Are they really as domesticated as we think?

Cats, one of mankind’s favourite pets, but how much do we really know about them?

It is true that dogs were domesticated a long time before cats. Dogs have been people’s companions since the Stone Age. There are many different opinions on when cats were first domesticated. We find the first real proof of domestication in Egypt. One thing is certain though, the domestication of cats started once people began to settle. Due to the fact that cats hunted down the rodents that would otherwise have damaged the harvest, people accepted cats. Consequently… cats stayed near settlements because of the guarantee for food. For quite some time cats lived happily next to humans, until an abrupt halt: The Middle Ages. As most of you may know, cats were considered evil and associated with witches. They were killed and tortured in the most grotesque ways. When the ships with the rats that carried the fleas, which were responsible for the Black Death, reached the harbours of Europe, there were nearly no cats left to hunt the rats. This gave the rats an easy game and the Black Death spread fast.

Many experts still believe that cats have never truly been domesticated. It has been proven that the kittens of a domestic cat could be set out into the wild and would have no problems living a life independent of humans. This may not sound too extraordinary, but it really makes you think how domesticated cats really are. There is a very fitting saying: “Three of the cat’s four paws are still stuck in the wild”. You could not do set a dog into the wild like that, this shows a far higher degree of domestication. This leads to another question: Why are there much more dog breeds than cat breeds? Think of a typical dog- though we will all imagine a similar picture, there are huge visual differences in dog breeds. From a Chihuahua to Dobermann to a Bullterrier. One may agree that the dogs look very different. Now think of a typical cat. Most of us will think of a “house cat” (European Shorthair), and although there is also a large variety of cat breeds, they are not so popular and all resemble the “normal cat” (with a few exceptions).

Though most people adore cats, there is also a part of the population who dislikes them. Many people have stated that after watching a cat torturing a bird/mouse before killing it (and then not eating it entirely), they consider cats to be cruel. Domestic cats hunting birds have already extinct 33 species around the world. The problem is that the cat doesn’t really need to hunt, because it gets food anyway. I understand this, but wish to explain the cat’s behaviour, in order to make the real problem clearer. As the cat nowadays gets food from people, it is no longer hungry when it goes out to hunt. Thus, it doesn’t want to kill the animal fast, in order to be able to eat it, as there is no large desire to eat. One could ask why the cat doesn’t just stop hunting. This has two main reasons: The cat has an instinct to hunt and while eating in the house subdues hunger, it doesn’t subdue the instinct to hunt. The second and most important reason is that people have kept cats since their domestication for the one reason that they kill rodents. This was their purpose, and they were praised for doing it. Many owners want their cats to stop hunting, but many experts see a huge problem in this. The question is: How do you communicate to your cat that after 1000s of years working together in order to hunt rodents, it should stop altogether?

Another topic I would like to address is the keeping of wild cats as pets. Though this may sound outrageous to people in Europe, it wasn’t so long ago; that it was reality. In the middle of the 20th century keeping wild cats as pets became very popular, but this died down soon enough. There were quite a few deaths and many scandals. But what is past in Europe is reality in America. Though in some states it is banned, in others you don’t even need a licence! Buying a big cat is expensive but the costs increase even more once you have it (vet costs and meat). Nevertheless, there are still enough people who try to keep one. There is a lot of abuse and the animals suffer. They don’t have enough space, or the right habitat. 98% die within the first two years of living in a house with people.

After reading this text, I hope to have showed you the problems a society, in which cats are man’s friend, is facing. It is a topic nearly no one is aware of but is crucial for the years to come!


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