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Ancient Civilizations and the Origin of Domestic Cats. What We Know So Far

I was always a dog lover, although I grew up with cats, my mom always had cats and dogs. Mostly feral cats, but some lived inside, too.  It was not until one of my Great Danes found a kitten in my yard that I actually became a cat owner, which quickly grew into a deep love for cats. After finding the first cat he found another a year later. So now 9 years later they both have become an important part of my animal family.

My interest in cats led me to look into the origins of domestic cats, so here we go.

 

A Brief Review of The Origins of Domestic Cats

While it’s hard to imagine our precious feline friends as anything other than cute and cuddly domesticated pets, their origins are far more primal. The story of the origin of domestic cats began in the Near East around 7500 BC. In the wild, these ancestors of our domestic cats, a species known as Felis lybica, were solitary animals. But, the rise of agriculture led to an unexpected friendship between humans and these wildcats.

First encounter: As humans transitioned from a hunter-gatherer lifestyle to settled farming communities, they attracted rodents. This, in turn, attracted wildcats.

Mutual benefit: Humans welcomed the wildcats due to their hunting prowess, which kept the rodents at bay. The wildcats, in return, received a steady food source.

Domestication: Over time, the more sociable cats were more successful in this new environment. These cats were more likely to pass their genes to the next generation, leading to a gradual process of self-domestication.

 

From Wildcats to Lap Cats. The Journey of Domestication

Although the process of self-domestication was gradual, it led to some significant changes in the cat’s behavior and appearance. Unlike their wild ancestors, domestic cats became more sociable, displaying a range of behaviors that were conducive to living with humans. In fact, it’s these changes that have made cats such beloved companions.

Let’s take a look at some of these changes:

Wildcats Domestic Cats
Solitary Sociable
Avoids humans Seeks human companionship
Aggressive Playful
Large and muscular Smaller and more delicate

The Spread and Love of Domestic Cats Around the World

From their origins in the Near East, domestic cats began to spread around the world. They traveled with humans, providing their valuable rodent-catching services wherever they went. By the time of the Ancient Egyptians, cats had not only established themselves as useful companions but were also revered as sacred animals.

  1. Egypt: The Ancient Egyptians held cats in high esteem, often depicting them in their art and mythology. They even had a cat goddess, Bastet.
  2. Rome: The Romans appreciated cats for their ability to control vermin and took them wherever they went, helping to spread cats throughout Europe.
  3. Asia: In Asia, cats were cherished for their hunting skills and were often kept in temples as sacred animals.

For me, the origins of domestic cats is a fascinating tale of mutual benefit and adaptation. As a cat lover, I can’t help but marvel at the journey our feline friends have undertaken, from wild predators to beloved pets. But let’s not forget, as Jeff Valdez humorously pointed out, our domestic cats retain a streak of their wild ancestors’ independence and intelligence. I can attest to that and I see that in my cats every day.

After diving into the history of cats, it’s normal for one to still have questions spinning around in their minds. So, I’ve curated a list of the most common questions people have about cats that could help satiate your curiosity.

Most Common Questions About Cats

 

Why do cats purr?

Cats purr for a variety of reasons. One of the most common reasons is to express contentment and relaxation. However, cats also purr when they are in pain or anxious as a way to self-soothe. Additionally, some experts believe that purring may have a healing effect on cats, as the vibrations can help to promote bone density and healing of soft tissue injuries.

Why are cats so independent?

Cats are independent by nature, which is a trait that has been passed down from their wild ancestors. In the wild, cats needed to be self-sufficient in order to survive. This independence is also reflected in their behavior as domesticated cats. While they may enjoy human companionship, they are also perfectly content to spend time alone and entertain themselves.

How did cats become domesticated?

Cats were domesticated around 10,000 years ago in the Near East, specifically in the region that is now modern-day Turkey. It is believed that cats were attracted to human settlements because of the abundance of prey, such as rodents, that were attracted to human food stores. Over time, cats became more and more integrated into human society, and were eventually bred for specific traits, such as their friendly and affectionate nature.

What is the lifespan of a domestic cat?

The lifespan of a domestic cat can vary depending on a number of factors, such as breed, genetics, and lifestyle. On average, domestic cats live for around 12-15 years, although some cats have been known to live into their 20s or even 30s with proper care and attention.

