Fret not cat people, although I showcased the unique place dogs have among mankind in my most recent article, Dogs Are A Breed Apart From Other Animals, I am an equal opportunity veterinarian/blogger and fully intend to give our precious kitty cats their moment in the sun. For while dogs have been dubbed “man’s best friend,” it is cats who are the number one house pets in the world!
DNA evidence suggests that the domestic house cat of today descended from African Wildcats. Similarly to the ancient ancestor of the domestic canine, the wolf, African Wildcats likely began their association with people in search of food. The archaeological evidence shows feline bones intermixed with those of people and rodents beginning about 7000 years ago. This suggests that felines started intermixing with people during the Bronze Age, a period of time when man began to gravitate from a less nomadic existence to agricultural societies capable of sustaining cities. The archaeological record suggests that the abundant food and waste in ancient urban centers attracted vermin, which in turn attracted wildcats who saw an easy food source. It is likely that Bronze Age man saw the benefit of having cats around for vermin control and the more docile cats were encouraged to stick around and eventually become pets.
According to their hieroglyphics the archaeological record, ancient Egyptians seemed particularly fond of cats and in some cases revered them as gods and goddesses. The domestic cat spread via trade routes from the Middle East throughout Europe, to India and the Far East. Seeing their value as low maintenance companions and for vermin control on their ships, cats eventually made their way to the New World with European explorers.
Interestingly, with the evolution of the dog from its wolf ancestor through the intervention of man and selective breeding having created a whole new species, other than being generally smaller and tamer, the domestic cat remains to this day very similar to its African Wildcat ancestor. In fact, physiologically, as obligate carnivores, domestic cats are virtually identical to African Wildcats. While domestic cats readily adapt to living in households, they also have the ability to survive in the wild and tend toward a solitary existence, much like the African Wildcats.
I think part of the allure of cats is that they give us the pleasure of their beauty, companionship, and love, while retaining an inherent wildness that leaves cat lovers with the feeling that their beloved felines are wild animals that choose to live and bond with us of their own volition. Indeed, many cats are indoor/outdoor cats (not an existence that I approve of, but that is a discussion for another day!) that patrol their territory by day and come home to cozy up with human families at night.
Dr. Roger Welton is the President of Maybeck Animal Hospital in West Melbourne, FL, Chief Editor of the Veterinary Advice and Information Website, Web-DVM, and founder/CEO of Dr. Roger’s Holistic Veterinary Care.