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Do You Think Cats Are Losing Their Wild Feline Nature?

A blogger says that because they're domesticated, cats are less social and more dependent on us. I’m not so sure about that.

 |  Apr 2nd 2014  |   10 Contributions


According to the latest research, cats have been living with humans for at least 5,000 years. What kind of effect has that had on the feline lifestyle and temperament? Blogger Lilly Sheperd says she believes domestic cats have come to be more like us than they are like their wild relatives. To prove her point, she mentions the changes she sees in the feline personality, diet and relationship style of domesticated cats.

I don’t buy her arguments, and here’s why.

Dependent, or just efficient with the use of their energy and time? Photo CC-BY-SA Shannon, via Flickr

The first point Sheperd makes is that she believes cats have lost their hunting instincts because they have come to depend solely on us as their food source. I don’t know how anyone could really believe this if they’ve played with a cat. Just break out a feather-on-a-string toy and start moving it around like a cat’s natural prey and you’ll see that wide-eyed, butt-wiggling, tail-tip-twitching concentration, followed quickly by an ambush and the “death bite” that their wild cousins deliver to the necks of their prey.

Not only that, but even indoor-only cats hunt when they’re let outside. An indoor cat may not know quite what to do when she catches a mouse, but the instinct is very much there and if she needed to hunt to eat, she'd develop her instinctive hunting skill pretty quickly. I watched my pampered indoor kitties turn into mighty hunters when they had a chance to roam around outdoors at the family homestead.

Even pampered indoor kitties have hunting instincts, as my sweet Sinéad demonstrated repeatedly back in our days on the family homestead.

Sheperd also says she thinks domestic cats’ desire to seek solitude is also a function of their lives with us, because although cats “normally” roam in packs like lions, people who prefer solitary lives are theoretically more likely to own cats. The trouble with this argument is that most wild cats -- leopards and cheetahs, for example -- are solitary hunters, and many domestic cats live in communities. Feral cats tend to form colonies, and if you spend any time in a cage-free cat shelter, you’ll see that the cats form bonds with individuals and groups.

Our little house panthers are not immune to social bonding, either. My cats Thomas and Bella, for example, love to sleep together and groom one another, and they’re not unique among felines. Lots of cat caretakers can bear witness to the fact that even adult cats enjoy spending time with their feline housemates and with the people they love.

Not all wild cats roam in groups. The leopard, for example, is a solitary hunter. By the way, have I mentioned that I think leopards are freaking amazing? Photo: Shutterstock

Cats’ diets have also changed over the millennia to be more like ours, Sheperd says, pointing out the fact that the eating habits of our feline friends are a lot more like ours than they used to be, and some cats are even doing well on vegan diets. First of all, don’t even get me started on cats and vegan diets! The fact that cats’ diets are more like ours is much more about our convenience than it is about cats’ preferences. It’s much easier to offer kibble to your kitty than to feed her a diet that’s natural to her.

Trust me when I say that cats have not forgotten that they’re obligate carnivores. When I give my cats raw chicken necks, they know exactly what to do with them. Even my Siouxsie, who’s missing six teeth, does what comes naturally if raw meat on the bone comes her way. I personally know hundreds of cat caretakers whose cats have been restored to glowing health by eating a species-appropriate diet.

Social bonding with other cats is definitely a thing. Bella and Thomas are best friends and can often be seen snuggling or grooming each other.

As for the feline stubbornness and sense of humor Sheperd talks about? Trust me, if you’re a wild cat, you’ve got to be pretty damn stubborn and strong-willed to keep on hunting for food until you physically can’t do so anymore. I’ve seen a sense of humor in many species of mammals, so I don’t think that’s something cats learned from people, either.

My friend's cat, Pedro, shows off his hunting skills by catching a small toy on a string and delivering the "death bite."

What about you? Do you think cats have become more like us over the millennia they’ve lived with us? Or have we become more like them instead? Share your thoughts in the comments, and let’s talk.

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About JaneA Kelley: Punk-rock cat mom, science nerd, animal shelter volunteer and all-around geek with a passion for bad puns, intelligent conversation, and role-play adventure games. She gratefully and gracefully accepts her status as chief cat slave for her family of feline bloggers, who have been writing their award-winning cat advice blog, Paws and Effect, since 2003.

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