Green’s Dictionary of Slang

cat n.3

[abbr.; later use is SE]

[late 18C–early 19C] the cat-o’-nine-tails; thus get the cat, to be given a judicial whipping; note the right-wingers’ litany of bring back the cat.

In phrases

cat-fighting (n.)

[1980] (US) ‘Sadomasochistic activity in which two partners slash at each other with cats’.

comb the cat (v.)

[late 19C] to separate the ‘tails’ on the whip so that each one inflicts its own welt.