Cat basking in the sun

Domestic cats are a fascinating species. They resemble wild cats, in part, due to their instinctual drive to hunt prey and their overall mystique. Most cat owners love their feline friends for their affection but also their desire for some solitary time. 

Cats hold the title of most popular pet, totaling 4 million in communities across the US, but do you know much about how these former wildcats turned into the domestic snuggle-faces we know and love?

Our veterinarians at Naperville Animal Hospital would like to treat you to a brief history of the domestic cat. What could be more purrfect?

In the Beginning… 

Cats were thought to have been treated as domestic companions as early as 4,000 years ago. These royal felines were brought into the home of Eygyptian palaces as mousers and companions. There is evidence that cats were worshipped because of the depictions of the cat-headed goddess, Bast, as well as other archaeological artwork and murals. 

The domestic cat is thought to be an evolutionary alteration of an African wildcat. It is unknown how long this process of domestication occurred, although it is expected that cats came into closer contact with humans some 11,000 years ago. Certain researchers believed that wildcats actually domesticated themselves by using human settlement and their prevalence of rodents to their advantage.

In the Far East, cats were also redeemed for  their ability to protect grain and rice storage from raiding rodents. In China and India, the cat became a household symbol of wealth and prestige. Interestingly, certain breeds were developed through crossbreeding, such as the exotic Siamese and Burmese cats. 

Middle East and Europe

As early nomads threw off their wandering ways and settled down into agricultural societies, cats played a pivotal role. Wildcats, Felix silvestris lybica, hunted small game and rodents. Humans quickly noticed their skills and put them to work as hunting companions who protected their harvest, just like in the palaces of Egypt, China, and India.

The Middle East, also known as the Fertile Crescent, saw much of the early settlement of agriculture, where other animals also were domesticated to serve humans in a variety of roles. The modern cat, known as Felis catus, continued to play a pivotal role as household mousers and later, companions.

Many cats were used aboard ships that sailed across the world, landing our pawed pals across the globe. These cats earned a living as they prevented disease (from rodents) and protected grain and other supplies for those aboard the ships.

It is suspected that ships commanded by Christopher Columbus let loose their shipmate kitties into what is now North America. Cats at that time thrived in this new wilderness by eating small game, birds, and rodents, increasing their population to an entirely new continent.

Today’s Feline

While prized as hunters, most cats were relegated to the barns and outdoors up until about 60-70 years ago. At that time, it was unusual for a cat to make their bed in the home. As humans moved away from rural life and established bustling cities and communities, cats were not as instrumental as household hunters or keepers of rodent-free barns and silos. 

Instead, as we move toward an ever changing technologically advanced society, cats, like dogs, are now seen as family members. They have strong emotional bonds with us and we cherish them for their emotional support, love, and affection more than the jobs they once did. 

Without a doubt, these cherished companions have been with humankind for centuries and have been a steadfast and important part of our world. Thankfully, modern veterinary medicine has helped to establish a better understanding of what cats need for good health and happiness. 

Naperville Cat Veterinarians

We hope you have enjoyed this brief overview of the history of the domestic cat and their evolution alongside us. If you’re a new cat owner and would like your questions answered, give our cat veterinarians in Naperville a call today!