Categories: first domestic cat

Humans should have domesticated an intelligent herbivore?

It seems incongruous that for thousands of years humans have shared their homes with fearsome predators. I am referring to the domestic cat. The reason why we do is because of the initial reason why the wild cat was domesticated. They were a utilitarian animal. They were useful as working animals in keeping down rodent populations on farms and in homes. Nowadays they have a different role which as a companion. Their superb predatory skills are a barrier rather than a benefit to the human-to-cat relationship.

Woman kisses cat. Photo in public domain.

The aggressive and efficient hunting skills of the domestic cat have become a huge topic of discussion. Many people in authority want to keep cats inside the home in order to stop them expressing these predatory skills. That’s a poor solution for the cat but a good one for wildlife. It’s a dilemma.

Intelligence

In general, and it has to be stressed that we are talking in general terms, the carnivores are smarter than the herbivores because they have to go in search of food. This is challenging. But there are some intelligent herbivores like chimpanzees (mostly herbivorous) and parrots. Elephants are also herbivores and intelligent. Social behaviour also tends to improve intelligence because the animal has to keep pace with the politics of social interactions. Solitary living can blunt intelligece which works against the wild cat incidentally.

Restarting

You could argue that after about 10,000 years of cat domestication that we have arrived at a position where if we were to restart the domestication of an animal to be a companion in the home then we would not select the North African wildcat. The point that I’m making is that if we restarted the domestication process in 2020 we would probably select a smart herbivore if one was available of the right size and appearance. The appearance is important because humans are fixated on beautiful objects. This is another reason why the domestic cat wins out. They are beautiful creatures and their appearance has been enhanced by informal or formal selective breeding.

Another characteristic of the “perfect pet” would be one that lives on the ground and not vertically. It’s a minor issue but the domestic cat is both a horizontal and vertical animal. They really must be allowed to move vertically in order to express their innate desires. This presents a little bit of a problem in human homes. Not everybody is aware of this need and provides facilities to express it.

The koala is a very popular small herbivore but it is tree dwelling and unsuitable as a pet perhaps for that reason. Rabbits are small herbivores and a lot of people keep rabbits as pets. They don’t create the problems that domestic cats do with respect to bringing in prey and killing animals but they appear to be less intelligent and less interactive than domestic cats. Like I said, the ideal pet is a smart herbivore that lives on the ground. I’m just not sure that there is one which would be better as a pet than a domestic cat or dog.

There are some omnivores as well which are sometimes domesticated such as rats. There are some domesticated chimpanzees as companions but aren’t they dangerous? Can someone name me a smart, small herbivore that might make a superior pet to the domestic dog or cat? Probaly not which is why the cat and dog even with their “faults” as companions are the best.

Benefits

Pet ownership brings with it a number of benefits both to humans and to the animals. I wonder sometimes whether the benefits are greater for people than for the pet when you take the entirety of pet ownership into account. Pet ownership serves to fulfil emotional and social needs as well as improving human social relationships and psychological and physiological health. Humans need to pay back that benefit in kind to their companion animals.

Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 71-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I have a girlfriend, Michelle. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare.

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