Despite all their differences, house cats share over 95% of their DNA with tigers. One major difference is the fact that thousands of years ago, Felis catus was successfully domesticated by humans. Domestication is no easy feat – out of 148 terrestrial herbivorous mammals, only 14 were able to be domesticated.
According to the author Jared Diamond, there are six criteria that must be met for successful domestication. First, the animals must be easy to feed, second they must grow and mature at a rate that makes economic sense, third they have to breed well in captivity, fourth they need to have generally nice temperaments, fifth they must be relatively calm, and sixth they must have a strong social structure. Thousands of years ago, cats met all of these criteria, though precisely how domestication is still up for debate.
The timeline for domestication is unclear. There is evidence that suggests cats in Cyprus were domesticated around 9,500 years ago; however, a separate study and genetic analysis indicates that domestication began closer to 12,000 years ago. One interesting theory is that wildcats actually domesticated themselves, after one of the cat species had a genetic variance that made them approach humans and stick around, while others were potentially caught in order to hunt mice and other pests. By keeping cats as rodent hunters, humans may have provided them with desirable amenities such as warmth and food. Over time, this mutual relationship produced the breeding of slightly tamer cats than their wildcat relatives.
However, even today’s cats still retain some of the behaviors of their wild cousins. Sometimes they couldn’t care less about you, yet you care deeply for them. Humans do nearly everything for cats; clean their litter boxes, pet them, feed them – but unlike dogs, they do not constantly seek our approval or aim to satisfy our needs. Which begs the question – who has domesticated whom?
Alley Cat Rescue is leading in the way in promoting humane and compassionate care for ALL cats.