How Are House Cats Similar to Big Cats?

How similar are house cats to big cats, really? Should we consider big cats and small cats as distinctively different?

Feb 14, 2024By Sara Rumrill
how are house cats similar to big cats

There are a lot of similarities between big cats and house cats, including behavior, diet, and anatomy. In a lot of ways, having a house cat is a bit like having a miniature big cat! Read on to learn more about just how similar they are.

Cat DNA and Anatomy

jaguar in tree
Image Credit:

As much as our house cats look like smaller versions of lions, tigers, and panthers it actually goes much deeper than just the outside - house cats and big cats have very similar DNA. In fact, house cats and tigers share over 95% of the same DNA. This indicates a very close genetic relationship between the two animals.

And of course, we cannot ignore the fact that house cats look very similar to their big cat cousins - just much smaller. In a similar sense to how some dogs look like smaller versions of wolves, house cats sized up would look almost exactly like some species of big cats - equipped with teeth, claws, and the same powerful muscles.

Cat Diet

Image credit: Wikipedia

House cats, just like big cats, are carnivores. This means that ideally, their diet would be made of 100% animal products like muscle meat, organ meat, and very little plant foods. Cats can have some plant-based foods, but they should not make up any significant portion of their diet. So no, your cat cannot thrive on a vegan diet! Even more so than dogs, cats must eat a diet very rich in protein and fats from animal products.

What makes this type of diet important is your cat’s digestive system - like big cats, house cats have a very short digestive tract, which is ideal for processing meat. When your cat does eat plant-based foods, like cat grass or catnip, they won’t get any significant source of nutrition from these foods.

Cat Behavior and Instincts

panther panthera
Image credit:

Although your pet cat plays with toys and loves to cuddle with you at night, did you know that big cats share many behaviors and instincts in common with their smaller cousins? Both large and small cats have a strong sense of territoriality. If you ever see your cat rubbing up against the walls or corners of your home, they could be scent marking - a way that they leave their specific scent in their home areas to let other animals know that that is their space.

Big cats are also just as playful as our pet cats are. Most feline play activities are related to their hunting behaviors - chasing, pouncing, and batting at objects are all used to hone their hunting skills. Did you know that big cats, like house cats, also like to sit in boxes? Or that some species of big cats purr, just like pet cats?

All cats also have keen survival instincts, whether they live in a jungle or in your home. If you’ve ever seen your cat stalking another pet or person in the home, or running away from a loud sound, these could be their survival instincts showing. In house cats, these behaviors are evidence of the close genetic relationship big and small cats share.

Cat Senses

house cat gaze
Image credit: cloud Vet

Big cats and house cats share many of the same keen senses. All felines have a very strong sense of smell, which is used for hunting prey. They all also have retractable claws and their paw pads are sensitive to stimuli. They all also share similar feline sleep cycles. If you’ve ever noticed your cat becoming more active at dawn and dusk, that’s actually a result of their hunting instincts as well. Animals that are prey to felines tend to be more active during these times as well.

All cats also have excellent night vision. This is also to aid in hunting - because a lot of hunting happens in low light either just before sunrise or just after sunset, cats must be able to see very clearly during low light. And just like big cats, house cats display excellent agility. They have strong muscles and are extremely athletic; this is also thought to be a result of hunting behaviors.

How Are House Cats and Big Cats Different?

tiger in jungle matadornetwork
Image credit:

Of course, the biggest discrepancy between big cats and house cats is their size. Most house cats weigh about 10-12 pounds (4.54 - 5.44 kg), while big cats can easily weigh over 500 pounds (226.8 kg). The reason for this is domestication or the process of taming an animal to become a suitable pet for humans. When humans domesticated cats, they created a totally separate species.

House cats, despite all of their similarities to big cats, do not face the same threats that big cats face. Some species of big cats are threatened by habitat loss and even poaching. House cats do not experience these same threats. In fact, in some parts of the world like the USA, feral cats are an overpopulation problem, not a conservation problem.

Finally, the last major difference between large and small cats is how they vocalize. House cats, unlike their large cat cousins, cannot roar. But imagine if they could - wouldn’t that be a sight to see?

Sara Rumrill
By Sara Rumrill

Sara lives in the US with six pets - a pit bull, a shi-tzu, and four cats, named Frankie, Morty, Ralphie, Stevie, Fritz, and Ayla. She has been in the veterinary field for over a decade and considers animal care to be her life's work.