How many species of cat are there?

The cat family contains 37 true cat species. However, the other families found within the Feliformia suborder contain some very cat-like animals indeed, and some surprising creatures as well. The suborder Feliformia contains 114 animals spread over six families, one of which is the true cat (Felidae) family.

These are classic big cats such as lions and tigers, as well as the domestic cats that humans keep as pets. All of the members of this family look similar and share a lot of traits, despite being spread over different continents. True felines purr, have short snouts, have the same arrangement of teeth and fully retractable claws.

The true cats have some very close relatives that at first glance are almost indistinguishable from their extended feline family. Animals such as civets, linsangs and genets are all small carnivores that live in tropical forests and have spotted markings for camouflage. Many of these animals purr and have retractable claws, and bear a startling resemblance to cats they are still not considered true cats.

Remarkably, many members of the Feliformia are incredibly unlike cats. Hyenas, mongooses and meerkats are classed in the Feliformia suborder, and though they do not share the dentition of true cats, hyenas are much more closely related to cats than dogs. It is tremendously surprising that creatures that appear and behave so dog-like are actually the cousins of cats.

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