Pet Cats Can Be Pretty Wild Too

By Amy Hsueh, Town Cats Volunteer
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Anybody who has ever owned a cat knows that cats cannot be bossed around. Even the friendliest, cuddliest cat in the world comes to you for affection, not vice versa. Cats are aloof, independent free thinkers – and it turns out, there’s good reason for that. Pet cats are, essentially, wild animals.

The Wild Cat

According to a study published by Nature Ecology & Evolution, domesticated cats – our cute, cuddly pets that sleep with us every night – are almost genetically identical to their wildcat counterparts.

There are very few differences in the two species’ DNA: one of the main ones being the iconic tabby stripes of the pet cat. They look and act the same, which is why you can go to the zoo and see the big cats as fascinated with boxes as the calico down the street. It turns out that our pet cats aren’t just being cute when they play with feathers and chase down lasers; they are exhibiting natural wild behaviors.

cats like wildcats

Cats and Humans?

So how did humans come to invite these precious little wild animals into our homes? To perhaps no one’s surprise, humans actually didn’t extend an invitation to our feline friends. No prehistoric human said, “Hey, these cats are adorable. Let’s try to capture them and make them do jobs for us.” No, instead, cats domesticated themselves. When humans began to settle down for the first time, retiring their hunter-gatherer ways for a simple farming life 12,000 years ago, they had to begin storing crops. When they stored crops, however, mice and rats would raid their stores. This bountiful food supply then attracted cats.

cats are wild in box

Human + Cats = Love

The rest is, as they say, history. Humans loved having the cats around because they would control the pest population, and cats loved the easy food access. Because cats only ever had one job, humans never selectively bred them the way we have dogs, who fill a variety of roles in everyday life. Instead, human’s greatest influence on feline evolution is that we might have preferred feeding and caring for the cuter, more docile cats over the meaner ones. Even so, our pet cats today are still very nearly identical to their wildcat counterparts. That’s right, there wasn’t any need to change our furry feline friends one bit. They came to us already as perfect as could be.