Cats Aren’t Really Domesticated

“We own a dog—he is with us as a slave and inferior because we wish him to be. But we entertain a cat—he adorns our hearth as a guest, fellow-lodger, and equal because he wishes to be there.” —H.P. Lovecraft, “Cats and Dogs”

In A Nutshell

Ask anyone who doesn’t like cats and you’ll hear them testify that they’re standoffish, only occasionally sociable, and would be absolutely fine with digging into us for a meal should we die in our sleep. While others swear that cuddly little Fluffy would never do that, it turns out that there are only a few genes that separate Fluffy from the king of the jungle. There are about 13, to be more precise, and it’s only the genes that govern things like fear and docility that have changed. The rest of the house cat is still a wild cat, and researchers are now saying that at best, they’re only semi-domesticated.

The Whole Bushel

When it comes to the age old question of cats vs. dogs, there are some very distinct and well-established views on who makes the better companion. Critics of cats often describe them as aloof, unpredictable creatures that merely tolerate our presence for their convenience. Well, it turns out that they may actually be more duplicitous than even their harshest critics have given them credit for. According to researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine, they’re not even actually domesticated.

They’re just letting us think they are.

Cats have been living with and alongside humans for 9,000 years. In those 9,000 years, though, they’ve retained most of their genetic makeup. Researchers mapped out the DNA of a domestic cat named Cinnamon and compared it with the DNA of humans, dogs, and wild cats. And there’s not that much difference at all between the genetic makeup of our house cats and their wild cousins.

In fact, they found that over 9,000 years of supposed domestication, there’s only a difference of 13 genes between the cats that lounge at the foot of the bed at night and the ones that we see at the zoo.

When it comes to most genes, cats remain the same as they were in the wild. They’ve kept all the same senses and abilities, they’ve kept the same meat-based diets, and the digestive systems to cope with being a carnivore. Because they’re still mainly carnivores and they’re still equipped to be able to hunt and find their own food, they don’t actually need us.

While dogs have been bred over generations and generations to accent certain traits and get rid of others, cats have only been bred into distinct breeds for the last 200 years or so. That means that dogs have had thousands and thousands of years to become more dependent on us for their survival, while cats . . . 

Cats really do just tolerate us.

The difference in the genes between wild cats and our household companions are, obviously, cosmetic ones. They’re in the colors and patterns, they’re in the genes that determine the structure of their faces, and they’re in genes for docility. This goes hand in hand with how we think we domesticated the cat.

The theory says that humans generally realized cats were useful for keeping pests away from homes and food. Cats would kill rats and the like, and they’d be rewarded for it. But rather than actually domesticating the animals, we were just encouraging a natural behavior in the cats that were most inclined not to be afraid of us.

We succeeded in selecting the cats that were genetically more docile, friendlier, and more accepting of a human presence, but we absolutely didn’t domesticate them. We didn’t breed out the traits that might have made them as unmanageable as many people think that they can be today. We still wanted them to be able to hunt, to catch mice, and to patrol our fields, our crops, and our barns. What makes them useful is what makes them independent, and that goes for all of the estimated 600 million “domesticated” cats in the world.

They also continue to breed with wild cats, helping to keep their wild genes running through the population. The result is a constant companion that really just keeps us around because we have thumbs that can open and navigate the complications of the treat packages making them, at best, only semi-domesticated.

Show Me The Proof

The Independent: Why cats will probably never be as domesticated as dogs
The Atlantic: Why You Shouldn’t Trust Your Cat
LA Times: Semi-domesticated? House cats not far removed from wild, genome shows

  • Clyde Barrow

    Cats rule, dogs drool.

    • The Rainbow Unicorn

      Cats rule the wild.
      Dogs rule everything else.
      Cats aren’t domesticated.
      Dogs are.

  • Hillyard

    Dogs win.

    • minakisora

      Nope too

      • Idiot Inside, Moron Outside

        Cats are evil vile little creatures and so is anyone who dotes on them.

  • Joseph

    That was boring and pointless. I’ll never get that 4 minutes back. Cats are as domesticated as dogs.

