The Domestic Cat and Its Wild Cat Cousins

The domestic cat we invite into our homes shares more characteristics with its wild cat relations than you might think.

Common to both is the lithe muscularity of the body that has evolved for over eons for stalking and hunting, the beautiful fur, the need for a high protein meat diet, the ability to use stealth and superior sensory abilities when catching prey, the incredible athleticism, lightening quick reflexes and acute hearing.

The size differences are the most obvious differences between the domestic and wild cat. Wild cats have a far greater difference in size while most domestic cats seem to be of a similar size. Of course there are exceptions to every rule and there are small wild cats and large domestic cats.

The domestic cat’s coat shows much greater variation than the wild cats but this is mainly due to selective breeding and environmental needs. For instance a cat living in north Canada will have developed a dense, almost woolly fur coat while one living in Australia will have a finer body hugging coat, which in turn will be different to one that has adapted to the searing heat of some African nations.

It is thought that the domestic cat has a smaller brain than its wild counterpart but the domestic cat can return to the wild if necessary. Both domestic cats and wild cats have retractable claws with the exception of the Cheetah, which is in a class of its own.

Small feline skeletons have been found in some Stone Age archaeological sites along with the remains of other small animals which indicate that they could have been hunted for food or for their pelts. There are differing times and places of where domestic cats first appeared. Some studies say the Middle East or other parts of Europe but the most often recognized time is around 3,500 years ago in Egypt.

While some cultures such as the Vikings, Burmese and Japanese worshipped the cat, the Egyptians took it a step further and deified it. In ancient Egypt, anyone caught injuring a cat was severely punished. Mummified cats have been found in tombs and cat owners would shave off their eyebrows as a sign of mourning if their cat died. Archaeologists have discovered over 300,000 mummified cats alongside mummified mice so that the cat would have food in the afterlife.

As man started farming, sowing and storing grain for future use, rodents appeared to feast on this grain store. Cats were beginning to be encouraged to become domesticated to look after this rodent population and so, as some studies have stated, the friendship between cat and human developed. Cats were ideal as they were useful, easy to look after and bred easily.

Even today with our beautiful cross-bred moggie or purebred cat, we can still see some of the characteristics of the wild animal these domestic cats once were. You only need watch your kitten play with a litter-mate or with a rolling or swinging toy, or see your cat outside stalking the mouse that your eye cannot see. Cats are truly a wonderful and enigmatic animal.