From surviving in the desert to our living room – by Cat Coach Julie
I often talk about the fact that all our cats are programmed the same, whether they have white long hair with green eyes or ‘Sheba’ fur (like in the Sheba commercial), or are a traditional tiger kitten. They all have the same instincts and expectations of their environment. It’s not because cats were born in a pedigree litter, that they don’t want to hunt outside, or because they were born on the street, that they don’t prefer to sleep inside.
Each cat deserves to be looked at individually in terms of socialisation (the environment that that your cat expects and is used to), character (high/low hunting instinct, self-confident/shy, etc) and personal motivation and expectations. But we must not forget that they’re programmed the same.
Julie Houtmeyers is a vet and graduated as Cat Coach in my Academy and started her own cat consulting business named ‘Cat Coach Julie’.
Today she will tell you more about the origin of the cat and how our cats are much less different from their ancestors than we think!
From surving in the desert …
Felis silvestris lybica, that’s the beautiful Latin name for the ancestor of our domestic cat. Or easier said: the North African Wildcat. This cat lived and still lives in northern Africa and the Middle East. Often in desert areas and other rugged regions where there is not enough food to live in groups.
So it is a solitary and highly territorial animal, which of course has a social attitude and looks for conspecifics during the mating season. Especially at dusk and at night, small prey such as rodents, birds, reptiles and insects are hunted.
Just to give you an idea: a 4 kg cat needs 8-10 mice a day to survive, so you can imagine that it takes a lot of time to hunt. And if you’re on your own, you’d better be careful and avoid conflicts.
The felis sylvestris lybica communicates mainly by means of scents (mewing is of little use in a vast desert) and so it puts scent flags in its territory by headrubbing, scratching and spraying. These are signals to other cats to get out of each other’s way, but also reminders for themselves: “Here I was before, here it was good/ here I have to pay attention or be careful,…”. If she does come close to possible danger, she will choose ‘run and hide’ instead of fighting with the risk of getting hurt.
…to living together in our living room.
The domestication of the wildcat probably started about 10,000 years ago when humans started farming in the Middle East.
The grain harvest was stored and lured rodents … very annoying for people, but for the wild cat an easy way to find lots of prey.
For example, the cat voluntarily started to stay close the human settlements. Humans also saw the advantage of these living ‘mousetraps’ and probably encouraged them and gave them food.
In the end the self-domesticated wildcat came to Europe via Roman ships, crosbred with other feline species on the European continent, et voilà: there was our domestic cat as we know it now, without any genetic selection by humans.
It was not until the 19th century that people started to select feline genetic material, mainly based on external characteristics and this is how the various pedigree cats came alive.
But apart from the fact that our domestic cat, the felis silvestris catus, descends directly from that wild North-African cat. As a result, she still has the same instincts: avoiding conflicts, communication through smells, … and yes, also their hunting instinct.
And we need to make sure she can follow those instincts, which she’s programmed for, by enriching our house and adapting our behaviour so that she can show her natural behaviour as much as possible. Our cat has been through a lot, from idolisation by the Egyptians to being burned by medieval Christians.
And that she has already adapted fantastically to our way of life, we can only have immeasurable respect for that … and now it’s up to us to do something in return!
Love, Anneleen ♡
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