Domestication Changes the Domestic Cat Over Time

by Michael
(London, UK)

My personal thought is that domestication changes the domestic cat over time. It is a gradual process and other factors such as a cat being full-time indoors and selective breeding compound the process. The kind of changes I am thinking about are a reduction in problem solving abilities (intelligence essentially). The time frame I am thinking about is hundreds of years.

I don’t actually believe that this is a controversial thought. It is more about commonsense. Research indicates that the domestic dog is less intelligent than the wolf or the dingoe (domestic cats turned feral in Australia). If not less intelligent, then less able to problem solve. This was established in a test. Food was placed the other side of a fence. There was a door through the fence a distance away, which meant the dog had to go away from the food, pass through the door and then come back to the food. The wolf and dingo solved this in 20 seconds while the domestic dog just pawed at the ground and barked1!

Exercising the brain constantly is good for it. This applies to humans to. One way to put off dementia is to exercise the brain constantly with difficult problems.

The trouble with the domestic dog is that the human companion thinks for it. Of course the domesticated dog has become very good at communicating with its human companion. This is the beneficial trade off.

Back to cats. I made a short video that supports my argument (in a none scientific way!). It concerns the passive Exotic Shorthair and the more active Bengal cat. The latter is a wildcat hybrid albeit the wildcat element is distant in show cats. The Exotic SH is the classic over bred (in my view), indoor, “part of the furniture” cat. If a person declawed the Exotic Shorthair it would be one step nearer the fluffy creature that some people desire and one step further from the real cat that we admire.

I say that over generations of breeding and indoor living we will gradually end up with a domestic that is not the same animal as the one that existed hundreds of years ago. And I mention this because it begs the question whether this is a good thing.

I am of course mainly concerned with purebred cats as the breeding element is a factor and moggies are not selectively bred while purebreds very definitely are. I think it is also fair to say that selective breeding when carried out without care or knowledge and with a focus only on appearance can lead to reduced intelligence in the cat due to inbreeding. I have seen examples of this.

We love the cat for what he or she is, a beautifully agile predator with finely honed skills and animal intelligence. We are gradually going to end up with an animal that is similar to the fluffy toys you see in the high street toy shop. Cuddly and within our control but not the cat we know today.

This may sound extreme but in a thousand years time it probably won’t.



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Domestication changes the domestic cat over time

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Dec 06, 2010 dumbing down
by: George

I’m not sure I agree that domestication degrades the actual innate intelligence of cats. What might change their intelligence would be selective breeding and that’s a genetic process, not domestication. If one is so inclined, one can breed cats for lower or higher intelligence. Domestication, in itself, will not reduce a cat’s intelligence. What it does degrade is the cat’s skills.

Domesticated cats have been removed from the wild for many centuries. This has resulted in a degradation of survival skills but not a complete loss of those skills. The fundamental basis of a domesticated cat’s personality remains their fundamental predatory nature.

Some pedigrees have been selectively bred for docility, such as the Ragdoll breed. In other words, Ragdolls have had their docile qualities emphasized and their aggressive qualities de-emphasized in the breeding process. That’s a genetic manipulation and not domestication.

Intelligence has to do with capacity to think and has nothing to do with how or in what form that intelligence is used. Even if it is not used, it remains innate, albeit underdeveloped.

To use humans as an example, being uneducated does not mean unintelligent or having a lower IQ. Even illiteracy does not mean unintelligence. Of course, a person may be uneducated because they are unintelligent but the reverse does not follow. To put it more precisely, a person may be uneducated because they are uneducatable. But an intelligent person can go through their entire life without ever developing their intelligence but the capacity remains undiminished.

Domesticated cats are hard pressed to find outlets or uses for their innate intelligence. Like everything else about domestication, cats must rely on us to stimulate their intelligence and we won’t do a very good job of it if we think our cats have been dumbed down by being our pets. Part of our responsibility as pet owners is to actively engage our cat’s intellectual life.

Aug 09, 2010 Sad but true
by: Ruth

Very interesting and very sad but true.

Kattaddorra signature Ruth

Aug 08, 2010 Domestication and evolution of the “Pet Cat”
by: Rudolph.A.Furtado

I totally agree that “Domestication” and “Controlled” breeding of “Pedigreed Cats by its human owners would ultimately change their mental personality over a period of time. The “Traditional Persian cat” that was the common prototype for the breed about 2 decades ago has now evolved into the “Ultra Persian cat” with its own “genetic problems”. Similarly, the mental intelligence of a cat would decrease compared to its feral or wild counterparts as it becomes more dependent on its human owners for all its food and shelter needs.In the wild, it is “survival of the fittest or smartest” that counts and hence this guarantees the innate intelligence of untamed animals.

Aug 08, 2010 I’d be curious
by: Joyce Sammons

I agree. I’d be curious to learn how much knowledge could be inherited thru a cats DNA. My baby Furby, bless his little innocent looking heart, has a double dose of sneaky. When he’s around food I can still see the feral in him. Its about the only time I remember he was a feral when I rescued him. And he’s fearless. Did the wild cat in his gene pool make him like this or did he learn it? There’s never been a day he was afraid of my dogs. Is he brave or stupid. Maybe you’d better not answer that one.

1 thought on “Domestication Changes the Domestic Cat Over Time”

  1. Stupid dogs. Stupid, STUPID dogs… I hate ’em! Digging at the fence, SO stupid.

    Just kidding! It sounded funny in my head.


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