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The History Of The Domestic Cat

There is some confusion about the origins of the domestic cat, with researchers arguing about where and when in time cats were domesticated. Some scientists even argue that cats domesticated themselves. Read on to find out about the different theories.

The First Domesticated Cats

For a long time it was believed that the Egyptians domesticated cats around 4000 years ago. Geographically this makes sense because DNA evidence suggests that modern day domestic cats share a common ancestor with the African wildcat. However in 2004 a nine and a half thousand year old neolithic grave in Cyprus was excavated and revealed the remains of a cat buried with a human, which suggests humans kept cats long before the 4000 year mark.

An ancient Egyptian statue of a cat
An ancient Egyptian statue of a cat

Other studies have suggested that domestication of cats could have started as much as 12,000 years ago when agriculture boomed in the Middle East’s Fertile Crescent (a crescent shaped area of fertile land around Egypt and Syria).

A crescent shaped area of fertile land around Egypt and Syria
A crescent shaped area of fertile land around Egypt and Syria

It is thought that the increased agriculture brought in more vermin and the cats followed. This theory makes sense because even today feral cats will flock to and thrive in areas with a plentiful supply of food, whether that be a restaurant offering scraps or a farm with vermin to hunt.

A Greek cat basking in the sun
A Greek cat basking in the sun

It is believed that domestic cats were brought to Europe around 3000 years ago by Greek and Phoenician traders. Romans valued cats highly for pest control and the Roman Legions would have certainly taken cats with them as they moved through Gaul (modern day France) and eventually Britain.

Cats Reach Britain

Around 1600 years ago the Romans left Britain but many of the cats they owned were left behind. When the Vikings invaded Britain about 1000 years ago it is thought that they took some of the domesticated cats (that the Romans left behind) back to Norway with them.


About 700 years ago things took an unfortunate turn for cats in Britain. It was the middle ages and all of a sudden a suspicion of cats being involved in witchcraft was rife. There was a massacre of cats in Europe with hundreds of thousands being slaughtered. Many people hypothesised that this slaughter of cats allowed the rat population in Europe to boom and so played a great part in increasing the spread of the Bubonic plague from 1346 - 1353.

Cats Reach The New World

By the 1500’s cats had regained their popularity and were about to make another huge leap. New world traders and explorers left Britain and Spain during the 1600’s and 1700’s which lead to the introduction of domestic cats in America.

A lovely young tabby cat with big beautiful green eyes
A lovely young tabby cat with big beautiful green eyes

The Modern Cat

The cat has become so popular that there is now around 8.5 million pet cats in the UK alone. Cats are the most popular pet animal in the world.

A cute cat lying down inside
A cute cat lying down inside

Although more households own a dog, many cat owners show their devotion by being multi cat households. There are also now over a 100 domestic cat breeds with new breeds being constantly developed.

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Janine, 5 April 2020

I'm sure the statement "more households own a dog" does not take into consideration the Islamosphere, which is a huge swath of the world population but is often uncounted in world data studies. In Islam, the dog is considered an unclean animal, so pet dogs are almost never kept. In contrast, the cat is considered clean and pure, and was personally and explicitly endorsed by Muhammad as the ideal pet; he had several cats of his own, and doted on them and sang their praises. Thus many Muslims follow suit. A cat is, in fact, considered so clean by nature that the water from a cat's drinking bowl is labeled as appropriate to use for ritual cleansing of one's face and hands before prayer.

Elías, 12 October 2019

You've got it all wrong. Neither Romans nor Greeks knew of domesticated cats except as something Egyptian people did. Domesticated cats came to Europe from the Vikings, who had had them for a long time, came to them ultimately from Persia, where descendents of Egyptian cats had been kept as pets for a millennia or so. They also left some on the continent of North America, because the Main Coon is a relative of the Norwegian Skaukatt whose common ancestor lived around year 1000.

Susan, 25 July 2019

There's some really interesting information in this post :) One of the reasons I love cats is because they still manage to retain some of their wildness and it really shows in their personality. I love dogs, too, but there's something about the sassy, sometimes apathetic, often stubborn nature of a cat that makes me love them all the more. I didn't realise how absolutely gorgeous Bengal cats were, either. I don't imagine you see many of those sitting in shelters for long.

Nika, 13 April 2019

I learned a lot about cats.

Luke, 12 November 2018

new breeds are constantly being developed?