Cats are an extreme outlier among domestic animals

Enlarge / Scientists tracked cat genetics partly by studying the evolution of the “blotched tabby,” pictured here in excruciatingly cute detail. (credit: Anne)

People who live with cats like to joke about how these small fuzzy creatures are still wild, basically training us rather than the other way around. Now a new genetic study of ancient cat DNA reveals that we are basically right. Cats were not domesticated in the same way dogs, cows, pigs, and goats were. They have lived among us, but it wasn’t until very recently that we began to change them.

Unlike dogs, whose bodies and temperaments have transformed radically during the roughly 30,000 years we’ve lived with them, domestic cats are almost identical to their wild counterparts—physically and genetically. House cats also show none of the typical signs of animal domestication, such as infantilization of facial features, decreased tooth size, and docility. Wildcats are neither social nor hierarchical, which also makes them hard to integrate into human communities.

Yet it’s impossible to deny that cats are tame. We know that humans have lived with cats for at least 10,000 years—there’s a 9,500-year-old grave in Cyprus with a cat buried alongside its human, and ancient Egyptian art has a popular motif showing house cats eating fish under chairs. Today, cats still share our homes and food, and for thousands of years they have worked alongside farmers and sailors to eradicate vermin. If we haven’t domesticated cats, what exactly have we done to them?

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Source: Ars Technica – Cats are an extreme outlier among domestic animals

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