Why do cats have retractable claws?

Cats have retractable claws as a way to protect them from wear and tear. When a cat is not using its claws, it can retract them into the paw, which helps to keep them sharp and ready for use when needed. Additionally, retractable claws allow cats to move silently and with greater stealth, which is an advantage when hunting prey.

What was the first breed of domesticated cat?

The first breed of domesticated cat is not known for certain, as there is evidence of domesticated cats dating back thousands of years. However, one of the oldest known breeds of domesticated cats is the Egyptian Mau, which is believed to have originated in ancient Egypt around 4,000 years ago.

How many breeds of cate are there?

There are over 100 recognized breeds of cats, each with their own unique characteristics and traits. Some of the most popular breeds include the Siamese, Persian, Maine Coon, and Sphynx. However, there are also many lesser-known breeds that are just as fascinating and lovable.

What is the best food for cats?

I feed my cats a raw food diet with excellent results. Feeding a raw food diet to cats can provide them with a more natural and balanced diet. Raw food diets typically consist of muscle meat, organs, and bones, which closely mimic the diet of their wild ancestors. This can lead to improved digestion, healthier skin and coat, and better overall health.

Raw food diets can also help prevent certain health issues in cats, such as obesity and dental problems. Since raw food diets are typically lower in carbohydrates and higher in protein, they can help cats maintain a healthy weight and reduce the risk of developing dental issues.

Another benefit of feeding a raw food diet to cats is that it can help reduce the risk of certain diseases, such as diabetes and kidney disease. Raw food diets are typically lower in carbohydrates and higher in moisture, which can help prevent these types of health issues.

Feeding a raw food diet to cats can also provide mental stimulation and enrichment. Since cats are natural hunters, feeding them a raw food diet can give them the opportunity to hunt and play with their food, which can help prevent boredom and provide mental stimulation.

How do cats always land on their feet?

Cats have a unique ability to right themselves in mid-air, thanks to their flexible spine and inner ear. When a cat falls, it can twist its body to land on its feet. This reflex is called the ‘righting reflex’ and is a survival mechanism that has evolved over time.

Why do cats knead?

Kneading is a behavior that cats exhibit when they are happy or content. It is believed that this behavior is a leftover from when cats were kittens and would knead their mother’s belly to stimulate milk production. Kneading is also a way for cats to mark their territory with the scent glands in their paws.

Can cats see in the dark?

Cats have excellent night vision, thanks to their large pupils and reflective layer behind their retina called the tapetum lucidum. This layer reflects light back through the retina, giving cats a second chance to see the same image in low light conditions.

How do cats communicate with each other?

Cats communicate with each other through body language, vocalizations, and scent marking. They use their tails, ears, and posture to convey their mood and intentions. They also use meows, purrs, hisses, and growls to communicate with other cats.

Why do cats hate water?

Cats are not natural swimmers and do not like the feeling of being wet. They also have a thick coat of fur that takes a long time to dry, which can make them uncomfortable. However, some cats do enjoy playing in water and may even enjoy swimming.

How do cats hunt?

Cats use a combination of stealth, speed, and agility to hunt their prey. They stalk their prey, pounce on it, and use their sharp claws and teeth to kill it. Cats are also excellent climbers and can climb trees and other structures to get a better view of their prey.

Why do cats sleep so much?

Cats are crepuscular animals, which means they are most active at dawn and dusk. They sleep during the day to conserve energy for hunting and playing at night. Cats also have a high metabolism and need to rest to recharge their batteries.

How do cats groom themselves?

Cats are fastidious groomers and spend up to 50% of their waking hours grooming themselves. They use their rough tongues to lick their fur, which helps to remove dirt and debris. They also use their paws to clean their face and ears, and to spread their saliva over their fur to keep it clean and shiny.

Thomas Sandberg CSAN, CCNC, AADP

Thomas Sandberg CSAN, CCNC, AADP

Thomas Sandberg is a board certified animal naturopath and carnivore nutritionist. He founder of Long Living Pets Research Projects, a 30-year observational study into raw-fed dogs and cats. Thomas also consults in animal naturopathy, including the prevention of chronic diseases and longevity using all-natural modalities. With more than 20 years of experience with hundreds of cancer cases, he has a deep understanding of why so many dogs and cats get cancer today and how we can lower the risk significantly.

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