How Has the Domestic Cat Evolved?

How has the domestic cat evolved over the approximate 10,000 years of its domestication from the Near Eastern wildcat?

Domestic cat evolution
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Domestic cat evolution

We have the beginnings of an answer at least. In 2014 scientists collected DNA samples from cheek swabs of 22 domestic cats. Unfortunately (for me) they were all purebred cats of various breeds including the Maine Coon, Norwegian Forest cat, Birman, Japanese Bobtail, Turkish Van, Egyptian Mau and Abyssinian. I would have liked random bred cats to have been analysed but there we are.

Useful links
Anxiety - reduce it
FULL Maine Coon guide - lots of pages
Children and cats - important

From the information gleaned the scientists were able to determine some genetic changes that have occurred in domestic cats during domestication.

They found that there have been genetic changes associated with a better ability to form memories, a better ability to make associations between stimulus and reward (more trainable?) and an ability to not enter so quickly into the fight or flight mode (more docile).

As to physical characteristics, the domestic cat has a smaller body, shorter jaw, smaller brain (wild cat hybrids are the smartest domestic cats), smaller adrenals (which control fight or flight instinct) and lengthened intestines which is an adaptation to scavenging and eating human food and teeth which are more narrowly spaced than those of the wild cats. This is because, it is said, that they are adapted to catching smaller rodents.

Some things haven’t changed at all namely the shape of the cat’s skull. The domestic cat’s skull is very similar in structure to that of lions and tigers for instance. Unless we are referring to selectively bred to extreme cats such as the contemporary Persian and modern Siamese.

We know that the domestic cat’s behaviour remains very similar to the that of the wildcats. Random bred cats choose the cats with whom they will mate. This of course applies to all the community cats of the world. These are the majority of random bred cats as it happens. This randomised breeding keeps the gene pool diverse.

It is said incidentally that domestic cats, where they are allowed to breed, engage in a form of self-selective breeding. They do this because they select mates who more likely to be good domestic cats which fosters the prospect of offspring being better domestic cats thereby aiding survival. I don’t necessarily subscribe to this theory.

I have been unable to find with certainty the study referred to and have relied upon Jackson Galaxy and Mikel Delgado PhD in their book Total Cat Mojo for the findings of the study. I have also added some comments.

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Useful tag. Click to see the articles: Cat behavior

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

Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 74-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare. If you want to read more click here.

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1 Response

  1. Jane says:

    This is very interesting. Especially as the samples were from pedigree cats, where I would not have thought actual & true evolution was possible. Maybe vanity breeding for form not function is now considered the ‘new evolution’?

    Surely these physiological & psychological finds are only the product of managed husbandry?

    A study of long established feral populations in countries nearest to the area where the wild cat was first domesticated, wouldn’t that give a more informative/accurate set of results?

    Ferals manage to self select for optimal fertility, physicality, health etc when resources are available, as do unneutered strays.

    doesn’t using a tiny number of pedigrees for this seems a strange way to study a subject by studying an entirely different subject?

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