Chinese zodiac does NOT leave out the cat but what is the zodiac’s significance?

Quite a lot of people respond to enquiries on why the cat was left out of the Chinese zodiac of 12 animals. After all, they’ve got the dog in the zodiac and the cat is as popular today as the dog. It seems very unfair. There is a myth as to the reason but I would rather focus on the logical and more scientific reason. This is my reason! ๐Ÿ˜Ž. There are 12 Chinese zodiac signs, in the following order: rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog, and pig.

Chinese Zodiac 12 animals
Chinese zodiac – 12 animals. Image: MikeB
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The Chinese zodiac was apparently created about 2,500 years ago and it hasn’t changed much if at all since. At that time there was a very big cat in China namely the South China tiger. There were also smaller wild cat species. The tiger has been present in China for about 2 million years, in fact.

But the domestic cat has been present in China since around 400 A.D. which is approximately 1,600 years ago. Do the math: the domestic cat wasn’t present in China when they created the zodiac and therefore it wasn’t known, I suspect, to the creators.

No doubt they wanted to create a proper spectrum of animals for the zodiac and they knew the tiger, a very impressive animal and the world’s biggest cat species, and so they chose that animal.

When the domestic cat came into the lives of people in China almost a thousand years later, the zodiac was well established and they clearly couldn’t add the generic “cat” to the zodiac.

Generic terminology versus specific animal species

You can see the problem. The tiger is a specific species of wild cat within the cat family of species of which there are about 37. The other animals listed in the zodiac are generic names such as ‘snake’ or ‘goat’ et cetera. They are not listing a specific species of goat or a specific species of snake.

This seems to be an inaccuracy in the creation of the Chinese zodiac. Their selection of animals was muddled. They are all generic names except for the cat where they selected a distinct species, the tiger. This may not have been carelessness because they probably only knew one cat namely the tiger although there would have been one or two small wild cat species in China at that time.

It doesn’t really matter. Either it is a careless mistake or the inconsistency within the zodiac is due to a lack of knowledge at that time about taxonomy and the classification of the species. Taxonomy is a modern concept which goes back about 265 years ago. A relatively modern concept of which the creators of the Chinese zodiac had no knowledge whatsoever.

I don’t see anybody else answering the question in this way as to why the zodiac doesn’t have cats in it. They simply state that domestic cats weren’t in China at the time but there’s an added dimension to it as mentioned.


It’s always mystified me as to why the Chinese zodiac exists. What is its purpose? What is its place in Chinese culture? It seems to me that it is about human superstition.

Personally, I detest human superstition. Sorry. It is a visible manifestation of human vulnerability, fear and anxiety about the future. I don’t think that anybody in the 21st century should be superstitious. Superstition can create behavioural problems and it tends to misdirect people although it makes people feel more secure.

And of course, the zodiac started around 2,500 years ago, a time when superstition was even stronger than it is today. The importance of the zodiac in Chinese culture is that the animal signs have been used for centuries in stories and folklore.

And today, millions of people in China believe the predictions as set out in these folklores. And sometimes people use the Chinese Zodiac to find a suitable partner because they believe that certain animals within the zodiac are compatible.

In round terms, the zodiac guides Chinese people on how to live their lives, as I understand it. It therefore has quite a big role to play in Chinese culture.


And China has a very long history of which they are proud. President (for life) Xi Jinping is very proud of Chinese history but I feel this is unfortunate because he either directly or indirectly perpetuates animal abuses such as the cat meat trade in the south of China. They eat domestic cats and dogs because of a superstitious, unscientific, belief that the flesh makes them healthier.

And he supports, it seems to me, the poaching of Bengal tigers in India, the body parts of which are smuggled over a couple of borders into China where they are consumed in the belief that they benefit the health, welfare and financial success of the consumers. But it is all based upon superstition, an example of the dangers of relying on superstition to make decisions in life.

And let’s go full circle. How can the Chinese kill tigers to eat when they admire the tiger to the extent that it is featured in their 12-segment zodiac? They seem to be conflicted.

Superstition articles

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