A Brief History of Cats

December 31, 2013

Anyone who owns a cat won’t find it surprising to learn that cats are believed to have essentially domesticated themselves; inviting themselves into our homes and eventually our hearts.  The process started at the time when early humans began creating civilizations and growing and storing their own small crops, which drew rats and mice to the households.  Wild cats then began to enter the homes in order to eat the rodents.  Humans and cats tolerated each other because we were mutually beneficial to one another.  Cats then began to adapt themselves to us.


Note:  Dogs had already been domesticated long before humans settled into civilizations.  Researchers believe that the rather fixed communities of early humans created a certain amount of waste, including food waste.  Wolves, who are known scavengers, quickly discovered this new food source and the bravest of them would reap the rewards of approaching the human encampments.  Then, natural selection would begin promoting wolves who were less fearful of humans.  By the time cats hit the scene, dogs were fully domesticated and being put to work.


Genetic evidence shows that cats first originated in the Middle East’s Fertile Crescent - picture Egypt, Syria, Turkey, and Iran - nearly 12,000 years ago.  It is believed that all domestic cats descended from a Middle Eastern wildcat, felis sylvestris, which literally means "cat of the woods."  The cats invited themselves into the humans’ homes and, much like the dog, as people favored cats with more docile traits, the cats would then adapt to their knew environment, producing the dozens of breeds of house cats we know today.


There is evidence of cats living in early Egyptian households, as seen in Egyptian paintings.  The cats weren't exactly worshipped, as is once thought, but they were very important to the society and religion of the Egyptians.  Cats then spread through Asia and eventually came to North America, on the boats with the Pilgrims to help with the rodent populations.  It’s interesting to note that there are no domesticated cats native to America or Australia, they all came over on boats.


In the United States, cats are the most popular house pet.  There are an estimated 90 million domesticated cats inhabiting 34% of U.S. homes.




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