History of Cats

 Bast! Egyptian Cat Goddess of
Music, Joy and Dancing
Did you know that just 60 years ago, few cats lived entirely indoors at all? In fact, for more than 10,000 years, cats have lived outdoor lives, sharing the environment with birds and wildlife.

Understanding cats’ place in history and human evolution reveals how very recently domestic cats came indoors and how millions of this species—feral cats—continue to live healthy lives outdoors today, as all domestic cats are biologically adapted to do.

All domestic cats descended from a Middle Eastern wildcat, Felis sylvestris, which literally means "cat of the woods."

Cats were first domesticated in the Near East, and some of the study authors speculate that the process began up to 12,000 years ago.

History of Cats - From Egypt to China

Ancient Egypt
The Egyptians considered cats to be extremely important in their society. Many of their gods were based off the cat, and therefore, they were idolized, mummified, and often depicted in art.

Towards the end of the Egyptian empire cats were sold to the Greeks and Persians. In 500 BC a domesticated cat was given to the Emperor of China and cats were the most popular pet of the rich during the Song Dynasty.

The cats were bred with the wildcats of Asia and became a common asset of the first emperors, then the nobility, priests and eventually the peasants.

Cats in China were breed with many local breeds which had helped produce some of the breeds we know today such as the Siamese and Birmese. The domesticated cat spread to all the surrounding countries of China Including India and Japan.

History of Cats - From Rome to Beyond

Ancient Rome: ~1000 B.C.
Carried to Rome from Phoenicia, cats were introduced as mousers, and were valued for their hunting prowess, often tolerated for keeping rodent population at bay. Roman soldiers transported cats on conquests to keep grain...

Egyptian traders brought cats to Europe and they were introduced to the Greeks and then the Romans.

The Romans used cats to control the pest population and as their empire increased so did the population of cats.

Cats become common and valuable assets to all those who harvest crops who had problems with rats and disease.

They were introduced to Britain around 100 AD and were protected by Law by the King of Wales, Hywel Dda as sacred and valuable animals. Killing a cat could again be punishable by death.

From Europe to America

Cats were used upon Ships on voyages of discovery during the 15th/16th Century to control rodent population and disease. A ship crashed off the Isle of Man in the United Kingdom and the cats on board the ship swam to the shore. 

This created one of the first known pedigree breeds, the Manx. When Christopher Columbus discovered America, cats from the Ship were left in the country and flourished.

The breed today known as the American Shorthair is thought to have originated from the British Shorthair which was believed to be used on those ships.

The Twentieth Century

Cats flourished in the Twentieth Century when they were introduced once again as household pets by Queen Victoria of England and have become a key part of modern society.

Image result for queen victoria & her cat

Kings and Queens, Presidents and Prime Ministers have all owned pet cats during the twentieth century. New breeds were created such as the Sphynx, the Bengal and the Himalayan.

During the 1990s cats overtook the dog as the world’s favourite and most common pet and today there is thought to be close to 500,000,000 domestic cats in the world.

Films both Animation and Sci-Fi have been made about cats and they are a huge part of family life and culture among modern society.

Origins of the Domestic Cat

Cats began their unique relationship with humans 10,000 to 12,000 years ago in the Fertile Crescent, the geographic region where some of the earliest developments in human civilization occurred (encompassing modern day parts of  West Asia).

One such development was agriculture. As people abandoned their nomadic lifestyle and settled permanently to farm the land, stored grain attracted rodents.

Taking advantage of this new, abundant food source, Middle Eastern wildcats, or felix silvestris lybica, preyed on the rodents and decided to stick around these early towns, scavenging the garbage that all human societies inevitably produce—just as feral cats do today.

Over thousands of years, a new species of cat eventually evolved that naturally made its home around people: felis catus. Today, pet, stray, and feral cats belong to this species that we call the domestic cat.

Throughout all this time, cats were allowed to come and go freely from human households—even President Calvin Coolidge’s cat had free rein to wander to and from the White House during the 1920s.

Image result for calvin coolidge & a cat
President Calvin Coolidge's cat Tige

As Sam Stall, author of 100 Cats Who Changed Civilization and The Cat Owner’s Manual, writes, “Back in Coolidge’s day no one thought of confining cats indoors—not even one belonging to the president of the United States.”

Catering to Cats: Inventing the Indoor Cat

Keeping cats indoors all the time was not possible—nor was it even a goal—until several important 20th century innovations: refrigeration, kitty litter, and the prevalence of spaying and neutering.

Even though these changes to our modern lifestyle make keeping cats inside possible, biologically, cats are the same as they were thousands of years ago.

Their role in our society has evolved and broadened over the last hundred years, but their basic behaviors and needs haven’t changed.

Cat Food

Unlike dogs, who have undergone many physical changes since domestication and evolved to survive on an omnivorous diet, cats haven’t changed much, and still require a high-protein diet.

Before the development of refrigeration and canned cat food in the 20th century, feeding indoor cats who could not supplement their diets by hunting would have been impossible for most Americans, who could not afford extra fresh meat or fish.

Kitty Litter

Up until the 1950s, cats roamed American neighborhoods freely, using the great outdoors as their litter area.

Pans filled with dirt or newspaper were used indoors by a few cat owners, but it wasn’t until the first clay litter was accidentally discovered in 1947 and the subsequent marketing of the Tidy Cats® brand in the 1960s that litter boxes really caught on.

With the invention of cat litter, cats rocketed to popularity as indoor pets, but their outdoor survival skills remain.9

Spaying and Neutering

Until spaying and neutering pets became available and accessible around the 1930s, keeping intact cats indoors was messy business during mating season.

Techniques had been developed for sterilizing livestock, but American households would have had a hard time finding a veterinarian trained to safely neuter pets before this time.

Just as cats found their own food and litter areas outdoors, 20th century cats bred and gave birth outdoors as they have done since their origins in the Fertile Crescent 10,000 to 12,000 years ago.

While some of those cats’ offspring have since been brought indoors through neutering and other modern developments, many cats stayed outside, living the same outdoor lives they always have, with or without human contact.

 Although adult feral cats—cats that are not socialized to people—cannot become indoor pets, neutering and returning them to their outdoor home improves their lives.

Cats are Part of Our Environment

Image result for person holding & loving a cat

In the thousands of years that cats have lived alongside people, indoor-only cats have only become common in the last 50 or 60 years—a negligible amount of time on an evolutionary scale.

Throughout human history, cats have always lived and thrived outside. It is only recently that we have begun to introduce reproduction control like spaying and neutering to bring them indoors.

And also, bring the outdoors to them: using canned food and litter boxes to satisfy biological needs developed over thousands of years of living outdoors.

Although human civilization and domestic cats co-evolved side by side, the feral cat population was not created by humans.

Cats have lived outdoors for a long time—they are not new to the environment and they didn’t simply originate from lost pets or negligent pet owners.

Instead, they have a place in the natural landscape.

From the cats of Egypt 4000 years ago to the modern day cats of today they are still a very sacred animal to many people around the world.

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