Tiger Vs. Tabby. The Similarities and Differences Between Big Cats and Domestic Cats

Even though our feline family members were domesticated from their African wildcat ancestors over 4,000 years ago, lions and other big cats act a lot like our little domesticated house panthers. In fact, with 95.6% shared DNA among them, there are far more similarities between big cats and house cats than there are differences.

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How Big Cats and Domestic Cats Are Similar

Both Cats Headbutt and Do the Pre-Pounce Wiggle

So all that weird cat behavior we said made cats amazing? It turns out most of that is shared instinctive behavior. From kneading to pawing at food and wiggling their backsides before pouncing, big cats share these behaviors with their domestic buddies. So maybe getting a friendly headbutt from a tiger would feel a bit different than the tabby headbutts you are used to, but the sentiment is the same.

Both Big Cats and Domestic Cats Go Gaga for Catnip

Experts say the responsiveness to catnip is genetic, which is why about half of the domestic cats in the world don’t respond to it at all. The catnip gene also extends to big kitties. When tested, about half of big kitties had a very strong reaction to catnip.

Big Cats and House Cats Can Smell From Their Mouths

Both domestic cats and big cats have an excellent sense of smell. While humans smell in parts per thousand, cats can smell in parts per million. If a cat smells something really strong, they’ll open up their mouths to get a better whiff.

Big Cats Like Boxes Too

Ok, perhaps they need a lot bigger of a box to play with, but the obsession is the same. Now we know what to do with those leftover Ikea boxes. Take a look at these cats from Big Cat Rescue hopping into their boxes faster than you can say, “Meow.” The love is real.

All Cats Love to Play


Both cubs and kittens love jumping on their moms (both their cat and human). All cats love to play with their “friends” in the pack, chase around toys, and paw around their food and cat treats. So next time your little cub jumps on your head in the middle of the night, just think of what it would feel like if an actual lion cub did the same.

How Big Cats and Small Cats Are Different

186286322Big Cats Can Roar but Little Cats can Purr

You heard that right. That cute little hum that pulls you in as your fur baby purrs is not a sound you will hear in any of the great cats. Big cats have their own vocalizations. The four great cats—lions, tigers, leopards, and jaguars—have a loud roar. They have a different bone in their throat that allows them to roar, which smaller cats and domestic cats cannot do.

Cat Eyes and Noses Are Different

A domestic cat’s pupil closes to a vertical (up and down) slit. A big cat’s pupil closes in a circle, similar to use humans. Small cats have a strip of leathery skin across the top of their noses, directly above the wet tip. On big cats, this area is covered with fur.

Big cats never make a good pet, but it is not necessary with all their similarities with your little fur babies. Next time you see the wiggle pounce, give your kitty some catnip, or watch as they treat your stomach like a kneading pincushion, just look into their eyes and you will see—there is a true tiger in your tabby.