Egyptians are believed to be the first people to have domesticated cats more than 4,000 years ago. Cats became invaluable to the Egyptians due to the felines’ incomparable ability to exterminate mice and other rodents, thereby protecting food stores. Cats became so useful that the Egyptians came to regard cats as sacred feline deities, and killing a cat became a crime punishable by death. After death, cats were treated to the same burial rites as people: they were mummified and buried, often in enormous tombs with thousands of other cats.
The Egyptian cat was a large desert cat known today by the scientific name Felis iybicia. The Egyptian cat was eventually brought to Europe by merchant traders who used the cats as mousers on ships and ultimately sold them. Cats became further domesticated in Europe and eventually found their way to America. The scientific name for today’s house cat is Felis domestics. So, although modern house cats and their Egyptian predecessors share a family tree, they reside on distinct genetic branches. The domestic cat is literally a breed apart from its wild ancestors.
Despite the rift between your house cat and its ancestors, today’s domesticated cat is still influenced by the same instinctive behavior that enabled the wild Egyptian cat to survive. Instinctive behavior is the result of millions of years of evolutionary fine tuning, and you can see evidence of that fine-tuning each time you witness your cat hunting a laser pointer or leaping to the top branch of a cat tree. In fact, knowing the instinctive drive behind many of your cat’s behaviors will help you better understand and ultimately care for your cat.
In the pages that follow, you will find information on everything from diet to litter box problems to feral cats. Interestingly, so much of the information on the need for wet food diets or correct litter box placement is derived from knowledge of a cat’s natural instincts. Although domesticated cats no longer roam the African Savannah or hunt in the desert, knowing that their ancestors did is the key to unlocking many of the mysteries of feline behavior.