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:

“It 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).

Facebook Discussion


Neutering Stalls the Domestication of the Cat — 22 Comments

  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.

  3. Well I’m doing my best to counter all the negative things that other people do with cats and other creatures. It’s all due to a complete misunderstanding of the situation. They have no idea that the cats they sterilise are rare and endangered Angoras of the purest kind. This is a consequence of the mindset of the cat fancy whereby a cat only has value and purity if it has a pedigree as long as your arm. Nothing could be further from the truth. Analysis of the data on cat fancy pedigree Angoras produces the disgraceful result that on average they retain only 5.995% of the original Anatolian genetic identity. The random-bred Angoras in Cyprus and Turkey can be as pure as 98% and no pedigree in sight! Happily some people are taking note of this situation. In early July 4 of my Angora kittens will be going to breeders in Germany who were involved in the importation of the very first Angoras from Turkey in modern times which founded the breed in the west. They are fully aware that their lovely cats were then unscrupulously out-crossed to anything and everything. It looks like they wish to start over again, hopefully this time in a different way. Nobody could ask for more docile or friendly cats than the mothers of these kittens booked for Germany, so it’s saving an endangered breed plus passing on good behaviour genes for future generations.

    • Oh wow Harvey they are beautiful so precious!! You seem to do an amazing job, good on you. Look at those beautiful blue eyes. 🙂

  4. A really interesting article however I think its unlikely to happen in our lifetime if at all. There still appears to be a lot of people out there who just don’t realise its in the cats best interest to get them neutered.
    Only quite recently have we had a very persistent un-neutered Ginger and White Tom visit us taking an interest in our Honey. He is friendly and looks healthy in the only way an un-neutered cat can which is never the same type of healthy as one that is neutered.

      • Its the responsible thing to do to Get your animal Fixed all mine been fixed. Jasmine is getting done in two more months. I wouldn’t have it any other way!! As its not fair for the cat to have kittens. Even just for one term, as we know the cat can have kittens again after shes had them. I know Jasmine would have beautiful Kittens. I was just put off when my sister cat had kittens,just seeing how badly she refused her babies, she got an infection. It was horrible. So that’s why i think its the best thing to fix all females or males as there so many kittens in shelters wanting homes and breaks my heart when they have to be put down. I cant save them all which is more heartbreaking than anything. Sorry for long comment. 🙂

        • That’s a very good comment Kylee, not at all too long as it’s so very sensible and if everyone was as responsible as you there would be no homeless cat problems.

          • Thanks Ruth. Sometimes i find it hard to put words into sentences that make sense. It just makes me so mad when people say, I”ll let her have her first litter first, then we will get her fixed. Most people know what happens. I just don’t think its fair. Unless, i guess if your breeding like Pedigree.

  5. A very astuite article Michael. I was beginning toi think I was the only person around who had arrived at that same conclusion. Pretty much the same situation exists here in Cyprus but with an even more sad side to it.By far the greatest number of free-born cats that are adopted by the foreign community, especially English ladies, are the friendliest ones. They are instantly spayed or neutered purely for the convenience of the owner. Less friendly cats do not get that treatment and are left to reproduce freely. The other factor is that a really good-looking long haired cat which here are Anatolian Turkish Angoras will stand a better chance of being adopted, and neutered of course, than any ordinary cat. Thus not only do these ladies discriminate against future generations of the the friendliest cats but also accelerate the demise of the increasingly rare Turkish Angora. The do-gooders are often the most dangerous people.

    • Fascinating comment Harvey. The real Turkish Angoras are under threat in a way. Horrible. I don’t want that.

      Neutering is considered a necessity but there are some unforeseen negative consequences. Always are when people interfere with nature.

      • Maybe Jozef would leave some for Walter if they were together, he often leaves him a mouse when he’s finished with it. But Walt never ever eats any prey although I expect he would if he was starving.

    • Poor Walter.
      He needs to go the “Cat Land of Plenty” where treats grow on trees and bushes, pate is topsoil, and kibble is sprinkled from the sky.
      He’ll never go hungry in my imagination.

      • Neither of them will go hungry as long as Babz and I draw breath, nor will the unfortunate cats around us 😉 and the cats at Kays Hill.

  6. Something is a little confusing to me. Intact feral males that breed pass their less domesticated genetic makeup to their offspring. OK. Feral kittens are the easiest of all to domesticate.
    Is the assumption that the feral male is mating with a domesticated female, therefore, producing a lesser domesticated line than the female is?

    • I think feral kittens are easy to domesticate up to around 8 weeks of age aren’t they Dee? We found that so when doing Feral Officers for CP.
      Our Jozef was the offspring of a domesticated mother and a feral father and he’s the most loving cat with us, but outdoors he’s his father’s son lol He brought another rabbit home today.

      • 8 weeks of age is perfect. Actually, up to 12 is really easy. Beyond that, it takes quite a bit of time and work. A feral kitten at 4-6 months takes more time to domesticate than they have lived.

  7. It’s just as well there are feral cats really, because when the human race wipes itself out, most domesticated cats will die out too, unable to look after themselves. Imagine the strictly indoor cats who have never been outside in their lives, how could they cope?
    Declawed cats will stand no chance at all!
    At least indoor/outdoor cats will have a chance, although they will have a struggle to survive.
    Feral cats will ensure that small felines still inhabit the world but I just hope humans don’t evolve again and think they rule all other species because history will just repeat itself 🙁

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