Status of Cats as pets

http://www.straightdope.com/mailbag/mpetcats.html

Incidentally, regarding Doug’s comment about cats as pets, I can’t find the cite right now, but the amount of cats kept as housepets sharply increased in 1947, when Kitty Litter was invented by Ed Lowe. Before that, they were just too stinky too keep in the house. After that, they were on an even footing with dogs, at least.

I have read (Encyclopedia of Cats - Dr. Bruce Fogle) that cats actually were not domesticated by man.
It appears that in Ancient Egypt, as rats and mice were more easily found around fields, houses and villages, those wild cats had a comparative advantage who could easily stand the proximity of humans. So, what differentiates a domestic cat from a wild one (since these are different species) is the innate ability to disconnect the reaction of fleeing/hiding when approached by a human.
Considering the universal presence of domestic cats, compared to the scarcity of wild felines, one should admit that the mutation was a definitely advantageous one!
Breeding is a relatively recent behaviour (XIXth century).

So, in a word, cats domesticated themselves. This explains why cats have remained such an independent pet, compared to dogs for example.

Not by the standard test. Interbreeding of the domestic cat with the Kaffir Cat produces fertile offspring.

Fertile offspring is not a test for species differentiation. It may be used as a negative, but not as a positive. Note that cheetahs are a real problem, breeding-wise. If they are too closely related they may not produce offspring at all!

It’s a nice theory except that I have this observation:

If house cats are truly ‘self-domesticated’ in that they don’t flee humans, then…

Why do many house cats run from stange humans who enter the house?

Why do domesticated cats who have gone feral also run from humans?

Why does your own damned cat also run away from you and hide at times?

Why do wild cats get over their instinct to run/hide from humans who raise and train them?

Cats are as domesticated as human teenagers.

Peace.

And the cat came back, he wouldn’t stay away…

Time to haul out the old tired joke. Cats weren’t domesticated,they hired staff.

The Difference between Dogs and Cats.

The Dog looks up to the Human and thinks,

‘This man gives me shelter. He gives me warmth, protection from my enemies and food. He says kind things to me, and plays with me when I need a companion. He looks after me when I am ill. He must be a God!’

Then the Cat looks at the Human and thinks,

‘This man gives me shelter. He gives me warmth, protection from my enemies and food. He says kind things to me, and plays with me when I need a companion. He looks after me when I am ill. I must be a God!’

An interesting point of similarity between cats and human infants:
when a cat walks, it moves both right legs, then both left legs, and then both right legs again. When an infant crawls, he moves his right leg and arm, then his left leg and arm, and then his right leg and arm again.

When a dog walks, it moves its right front leg and its left rear leg, then its left front leg and its right rear leg, then its right front leg and its left rear leg again. Horses, cows and virtually all other four-legged animals walk in this fashion. I have read that cats are alone aside from camels and giraffes in walking in the fashion that a baby crawls.

About interbreeding - it’s not a bad test, as species definitions go, and is still the standard traditional biology definition. As John W Kennedy noted, the result must be fertile; for example horses and donkeys breed to make mules , which are sterile.

However, it doesn’t go the other way; members of the same species can’t always breed with each other. That comes down to a question of fine detail in genetic compatibility. The remark about cheetahs is irrelevant to species definition - there is a small inbred population; that’s nearly always going to cause problems. Even with dogs you get this - you can’t mate a chihuahua with a great dane and expect live offspring. Often two large purebred dog varieties often can’t breed as the mutations selected for were different and incompatible. Mutually lethal. Similarly, it would be particularly dumb to suggest that an infertile couple weren’t both human! :slight_smile:

ftg, which definition do you prefer? Phylogenetic from the sounds of it. Or do you vote for SMRS? It’s actually a very tricky question. Here’s what google thinks… http://www.google.com/search?q=define:species

While we’re linking, here’s one popular take on the evolution of the cat which seems a bit more reputable than most out there. (It gets hard to web search with all the cat-lovers glurge out there!) http://www.fabcats.org/is53.html

If F. catus and F. lybica diverged only 7,000 years ago, then they probably fall on the difficult margins for being in the same or different species. And there may have been interbreeding with F. sylvestris, too. At these levels of detail the phylogeny stops looking like a tree and looks more iike a directed graph…

Hmm. I thought all cheetahs were clones of each other, ie there is basically no genetic variation at all?

So just how did cats reproduce for all those centuries before they learned how to breed? Were there prehistoric feline artificial insemination clinics around, or what? Ha!

I’d ask for a cite for this, but it is so laughable on it’s face that it’s not worthwhile.

I think elestat clearly meant something different than what he said. :slight_smile:

In horses, this is the difference between ‘pacers’ and ‘trotters’. Trotters move alternate legs at the same time, pacers move both legs on the same side. And in harness racing, pacers are generally able to beat trotters.

And while there seems to be genetic predisposition toward one or the other in various breeding lines of horses, it’s also fairly common to train a horse to either pace or trot. You can even train horses to do both, at the riders’ request.

I know from experience that cats walk “in step”, so to speak, and I’ll take your word that walking in step is rare among quadrupeds, but I’m not so sure about the claim applied to babies. It’s been a while since I watched a baby crawl (too long!), but adult humans exhibit the opposite behaviour, albeit vestigially. When we walk, we typically swing our arms opposite of our legs.

And cajela, a tree is a directed graph. Do you just mean that the lines can sometimes re-converge at this level?

“horses and donkeys breed to make mules”

Strictly speaking, jackasses and mares breed to make mules. Stallions and jennies breed to make hinneys.

A tree is one limited special case of a directed (acyclic) graph. Yes, I mean lines can converge. Hence my use of the more general topology over the specific. Shoulda added “acyclic”. Or just chosen not to be geeky, but hey, it’s my field of geekery. Software designed to evaluate trees won’t work if the taxa aren’t from a tree structure anyway…

Book Recommendation:

The Character of Cats, by Stephen Budiansky (sp?)

prbably the best most science based book on cat behavior yet.