Cats and dogs have long been an integral part of many
families. Cats are only second to dogs in popularity as
family pets. But of course, cats haven’t always been the
domesticated household animal that we know today.
It’s difficult to trace the origin of cats, but some scientists believe that the original predecessor of cats was a weasel like animal called Miacis, which inhabited earth about 40 million or 50 million years ago. Actually, Miacis is thought to be the common ancestor of all land-dwelling carnivores, including both cats and dogs.
But apparently the cats were on earth before dogs — millions of years before the first dogs. The first appearance of the prehistoric cats is Smilodon, the saber-toothed cat sometimes called a tiger. Cats were not as easily domesticated as dogs (and I am a good example for that..smile smile). These animals had strong hunting intuition which didn’t easily translate into co-operative instincts. Initially, cats brought their hunting instincts into the home, even attacking small babies. The early domestication of cats occurred primarily in Africa and southeastern Asia.
In early days, cats served many purposes in homes, none of which were decorative. Cats were domesticated for their hunting skills, in the hopes that they would control vermin (rats and mice) in the home, barns and especially in the
valuable grain storage containers. One of the cultures that first seemed to accept, and even revere cats were the ancient Egyptians (ah – the good old days). Of course, the Egyptians used cats to hunt fish and birds, as well as control vermin populations in granaries. But the cat also took on a new place of importance in Egypt’s religion. An off-shoot of the traditional religious movement developed which worshipped cats. The cat goddess Bastet (also identified as Bast of Pasht) was represented with a figurine of a head of a cat. Cats quickly became sacred to the Egyptians; they were well cared for in the family home and once the cat died, its body was mummified and buried in a special cemetery. One cemetery found in the 1800s contained the preserved bodies of more than 300,000 cats. The Egyptian cat is the predecessor of many of our modern day breeds of cat. Although the Egyptians had strict laws prohibiting the export of the sacred cat, other cultures quickly came to appreciate the cat’s rat-catching prowess. Cats were soon smuggled or taken out of Egypt and brought to Greece and Rome, among other parts of Europe.
At the same time, domestic cats were found in India, China, and Japan where they served as pets as well as rodent catchers. Overtime cat’s changed and certain breeds were bred for ideal characteristics: eye color, hair length, marking patterns, etc. These many different varieties of cat can all claim ancestors in the wild, even if today they are mostly used in homes as a cuddly (well, I am cuddly, but don’t tell my folks. I’ll give them about 30 seconds and than I have to run again and do my “chores”), loving pet (oh yes, I sure am loving…or so my mom tells me all the time, even if I don’t want to hear it…purrh, purrh).