From Leopard Cat to Companion Animal: There is More Than One Way to Domesticate a Cat

Prionailurus bengalensis By F. Spangenberg – Der Irbis ( [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
I enjoy hanging out with cats and have two feline companions that share my home. They provide entertainment (making me laugh as the cat chases her own tail), companionship (hanging out on the sofa with me), home security (taking down invading mice) and danger (tripping over my own cat—repeatedly). While I don’t think much of how cats evolved to enjoy (tolerate) human companions, I am grateful that my human ancestors and the feline ancestors came to a mutual agreement several thousand years ago. However, questions remain about who the cat ancestors are and when they became companion animals. Modern domesticated cats trace their genetic origins to Felis silvestris lybica found in southwest Asia and northern Africa. However, evidence from cat bones found in Neolithic Chinese villages over a period of 1,500 years suggests there may be more than one feline lineage that was domesticated.


The evidence for felid domestication in China about 5,300 years ago was detailed by Hue et al. in 2014 (1) and described in this blog post, including a smaller skeletal size that compared more closely with modern domestic cats than to wildcats. Vigne et al. sought to trace the origins of the felid remains described by Hue et al. as well as other felid skeletal remains found in two more recent Chinese Neolithic settlements in nearby areas (2). Continue reading “From Leopard Cat to Companion Animal: There is More Than One Way to Domesticate a Cat”

When Did Cats Become Companion Animals?

Is that a mouse? Image source: morgueFile.

I am unabashedly a cat person, heavily influenced, I suspect, by the ever-fluctuating population of cats that roamed the family farm. Most of these outdoor cats were skittish around humans, but sometimes there were friendly female cats with a litter of kittens that were fun to chase, pick up and stroke. While the farm’s clowder of cats would eagerly await table scraps my mom would put out in the evening, there was plenty of opportunity for the felines to hunt vermin around the farm. It is this function—rodent control—that may be the reason that many of us share our homes with cats. One hypothesis to explain the association between cats and humans is rodents were stealing from human grain stores and cats could control rodent populations. However, there was not much data to confirm this hypothesis. Recent archeological evidence from China seems to support this view of cat domestication as reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Continue reading “When Did Cats Become Companion Animals?”