Is The Cat Really Domesticated?

That really is the question, isn't it?  While we like to think we domesticated the cat, anyone who has or has had a cat knows that it's more likely the other way around and that they chose to semi-domesticate themselves…. ‘To domesticate an animal means to tame the animal through training and breeding to need and accept the care of humans’, according to www.smithsonianmag.com, and while cats are loved around the world as house pets, those who have them know that they don’t completely fit that bill.

It is said that the cat became a companion of humans when we settled into an agricultural lifestyle in the fertile crescent area of Africa approximately 10-12,000 years ago. Since then, evolutionary scientists say that

the cat has not changed much from their wildcat ancestors still found in the area today!  DNA analysis suggests that cats lived alongside humans for thousands of years before they became what we consider now to be domesticated… Their genes, in fact, have changed little from their wildcat ancestors except for picking up the recent change of the distinguishing tabby cat stipes and dots, which is not found in wildcats.

The cats we call our pets today have remained almost the same genetically and physically to their wild predecessors.  Speculation is that the wildcat began hanging around when people began settle into farming communities due to the mice and rats that were attracted to the crops. From the symbiotic relationship that occurred between humans and cats evolved to a place where cats, more or less, domesticated themselves.  People in communities benefited from the cats hunting practices and the cats took advantage of the mice and rats that followed people into the agricultural lifestyle, both benefiting from the other.  

When cats started showing up in the grain stores, people did not take cats and put them in cages or keep them contained, they simply allowed the cat to do its own cat thing and the cat, over time, seem to have domesticated itself by tolerating humans more and more. Overall, people didn’t feel the need to change the cat for any reason like they did with dogs through selective breeding for herding abilities or protective qualities, which is why the house cat today remains almost identical to his ancestors. It seems that because the cat helped control the mice and rat population in agricultural communities without causing any problems that humans felt needed correcting, the cat was basically left to be a cat. People felt the cat was perfect the way and how it was, and therefore didn’t feel the need to selectively breed or ‘tame’ the cat tell much later on.

Many cat owners today still let their cat’s do their cat things, and although enclosures, or catios, are becoming more and more popular, cats are still not as regularly contained as dogs are in a yard. Maybe because  it is thought that cats are more capable of managing on their own for a time or that they don’t require the same type of care as a dog might, that we tend to lean in the direction of calling them semi-domesticated. While a cat might be more self-sufficient than most house pets, they do still need to be cared for and taken care of, as the outdoor cat will run a much greater risk of a shortened life due to disease, predators, accidents and unkind people.

The reasons for breeding the cat have mostly been for colors, patterns or distinctive physical characteristics and not for personality or skill traits. Therefore the cat has mostly retained their predatory hunting skills, can be very independent and they tend to be less dependent on humans for a food source. So, while the cat is a now a very popular house pet, they are still only partially domesticated, despite having lived with and around people for thousands and thousands of years. The topic of the domesticated cat is still debated and studied to this day, but we at the Kurious Kat believe in the semi-domesticated hypothesis of the cat. 

 

From the ancestral African Wildcat to the lovable house cats we have today, we think they are marvelous and mysterious little creatures that we love, love, love!

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© 2020 The Kurious Kat

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