Posted by Pets Best on 2/23/2006 in Scratching Post Articles
Did you know that our domestic feline friends are believed to be direct descendents of the African wild cat and that cats were domesticated about 5000 years ago! During this time period mankind had began to settle down in villages and abandon the nomadic lifestyle, when vermin were began to become a nuisance with mountains of stored grain, fruits and vegetables. Canines were already mans companion but were no help in protecting stored food since they would devour the food, a carnivore was needed and the domestication of the cat began.
This life changing event took place in what was the upper region of Egypt and the Pharaoh, considered a king god, named all the cats demi- gods, half mortal and half god. This created cats being ranked higher up in society then humans. If a house was on fire cats were saved first, if a human killed a cat it was punishable by death. Once a cat passed away a priest had to determine if it was a natural death, and the towns people would endure a ritualistic mourning process, going so far as to even shave their eyebrows and beat on their chest. Of course the cat was mummified and today more cat mummies have been discovered then human mummies. Furthermore cats were able to spread all over the world by sailors smuggling cats out of Egypt and were even traded as highly valued treasures due to their ability to control vermin.
Over the years cats and humans have had a love for each other as well as hatred. The dislike for the cat is partially responsible for the widespread outbreak of the bubonic plague during the 14th century. The plague is a bacterial disease of rodents spread by fleas. Signs include swollen lymph nodes, painful lumps, fever, headache, chills, and extreme tiredness. The disease is still present today but the invention of the antibiotic has drastically lowered the mortality rate. During this time period cats were disliked and a great majority were killed leading to an overpopulation of rodents. As the disease spread even more cats were destroyed since they were believed to be associated with Satan and were partially blamed for the massive amount of deaths. As more cats were killed the number of rodents grew creating a massive epidemic. Once the cause of the disease was discovered cats were again held in high regard and loved by humans.
The cat was again persecuted and associated with Satan during the middle ages. Cats typically were companions of elderly single woman who could be considered witches. Older woman during this time were considered useless since their bodies prohibited hard physical labor and childbearing. If the year was bad for crops it was believed a witch was the culprit and a witch hunt would take place. In many cases the older woman and her cat were tortured and killed together, some would be drowned, hung or even burnt to death. It was even believed at this time that sealing live cats into the walls of buildings would bring good luck.
Cats are complex solitary mammals that are motivated by their survival needs. They are quite talented at becoming close with humans and part of the household as well as reverting back to their wild nature when humans decide they no longer adore felines. Cats generally avoid encounters with strangers but if an encounter arises they will convey messages with the use of body language and some vocalizations. Slight changes in body position can send broad messages to another feline. An aggressive cat will spit, hiss, growl, swat, arch the back, swing tail, and even flatten the ears. If the feline is feeling confident and aggressive most likely the cat will hold the tail straight up, narrow the pupils, perk the ears up and may even prance sideways to appear larger, and might try to pounce the other animal. If the cat is feeling fearful it will generally flee the scene, if it isn’t too afraid it may freeze in place, and may even lose control over the bladder. A happy cat typically purrs, blinks slowly, and partially closes the eyes. The feline is known to be one of the most sensual of all mammals, with terrific eyesight, hearing, smell and with a great many taste and touch receptors. Whiskers can actually be a great tool to tell a cat what the environment is like. They are used to aid in navigation as well as sensation; it is thought they can even pick up on air currents. Whiskers are also used to convey messages, if the whiskers are held flat against the face the feline is most likely defensive or aggressive, if the whiskers are forward the feline is most likely friendly and inquisitive. Compared with humans felines are a quite species, but if you watch them closely you can probably catch a cat communicating with the use of the body.
The domestic cat has come a long ways over the years evolving into quite a unique creature. The cat has been a member of our household as well as persecuted by man. Cats have become a social creature that still have many wild traits allowing them to enjoy the comforts of a home and still be able to survive as a feral cat.
Sources: animalplanent.com, wikipedia.org, HSUS.org, cdc.gov, wikipedia.com; about.com