Feliformia (also Feloidea) is a suborder within the order Carnivora consisting of "cat-like" carnivorans, including cats (large and small), hyenas, mongooses, civets, and related taxa. Feliformia stands in contrast to the other suborder of Carnivora, Caniformia ("dog-like" carnivorans). Both suborders share one characteristic which distinguishes Carnivora from all other mammals: the possession of the four carnassial teeth in the front of the jaw.
The separation of Carnivora into the broad groups of feliforms and caniforms is widely accepted, as is the definition of Feliformia and Caniformia as suborders (sometimes superfamilies). The classification of feliforms as part of the Feliformia suborder or under separate groupings continues to evolve.
Systematic classifications dealing with only extant taxa[1,2] include all feliforms into the Feliformia suborder, though variations exist in the definition and grouping of families and genera. The extant families as reflected in the taxa chart at right and the discussions in this article reflect the most contemporary and well supported views (as at the time of writing this article). Molecular phylogenies show the Feliformia to be monophyletic.
Systematic classifications dealing with both extant and extinct taxa vary more widely. Some separate the feliforms (extant and extinct) as: Aeluroidea (superfamily) and Feliformia (suborder). Others include all feliforms (extant, extinct and "possible ancestors") into the Feliformia suborder. Recent studies suggest this inclusion of "possible ancestors" into Feliformia (or even Carnivora) may be spurious (Wesley-Hunt and Flynn 2005). The extinct (†) families as reflected in the taxa chart at right are the least problematic in terms of their relationship with extant feliforms (with the most problematic being Nimravidae).
Felidae is the biological family of the cats; a member of this family is called a felid. The most familiar felid is the domestic cat, which first became associated with humans about 10,000 years ago; but the family includes all other wild cats, including the big cats.
Extant felids belong to one of two subfamilies: Pantherinae (which includes the tiger, the lion, the jaguar, and the leopard), and Felinae (which includes the cougar, the cheetah, the lynxes, the ocelot, and the domestic cat).
The first felids emerged during the Oligocene, about 25 million years ago. In prehistoric times, a third subfamily, known as Machairodontinae, included the "saber-toothed cats", such as the well known Smilodon. Other superficially cat-like mammals, such as the marsupial sabertooth Thylacosmilus or the Nimravidae, are not included in Felidae despite superficial similarities.
Felids are the strictest carnivores of the 13 terrestrial families in the order Carnivora, although the three families of marine mammals comprising the superfamily Pinnipedia are as carnivorous as the felids.