History of Cats

The origin and history of the domestic cat is quite interesting. I have four dogs and a love for horses, but cats are extremely special to me, as a person and as a veterinarian. I would like shed some light about where cats came from and I think you will enjoy the story. Domesticated short haired breeds are thought to be descendants of the Caffre Cat (Felis libyca), a species of African wild cat domesticated by the Egyptians as early as 2500BC. The Caffre Cat was transported to Europe by the Crusaders where it interbred with smaller wild cats. The longer haired breeds may have descended from the Asian wildcat (Felis manul). Cats became objects of worship in Egypt because they controlled the rodent populations in grain fields along the Nile River. The Egyptian cat goddess “Bast” or “Bastet” has the body of a woman and the head of a cat and is also the goddess of love and fertility. Cats were so revered in Egypt that they were mummified and buried with their owners or in special cemeteries. Egyptian law restricted the removal of sacred cats, but Phoenician sailors smuggled them out of the country and traded them with other treasures from the Middle East. It is thought that the Romans were the first to bring domesticated cats to the British Isles. On the European continent, cats became valued predators in the mid 14th century when the rat borne plague, the Black Death, struck the population. Although cats were considered useful for the community, most cats were feared and believed to consort with the devil because of their nocturnal habits. The association with witchcraft has been responsible for many acts of cruelty toward cats through the centuries. The first domestic cats in North America arrived with the colonists and were employed to control vermin and eventually played an important part in keeping rats out of the California gold mines. Over the centuries, the cat has remained virtually the same size and has not varied in physical appearance with the exception of breed and color differences. The cat’s skeleton is composed of more than 230 bones (humans have 206) and is very flexible. The pelvis and shoulders are more loosely attached to the spine than other four legged creatures. The front legs are only attached to the cat’s body through muscles. They do not have orthopedic attachments in their shoulders. Two pigments (black and orange) form the basis of all coat colors in the domestic cat. The O (orange) gene determines if a cat’s coat contains black or orange pigment. If the gene is expressed, the cat’s coat is orange. If not, it is black. The expression of both genes can only be seen in females (calico/tortoiseshell). There is a gene that suppresses tabby stripes resulting in a solid colored coat and a solid white hair coat is the result of a gene that suppresses all pigments. Many domestic cat breeds including the Maine Coon, Russian Blue and Siamese began as naturally occurring varieties of domestic cats native to a specific geographic area. Himalayan cats are the result of generations of careful breeding for a desired look. The Havana Brown originated in England as the result of mating between a black domestic shorthaired cat and a seal point Siamese. This breed is unique in that the show standard specifies that the whiskers must be brown to match the hair coat. Blood types in cats are A,B and AB. Most cats in the United States are Type A while in England, France and Australia most cats are type B. Cats typically do not have reactions to blood transfusions unless several transfusions are needed. The cat’s vision is adapted for hunting at night with extensive peripheral vision. The cat’s daylight vision is diminished and they can see movement more easily than detail. Cats are thought to see a limited range of colors. Finally, the cat’s teeth are designed for biting, not chewing and the rough protuberances (papillae) on the tongue are used to rasp meat from bones and for grooming. The next time you see a cat, I hope you appreciate the unique history and qualities of these special creatures.

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