    • minakisora

      Nope.

    • The Rainbow Unicorn

      Nope indeed.

    • Joseph Gomes

      Taming and domestication is not same. You can also tame a lynx and it will be same as a domestic cat. Cat’s don’t obey your orders and only follow certain commands to make sure it’s not kept starving or kicked out. That is not domestication

  • Idiot Inside, Moron Outside

    A dog can eat a house cat, a house cat can scratch and bite a dog. Dogs win everytime.

    • minakisora

      Nope

    • Stalemate

      Using that logic, I can kill and eat both.

    • The Rainbow Unicorn

      I’m all for Dogs, but… seriously? Dogs can barely walk past Cats. I have an entire theory as to why.

  • OsamabinBush

    ..

  • Gabriel Lemming

    Cat’s can take a walk. They shit where they want to, piss where they want to. Basically do whatever the fuck they want even though they are fully aware of their disobedience. Yeah, they’re fuckin’ disgusting animals.

    • Stalemate

      I have never had a cat defecate or urinate anywhere but in its litterbox, except for one who was sick, even at a very young age once they were shown where to go.

      On the other hand, dogs will take days (if not weeks) to learn not to poop/pee indoors.

      By any chance, was the cat you’re referring to barking at any point?

    • beck

      Cats bury their shit.
      Dogs shit anywhere & everywhere.
      How many times have you stepped on catshit? & how many times have you stepped on dogshit?

      • Gabriel Lemming

        I’ve stepped in cat shit as often as dog shit. Yes, cat’s bury their shit. In your garden, in your flower bed and in your child’s play area. Nothing better than grabbing a handful of cat shit while harvesting your crops.

  • jim

    my cousin had a cat that would hunt dogs
    all the local dogs would run when they saw him
    and that includes labs and shepherds

    • The Rainbow Unicorn

      Poor Dogs.

  • K8

    Being what animal is better shouldn’t be an arguement. Whether you think cats are better than dogs and vice versa…It’s just a matter of personal preference and respecting that preference.

    I do prefer cats over dogs. Doesn’t mean cats are better. I just prefer cats.

    • The Rainbow Unicorn

      I agree, but Cats aren’t domesticated, so you shouldn’t torture them into being pets.

      • K8

        So? The issue here is a matter of choice. Whether you like a dog or a cat. No reason to argue about what pet is better.

        • The Rainbow Unicorn

          Yeah, but you’re being mean to Cats when you trap them in your homes because YOU want to. They’re wild animals! They don’t WANT to be pets!

        • The Rainbow Unicorn

          Yeah, but you’re being mean to Cats when you trap them in your homes because YOU want to. They’re wild animals! They don’t WANT to be pets!

          • K8

            Who says anything about trapping cats inside homes?!

  • looklook

    Hey, I have one solution for your problem: LITTERBOX

    Based on your story, it doesn’t sound like you have one. Anyway, I’m interested to know what happened to Larry. Whatever it is, I hope he doesn’t have to pay the price for your stupidity. Both dogs and cats rule, and both can be a pain in the ass at times. But having a(n almost) wild fucking animal interacting with me, headbutting me for some petting and jump so that it can hitch a ride on my shoulder is kinda fucking awesome though.

    • Gabriel Lemming

      Surprisingly I do own a litterbox which is cleaned daily and swapped out at least twice a week. At the moment, Big Lar is camped out in a shoe box on the living room floor. Why? Because he likes to sleep in shoe boxes as well as our other cat Melvin does. If you’re implying that I abuse my pets you’re wrong. All four of our pets are spoiled beyond belief and eat top notch dry and canned food and are up to date on all vaccinations. I just happen to prefer dogs over cats and am retardedly curious as to why anybody even gives a fuck about my opinion and feels the need insult me based on my preference. It sounds like you have some issues you need to work out. If you dealt with them, you might be a happier person. Good luck with that and have a swell life!

  • The Rainbow Unicorn

    True. Cats are wild animals, and Dogs can be, too.
    But here’s the difference: Dogs are Domesticated. Cats are pure wild.