The Fascinating History of Feline Domestication

There’s no doubt that cats are the world’s leading companion animal. Their domestic history — which includes curling up on our laps and weaving between our legs — has continued to fascinate scientists, historians and geneticists for generations.

Unlike other domestic animals such as dogs and horses, the cat is self-domesticated. Its history shows that cats chose to live in close proximity to people and not the other way around. People domesticated other animals to help humankind in some way, either by providing food and clothing such as milk and wool, or by assisting people in their work, though herding and hunting. Perhaps that is why if a domesticated cat is forced into a situation in which he has to fend for himself, his natural survival and hunting instincts, which are never far from the surface, kick in.

Until the end of the 20th century, historians believed it was the Egyptians who were responsible for the first pictures of feline domesticity 3,600 years ago that prompted author Terry Pratchett to claim that, “In ancient times cats were worshipped as gods; they have not forgotten this…”

However, independent research undertaken this century by two of the world’s leading geneticists is re-writing the history books. The research involved taking hundreds of DNA samples from cats throughout the Middle East, Mongolia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and southern Africa and was published as recently as 2008.

It’s now believed that cats were first domesticated in the Fertile Crescent, the area between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. This area is also known as the Cradle of Civilization and existed 6,000 years before the Egyptian era, thus setting back the clock nearly 10,000 years.

Today, the Fertile Crescent is divided in to the countries of Iraq, Iran, Turkey, Lebanon, Syria, Israel, Jordan, Iran, Kuwait and modern Egypt.

It is also believed that cats traveled to America on board the boats of discoverers such as Christopher Columbus. Mayflower voyagers and the first residents of Jamestown are said to have brought cats with them to control vermin as well as be a symbol of good luck.

Although cats were primarily free-range pets in the 1800s, people allowed them to live in barns and catch their own food. However, many started to slowly find their way to warm kitchen firesides and were allowed to stay.

According to Katherine C. Grier, author of the book, Pets in America, cats became acceptable pets during this time, particularly for women and young girls. Families were increasingly photographed with their pet cats and also included them in family portrait sittings. Cats were now sharing living space with families and playing a more prominent role in domestic life.

The first cat show was organized in London in 1871 by cat lover and author Harrison Weir. The goal of the show was to introduce the British public to cats as pets and highlight their wonderful characteristics. Cat shows became very popular with the English and were introduced in America around 1895.

Cats’ role as the family mouser in the U.S. continued well into the 1950s. By the end of World War II, when people were back to working regular jobs and living a more structured family life, small animal feed stores began introducing pet beds and bowls and slowly began to cater to cats. Some even sold boxes and bags of sand so that cats wouldn’t have to go outside in inclement weather.

The invention of kitty litter in 1947 changed everything.

Edit’s Note: Sergeant’s loves our felines friends! Please visit our website for many great pet care products like the Vetscription Calming Collar. It uses a pheromone that mimic the one mother cats produce to calm their kittens, the collars are clinically proven to reduce or eliminate stress-related behavior such as inappropriate marking, destructive behavior, clawing and anti-social behavior.

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