In England in the fifteenth century the social etiquette manual of life insisted that domestic cats should not wander around the dining room and be fed by hand from the dining table or petted. I wonder if that attitude is the reason why a lot of people today – over 1,000 years later – don’t like domestic cats on kitchen counters? It seems to have followed through. It is a hygiene issue but no one has satisfactorily explained to me why cats on the kitchen counter are less hygienic than humans using the counter. Especially for full-time indoor cats. They are clean and I can’t see the issue.
In medieval times cats were all indoor/outdoor cats and mousers. There was no cat food and no cat litter trays. An entirely different scenario. But bearing in mind that human hygiene was fairly crude by modern standards during those times (based on popular movies 😎) the attitude about a domestic cat’s potential for spreading disease seems to have originated in the Christian belief that humans are superior to animals and have ‘dominion’ over them.
Here is an extract from The Boke of Courtesy (The Book of Courtesy):
Whenever thou sits to eat at the table board,
Avoid the cat on the bare wood,
For if thou strokes the cat or dog,
Thou art like an ape tied with a lump of wood.
Well, that’s pretty crude stuff which is what I’d expect. Little respect for animals. The ape was considered to be an uncivilised ‘animal’. And if a person dining at the dinner table stroked a cat they were behaving like an animal. It was that serious an issue.
That’s interesting because social etiquette has definitely loosened up in that respect. But I see the reason as not that etiquette has gone backwards but that our relationship with animals and cats and dogs in particular has advanced tremendously in many countries. Not all countries it has to be added. Some countries are still living in the Middle Ages.
And a reason why is because of education. The internet has played a significant role in educating hundreds of millions of people on cat behavior and health.
There must have been many breaches of this etiquette because as there was no cat food, they were reliant on human leftovers. What better time to give your hungry cat who is crouched under the dining table some of what you are eating.
The imagination runs riot on the kind of human food that domestic cats were fed. It was probably meat all the time and of course the medieval cat’s diet might even have been better than today’s as they were mousers. They were valued as mousers as I’ve described in an earlier post.
For a cat there is no food that is better balanced than a mouse. The downside of feeding on lots of mice is that they would have acquired a gastrointestinal tract full of endoparasites, worms. And there were no medicines for cats in those days. No de-wormers. If they got ill and it became chronic, they’d likely die.
I bet there was no obesity epidemic though, nor a huge amount of poor oral health both of which are prevalent nowadays.
Below are some more pages on domestic felines of the Middle Ages.
Please search using the search box at the top of the site. You are bound to find what you are looking for.