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Expert Q&A

Is it true that we didn’t really domesticate cats, but they domesticated themselves?

Is it true that we didn’t really domesticate cats, but they domesticated themselves?

BY: The Daily Cat experts

The word “domestication” comes from the Latin word “domus,” which means house, so at its root, domestication can refer to making an individual become accustomed to life in or around a human residence. Wild felines, such as the African wildcat, were attracted to grain, rodents and other food sources found near humans when we settled down and left our hunter-gatherer lifestyle. In that respect, cats likely came to us before we came to them.

A unique quality retained by Felis catus, aka house kitties, is their physical similarity to their wild ancestors. Linda Case makes this very important point in her book The Cat: Its Behavior, Nutrition & Health. Consider the physical differences between many dogs and wild wolves. A poodle, for example, looks nothing like a wolf. Many domesticated cats, however, look like mini wildcats. They also retain some of their ancestors’ hunting abilities.

Natural feline beauty, along with the good hunting and companionship skills of cats, made it easy for people to see the value of these animals. There was an incentive for us to keep cats around, so we helped to tame them. Case explains that taming means an animal “has been habituated to human caretakers.” But this process requires some willingness on the cat’s part, so I like to think that cats and humans found and tamed each other.

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