First pet cats were tamed wildcats not true domestic cats

It’s a point worth making. You hear a lot about the first domestic cats coming into being about 10,000 years ago. These are the first N. African wildcats who befriended humans and vice versa; both benefiting in an act of ‘commensalism’ as it is called. These early pet cats were tamed wildcats. Their behaviour had been modified so that they were able to accept being around people without being frightened. Taming is the modification of behaviour of individual animals.

cat from ancient egypt
Showing a cat from Ancient Egypt.
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles: Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

Domestication is when, over thousands of years, there is a genetic modification and a lineage which results in pet cats being born with an inbuilt predisposition towards being domesticated via socialisation. It is an alteration of their genetic make-up. So, there is a difference between taming and domestication.

It’s important to remember this because when we think of the first domestic cats, say in Cyprus, 9500 years ago, we shouldn’t be visualising your typical domestic cat. This was a flighty North African wildcat probably prone to biting and scratching and probably quite difficult to live with but all the same the companion of a man living on the island of Cyprus. Think about living with a serval today. It would have been similar. Living with a tame serval isn’t easy.

Cats of Cyprus outweigh humans in population size
Cats of Cyprus outweigh humans in population size.

This man must have taken a boat from the mainland in the east (now Syria) with his pet cat to Cyprus. That is the only way the animal could have been on that island because there were no wild cat species on the island and never have been actually.

Ancient tabby cat
Tabby cat from Ancient Egypt from 1500 CE. Picture in public domain.

It is only perhaps around 4,000 years ago that the ancient Egyptians truly domesticated the wildcat. Therefore, the true, first domestic cats lived with ancient Egyptians and they were all large mackerel tabbies and random bred. We know they were true pets by the epitaphs:

RELATED: Epitaphs to Pets of Ancient Greece and Rome

It’s interesting to think that every domestic cat in ancient Egypt were brown, mackerel/spotted tabby cats. They would have been quite slender. There would have been no domestic cat obesity in those days. I think we’ve got used to seeing domestic cats as being quite rotund or what is called ‘cobby’ in the cat fancy language.

But the North African wildcat is a slender creature with quite long legs and these early domesticated cats would have had a similar appearance. The ancient Egyptians were the first cat breeders but they did it partly to produce cats for sacrifice; a gross form of animal abuse I am afraid to say. Of course, it is tricky to judge a race of people by modern standards.

The evidence of one of the first ‘domestic cats’ a tamed wildcat:

First domestic cat in Cyprus grave
First domestic cat in Cyprus grave. Photo in public domain.

Ironically, and perhaps appropriately, there are more cats on Cyprus than there are people in 2022. They have a “cat problem”. These are predominantly community cats, living outside on a warm island. No doubt the pleasant ambient temperature, but sometimes very hot, together with a lax attitude towards spaying and neutering, has predisposed the island to having so many cats. I guess they are a tourist attraction during the tourist season but when it’s over their numbers probably irritate some residents. I suspect that, as is the case in Greece, there is cat abuse in the off season. In Greece they poison community cats.

Map showing Cyprus
Map showing Cyprus by PoC.

It might be argued that Cyprus provides us with a snapshot of the progression of the domestication of the cat from a single cat to too many indicating a failure in the domestication of the cat. I think that we have to admit to ourselves that the domestication of the cat has been a failure when bearing in mind the huge number of homeless, feral cats. This was never the intention. It was meant to be a mutually beneficial arrangement but we now have hundreds of millions of hungry, distressed and miserable feral cats on the planet because of sloppy human behaviour and a disregard for the sentience of animals.

Below are some more articles on cat history.

Sabre-toothed cats endurance hunting in packs in ancient times

What kind of sounds did the sabretooth cats make?

People are very familiar with the distinctive and iconic appearance of the sabretooth tiger and other species of sabertooths, which ...
The domestic cat is a top predator. Should we live with them?

Cats would be better pets if they weren’t great predators

Many cat owners might say that their domestic cat companion is an excellent pet. I'm going to say something which ...
Illustration showing interior of House of Commons

In 1821, in the UK Parliament, there were howls of laughter about protecting cats

Times have moved on substantially from 1821 in Britain. I think this was a time when the consequences of an ...
Cat and dog domestication has not worked out as planned

Living with companion animals has not worked out and it needs to be re-evaluated

Some people think that it is time to give up our cats and dogs as it is unethical and their ...
Silver classic tabby Scottish Fold kitten with a WOW appearance

The classic blotched tabby (infographic)

Scroll down for an infographic on the classic tabby cat coat which is also referred to as the blotched tabby ...

Please search using the search box at the top of the site. You are bound to find what you are looking for.

Useful tag. Click to see the articles: Cat behavior
follow it link and logo

Note: sources for news articles are carefully selected but the news is often not independently verified.

I welcome and value comments. Please share your thoughts. All comments are currently unmoderated.

This blog is seen in 199 of the world's country's according to Google Analytics which is pretty much the entire world.

Scroll to Top