huggable vicious killing machine, nature's version of Tony Soprano. Their purrs — which happen both when cats are comfortable and when they need to soothe themselves in stressful situations — may help heal muscles and bones. And because hunting for dinner means a lot of work, they conserve energy through frequent napping. (In the interest of full disclosure: I am writing this review with a kitten asleep on my lap right now, so you know I'm calm, thoughtful, rational, and entirely unbiased.)

The soothing power of cat purrs may explain another weird benefit of these tiny monsters: they're really great for people. One study — take it with a grain of salt, since it was presented at a conference and not in a peer-reviewed paper — showed that cat owners reduce their risk of heart attacks by a third, compared to non-cat owners. And like Tony Soprano, cats really do love their families: they remember when people, especially women, are kind to them and return the favor.

Do cats have downsides? Sure. In North America, they're an invasive species, and they're just hell on birds. (Though honestly, humans are way worse.) Of course, this is easy to deal with: keep your cat indoors.

In conclusion, cats are tiny huggable murderers with soft tummies, healing powers, and mind control. I give them a rating of 10.0 points on our 10.0-point scale — that's right, purrfect — and if that's due to my T. gondii infection, it's still well earned.

Domestic Cat

Verge Score: 10.0

10.0

Verge Score

Good Stuff

  • Metal as hell

  • Very cuddly

  • Excellent vision

  • Healing purr

Bad Stuff

  • Invasive species