Neutering Stalls the Domestication of the Cat

The domestication of the cat is an ongoing process. Domestication still takes place. The domestic cat is still very close to the wild cat in terms of behaviour and its genetic make up because, it is believed, that about 15 or 20 genes separate domestic cats from their wild relatives.

comparison between domestic tabby and Scottish wildcat

Dr John Bradshaw1 of Bristol University states:

β€œIt is probably the smallest difference there is genetically between a domestic animal and its wild counterpart.”

He goes on to state that it wouldn’t take much to reverse the process, stall it or upset it.

The castration of good well raised middle-class domestic cats means they can’t produce offspring but wild tomcats can. Result? Lower numbers of domesticated cats.

Dr Bradshaw poses the theory that in the United Kingdom, in some places, as many as 99% of male cats are neutered. Obviously neutered cats can’t procreate. The only cats who can procreate are feral cats or stray cats in the process of becoming feral cats, of which there are an estimated 1,000,000. You hardly see them. I never see them! But they are there, unowned tomcats who are whole and healthy. They have not been castrated and as a consequence they desire to procreate and they succeed. By doing so they pass on their less domesticated genetic make up to their offspring. Bit by bit, the theory goes, the domestic cat becomes less domesticated; the evolutionary process of domestication is reversed.

The domestic cat is chosen because he or she is docile and has learned to become sociable and live in human households whereas the feral cat has completely different attributes, namely, a high proficiency in hunting and fighting and staying away from humans.

I can see the argument. It makes sense and is logical but I wonder whether it is a genuine problem or simply a theoretical problem. If Dr Bradshaw is correct it should be a wake up call to more intensive government managed trap-neuter-release (TNR) programmes.

feral cat

The photo above is of Adele a feral kitten looked after by Bob Tucker in the USA.

The Perfect Domestic Cat?

On a different note, because there is such a small number of genes which make the difference between wild cats and domestic cats it might not be too hard in theory to breed the perfect cat.

The argument behind this proposition is this. Dr Bradshaw believes that about 7 or 8 genes affect the behaviour of the domestic cat. These are inherited behavioural traits. Behaviour is of course also affected by environmental issues in the early stages of a cat’s life.

Scientists will be able, in the not too distant future, to know what these genes do and thereby identify the friendliest cats genetically.

Once they are able to do that they will be able to selectively breed (or create in a laboratory) for the perfect cat. My immediate thoughts about this not good. I don’t like interfering with nature and you can see how this could all go wrong. In theory, it should go right but humankind has a tendency to abuse this sort of information in furtherance of its own self interests.

Dr Bradshaw is more optimistic. He says that selecting cats genetically for their friendly traits would mean that people would be able to select cats that are more suited to modern urban living. More and more people are living in the urban environment which is less suited to the domestic cat than the country environment. The urban cat needs to be more domesticated in order to be less stressed. There will be many more full-time indoor cats in the UK. People owe it to the domestic cats to ensure that they are suited to modern human living. That’s the argument. What do you think?

Note: 1 Dr Bradshaw wrote the book: Cat Sense: The Feline Enigma Revealed (ISBN-13: 978-1846145940).

22 thoughts on “Neutering Stalls the Domestication of the Cat”

  1. I guess you people should be thanking me. I shoot ALL stray cats. That means even the most wild ones’ genes will be destroyed. I don’t sit around waiting for the most friendly and stupid cats to enter a trap and then destroy them. This method is so effective that cats are non-existent from my area going on nearly 5 years now.

    Domestication of an animal is not rocket-science. Destroy any that you can’t control or contain, breed only those that are safe for human exploitation.

    Got it?

  2. My observation on the thoughtless and undiscerning spaying and neutering campaigns of Kyrenia Animal Rescue, is that when you get the gardener to weed your garden you don’t expect him to cut down your prize rose bushes too. That is an exact parallel with sterilising rare and endangered random-bred and naturally occurring Turkish Angoras and Turkish Vans just because they do not walk around with a pedigree stuck on them. In the Middle East and Anatolia virtually all cats are random bred and free-born but that doesn’t prevent some of them from being very pure Angoras. There is no other source for the true Turkish Angora. Once they are spayed and neutered into extinction, that’s it. You can’t re-stock the whole Middle East from cat fancy Angoras because they are not Angoras. They are a cat fancy concoction of mixed West European and American breeds. First the White Rhino, then the Florida Panther , and then the Turkish Angora. May their misdeeds lie heavily on their shoulders.

    • Very well said. You have highlighted something I didn’t realise. It is strange. In America, their fake version of the Turkish Angora is preserved through breeding cats and registrations etc. but the genuine article in Turkey is under threat through neutering.

      • It is the introduction of the western concept of cat numbers control into a situation that has some important differences. In the west there are no endangered breeds immersed in the general random-bred cat population. Consequently any neutering and spaying program in western countries would only have the effect of reducing the numbers of the friendliest easiest to catch cats. The inability to modify that concept to the needs of a different situation is typical of human blundering with disastrous effects on the shrinking Turkish Angora population. I soon saw that I was wasting my time trying to explain this to the people here most involved in this assault on one of nature’s most beautiful creations. The next step will be to explain this matter to the government veterinary association to see if legislation can be introduced to improve matters. But that may be counter-production if not though-out well. Crass legislation such as banning the export of long-haired cats would only result in a lessened interest in them world-wide and make overseas preservation programs impossible, as is the case with mainland Turkey. The difficulty in exporting Angoras from Turkey has led to the ironic situation whereby the fakes are better looked-after than the genuine article. It’s worse than that. The standard of points for the Turkish Angora is drawn up to reflect the characteristics of the fakes. Thus even when a real Angora is obtained it is discriminated against by the rules of the cat fancy.
        Please look carefully at this video. You can see a small number of Angoras and Vans. You can be sure they are all neutered and their genes lost forever.


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