Are Cats Domesticated Animals?

Cats and humans have lived in domestic harmony for approximately 5,000-10,000 years now. When compared to dogs’ 30,000+ years of domestication, you can certainly speculate as to why the cat may be closer to its wild roots. Cats are almost genetic twins with their wild cat counterparts. Scientists consistently debate whether or not the common housecat should be considered domestic, as it seems the crafty felines that we invite into our homes today are only as domestic as they want to be.

To have a “domesticated” animal means that the animal has been tamed, taught, and specifically bred to work well with humans over time.

Dogs were domesticated after separating from their wolf ancestors over 30,000 years ago. The dogs that were domesticated simply figured out that working along with humans benefitted both species for many reasons. The crafty canines would receive a more dependable source of food scraps, and the humans would have loyal, hard-working, and trainable workers.

Scientists generally agree with the timeline for dogs’ domestication. The path of how cats went from wild beasts to the fluff balls that we have in our homes today is a bit more controversial. There is a difference between animals tolerating humans, and working alongside humans. Cats tend to fall right in between these two behaviors. They may have gotten used to co-existing with us, but this doesn’t mean that they are technically domesticated. It is speculated that cats simply tolerate our presence for rewards, not companionship.

Portrait of the striped guarded cat. Striped with white a cat. Striped not purebred kitten. Small cat.Cats only began to enter the sphere of human interaction when humans started to grow crops around an estimated 10,000 years ago. When people began having a need for pest-hunters, cats came in as helpful counterparts. The relationship began as the cats would hunt vermin, and be rewarded with extra food by the farmers. This relationship is quite similar to today’s cat-human relationship, again dictating that cats are less domesticated than most people think. This pattern began in Ancient Egypt in the Fertile Crescent, a grain-based society that eventually came to worship cats for their protection of crops.

One large defining factor that points to the lack of cats’ domestication is their diet. Cats are strictly carnivores. Over time, dogs have been able to evolve to being able to exist on a vegetarian diet. This has put dogs further and further away from their wild ancestors, while cats require a diet full of saturated and polysaturated fatty acids. This type of meat-based diet would put a human at risk of coronary diseases and other health ailments; while for the feisty feline, it only keeps them fed and closer in genetic makeup to that of their ancestors.

This type of carnivorous diet also enables cats to be independent when it comes to feeding themselves, not having to depend on humans for sustainable mice and critters. Most domesticated dogs wouldn’t have this same skillset if put out in the wild. Imagine a chihuahua trying to fend for his/herself in the wild; they would likely end up eating garbage, getting sick, and then seeking out a new human to feed them.

Another reason why cats have stayed behind when it comes to domestication is the fact that humans have only started selectively breeding cats for their temperament and looks in the past 200 years. Dogs have been selectively bred for much longer, resulting in the many phenotypes, or physical appearances, that we see today across the hundreds of dog breeds. House cats have continued to breed with wild cats, resulting in a whole slew of semi-wild kitties.

Young woman with Persian cat playing. Outdoors portraitYou can see even with the largest cat breeders’ associations that they have a lot of catching up to do with their canine counterparts. The International Progressive Cat Breeders Alliance only recognizes 73 distinct cat breeds, while the Federation Cynologique Internationale, the international governing body of dog breeds, recognizes approximately 340. You can tell from these numbers that humans’ fascination with felines has only just begun.

Cats that have become house pets may have a higher tolerance for humans when compared to feral or wild cats, but this doesn’t mean that they are domesticated. Until cats begin to crave human interaction past seeking rewards, they will be considered semi-domesticated. In fact, you could say that cats are just about as domesticated as they want to be. The common housecat will learn over time that it is easier for them to get along with their human counterpart rather than fending for themselves in the wild, creating a working relationship between cat and man. Your cat may not be domesticated, but this certainly doesn’t mean that they don’t love you all the same.