Wheaton cat on concrete licking paw

Cats, like dogs, have evolved alongside us for thousands of years. There are many changes that must take place during the process of domestication, allowing wildcats to become the purr pals we now know. Many feline fanciers wonder how long the domestic cat has shared our homes. You may also wonder about the roles cats played throughout history.

The cat veterinarians at Wheaton Animal Hospital are more than purrfectly happy to answer questions about the history of cats. Let’s take a closer look!

The History of Cats: The Beginning

The domestication of cats was first noted in the Middle East, or Fertile Crescent, sometime between 10-12,000 years ago, similar to dogs. The reason for this was closely linked to the rise in settlement based civilization, moving away from the hunter-gatherer way of life. 

Prior to domestication, there was one wildcat that resulted in the domestic housecat, the North African/Southwest Asian wildcat. Early humans likely observed how adept they were at hunting. 

These skillful hunters naturally reduced the rodent population. Rodents were a problem for these earliest settlers because they raided the grain bins and food that had been harvested. Having cats in their midst, the residents of the Fertile Crescent realized that their food storage would be safe.

The Sacred Cat

In prehistoric depictions and art, cats were revered as Gods, most notably seen in murals, staures, and pottery depicting Bas, a goddess with a feline head. Cats in Egypt were the first to be considered housecats who dwelled within the home and brought good luck and a symbol of status. Shop owners and businesses also kept cats close as a way to keep mice from destroying merchandise.

As the popularity of cats spread across the globe, cats were regarded as nobility in parts of Asia, India, Southern Europe, and the Meditaranean. They were companions to emperors and kings as a show of luxury and status. 

Interestingly, until about 5,000 BC, ferrets were the pet of choice for most rich households. For the first few thousand years of domestication, cats were all striped, rather than spotted or other variations that resulted after centuries of breeding.

Coming to America

As the horrors of the Middle Ages subsided and gave way to the Renaissance, cats were once again held in high esteem. Many cat owners admired them as subjects of art and literature, as well as the protectors of the home from disease carrying rodents and other animals. 

As cities spread across the world through the model Manifest Destiny and colonization, cats stowed aboard ships that eventually sailed to South America and North America, as well as what is now the United States. Some researchers suspect that the cats aboard Christopher Columbus’ vessels were set loose in the wilderness of New England. They continued to expand their population, living on small game and finding shelter in the wilds.

The Modern Meow

It wasn’t until about 60 years ago that we allowed our purr-y friends to take residence in the home. In the United States, Most cat owners took in cats for the same reasons as their earliest ancestors, to hunt mice. How we changed our views as cats as mousers to family members has been largely due to the way we live, far from the old farms and countryside of yore. Through modernity and veterinary medicine, we have become more inclined to view Fluffy as family. Maybe they don’t hold the same mystique as the sacred cats of Egypt, but to us, they are royalty.

Wheaton, IL Cat Veterinarians

Contact us if you would like more information on the history of cats, or to make a veterinarian appointment. We hope you have enjoyed this exploration into the evolution of the domestic cat!