Is the domestic cat a species?

Domestic cat is a species
Photo (modified by PoC): Helmi Flick.
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Yes, the domestic cat is a species. Although I think it is a slightly tricky question because the domestic cat could be a subspecies. This is the science of TAXONOMY which is fairly settled nowadays but scientists are still making adjustments.

As the domestic cat is a domesticated North Africa wildcat (F.s.lybica) the question that I initially had was whether they are same species or is the domestic cat a subspecies? Neither is the answer to that question.

There appears to have been some discussions from 2000-2017 on whether the domestic cat is a subspecies or distinct species of cat.

  • 20003 – The International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN) ruled that the domestic cat is a distinct species, namely Felis catus.
  • 2007 – Following the results of phylogenetic research (the study of genetics and the relationship between species), the domestic cat was considered a subspecies.
  • 2017 – The IUCN Cat Classification Taskforce followed the recommendation of the ICZN in deciding that the domestic cat is a distinct species, Felis catus.

The current conclusion, at the date of this post, is that the domestic cat is a distinct species. For completeness, Mel and Fiona Sunquist in Wild Cats Of The World describe the ‘domestic cat lineage’ when discussing the taxonomy of the cat family. The domestic cat lineage describes a group of 6 species of wild cats which evolved to have a similar appearance.

These cats are: African wildcat, domestic cat, European wildcat, sand cat, Chinese mountain cat, jungle cat and black-footed cat. The black-footed cat was the first to diverge followed by the jungle cat and sand cat. They say that the domestic cat, European wildcat and African wildcat ‘radiated’ very recently.

‘Radiated’ means that in the evolutionary process these cats split off and diverged from the other cat species to form new species.

I have a page on the species of wild cats which you can see by clicking on this link.


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