In honor of this Saturday’s program at 3:00pm at the Main Library about Basic Cat Care, this post is all about Kittehs!!! In fact, I could just post lolcat kitteh photos for this whole post, but I’ll resist the temptation. Cats are actually very interesting! We all love our kitteh fur babies, but do they actually love us back? The jury is out…
Canine domestication began about 30,000 years ago when dogs separated from wolves, but cats are actually only semi-domesticated. Cats began sharing households with humans only 9,000 years ago, a much shorter time than our canine companions. Some even still interbreed with wild cats. Therefore, domestic cats are much closer genetically to their wild cousins than dogs are to theirs. Researchers who study the cat genome have found that the genes in domestic cats that are most different from wild cats are the genes associated with memory, reward, and fear. These are all important elements of the domestication process. Cats would help control the rodent population and prevent them from damaging crops in early agricultural settlements. Humans appreciated this and offered the cats food as an incentive to stick around. The cats who had genes that made them friendlier to humans are the ones that humans rewarded and kept. It was a mutually beneficial relationship, but food was cats’ main reason for mingling with humans. Also, unlike dogs, cats are almost exclusively carnivorous. Just like wild cats, domestic cats have genes that enable them to quickly break down their meat-and-fat heavy diets. Cats do not have as strong a sense of smell as dogs, but they have excellent hearing and low-light vision, enabling them to hunt at dawn and dusk when they are most active. This implies that their genes have not evolved to make them dependent on humans for food.
In other words, cats came for the mice, stayed for the food scraps, and continued breeding with their wild cousins when it suited them. They are mostly still wild and basically domesticated themselves. So the next time you oversleep and your cat is sitting next to you on the bed staring at you with a very concerned look, most likely he is not thinking, “Oh no! Is she dead?” but more likely, “Oh no! Who will feed me now?” But we love our kittehs anyway. 🙂
On that note, if you have any feline fur babies or just like them, come to our Basic Cat Care program at the library this Saturday, November 15th at 3:00!
11/24/2014- Interesting new article in the New York Times about cat evolution.