Some websites confidently state that the world’s oldest cat breed is the Egyptian Mau but I disagree with the authors of these websites. Before you decide the world’s oldest cat breed you have to decide what a ‘cat breed’ is. And that, funnily enough, is quite a tricky question. I’ll explain why.
Before about the mid-to-late 1800s there was no cat fancy at all. There was no way to register your beautiful cat with a cat association. So, an Egyptian Mau living in Egypt on the street may have been purebred in the 1700s but there were no breeders who were controlling the process and the cats weren’t recorded or registered by an association. It just happened. Those Egyptian Mau cats were random breeding. They were not being bred artificially. And they were not formally recognised as a cat breed. They would have been recognised as a street cat of a certain type which would have been a spotted tabby with a brownish background. Can we refer to them as a cat breed at that time?
AT THE BASE OF THE PAGE ARE SOME POSTS ABOUT THE BRITISH SHORTHAIR, ONE OF THE OLDEST CAT BREEDS FORMALLY AND IN PRACTICE.
So, on a strict interpretation of what the phrase ‘cat breed’ means, the Egyptian Mau was not a cat breed in those early years before the cat fancy. They were moggies, community cats, feral cats and stray cats etc.. They are still there in Egypt but, formally, the only individual cats of the Egyptian Mau breed are those that have been selectively bred by breeders in the West, primarily in America and Europe. And on that basis we can say that they were first recognised in Europe in 1953. This does not put them in first place. It means that they are not the world’s oldest cat breed using this criteria.
So what is the oldest cat breed on this criteria? It is probably one of the following cat breeds: Abyssinian (accepted date of origin: 1860s), British Shorthair 1870s, Maine Coon 1860s at the earliest, Russian blue late 1800s, Siamese possibly 1871. I am a bit vague because the dates are always a bit vague. No one was taking notes about the start of breeds in the early years.
You can see that all the dates are around the late 1800s which makes sense because I refer to my previous statement which is that before the late 1800s there was no cat fancy and therefore there were no cat associations, no cat shows, no registries and no record of the lineages of the purebred cats.
Before that time there were just some beautiful cats who people decided should become show cats so they selectively bred them into that role. They were recorded in a book organised by the cat associations and so were their offspring and in turn their offspring until you had four generations of the same family of cats that you had a history of, which allowed the associations to be sure that they were dealing with purebred cats. This meant that they were managing the creation of these individual cats and the breeds in general.
Ultimately, a cat breed comes about because of artificial selection rather than random selection. Another phrase for “artificial selection” is selective breeding. That’s when the breeders select the individual cats that should be mated. Their offspring are also selected because they believe that they will also produce beautiful cats which meet the breed standard and in that way they gradually refined the cats and ensured that every breed is distinguished from the others.
As a postscript, if you don’t use the criteria I have used then the world’s oldest “type” of cat which became a domestic cat would probably be one of the following: Egyptian Mau, Siamese, Abyssinian, British Shorthair, Manx, Korat, Japanese bobtail, Burmese, and the Chartreux. You can see there is an overlap. Some breeds shine through as the genuine oldest.
At the opposite end of the spectrum the world’s newest cat breed once again presents a challenge because it depends how recognised the breed is but one such breed might be the Elf cat. I think it is recognised by one registry. This is a hairless cat with ears that curl back. It is a hybrid of a Sphynx cat and an American Curl. This breed is about 10+ years old at the date of this post.
SOME PAGES ON ONE OF THE WORLD’S OLDEST CAT BREEDS, THE BRITISH SHORTHAIR: