16 January 2015

Domestic Cats

No way. Sure, our son’s cat Henry was always a bit rowdy. Didn’t I report that he annihilated a bat in our son’s new student apartment when he wasn’t much more than a kitten, and that when he was introduced to our cat Boss, he went directly for her throat?
 

Henry the Alpha Cat before
the advent of Timothy.
(photo from last year’s
blog post, Pet Update
)
Of course I haven’t forgotten the time Henry slashed my wife’s leg when she was holding Boss out of his reach, or the year of his continual threats to Boss’s existence, or his slamming into the sliding glass door chasing squirrels on the deck, or his launching from my head to capture a flying bug.

OK, I agree that Henry’s refusing the pet sitter entry to our house was extreme. But we don’t really know the details of how he organized a marauding gang of cats to do who knows what when our son and daughter-in-law finally released him from his daily confinement. They said that he always came home. And he got his comeuppance when they got a new kitten, Timothy-the-Relentless.

Henry challenged by Timothy, the new kitten.
(from video youtu.be/8mWd1eYSkSc)
Timothy is like Henry. I suppose most cats could be. Maybe the research finding is true: Cats are only semi-domesticated. Who would have guessed?

Feline Evolution

Welcome back. This recently published cat research is in a paper by 25 investigators from 13 institutions in 5 countries. The study, led by Washington University’s School of Medicine, assembled the complete reference genome of a domestic Abyssinian cat and provided evolutionary comparisons with genomes of wildcats and other mammals, including humans.

Bottom line offered here in the middle: There’s not a heckuva lot of difference between domestic cats and their wild kin. Domestic cats still have many of the same hunting, sensory and digestive genetic adaptations.

Carnivorous animals have highly developed senses for locating prey; and cats, with their wide range of hearing frequencies and visual acuity, stand out among the carnivores. Cats also are able to metabolize hypercarnivorous diets (over 70% meat), rich in protein and in saturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids, which would be a high coronary disease risk for humans.

Human Influence

About the only areas where the investigators found human influence in the domestic cat genome were related to fur color and pattern and to genes thought to be associated with being more docile, i.e., fear-conditioning behavior and stimulus-reward learning.

Reasons postulated for so little human-induced change begin with our relatively short history with cats. Archeological evidence suggests that our interactions with cats began only about 9,000 years ago when agriculture started to take hold. Cats came for the rodents, and farmers rewarded the best mousers with food and eventually much more. Human efforts at cat breeding for desired traits probably didn’t begin more than 200 years ago.

Another major factor in the lack of domestication is continued interbreeding with wildcats. Henry was neutered but lots of domestic cats aren’t.

Wrap Up

So, as anyone who’s ever lived with a cat will advise, if you want a fully domesticated animal other than most humans--one that will love, cherish, obey and maybe even worship you--think about a dog. Dogs started hunting with us about 30,000 years ago and that seems to have worked out. But that’s a different story. Thanks for stopping by.

P.S.

Cat genome study in Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences:
www.pnas.org/content/early/2014/11/05/1410083111.abstract?sid=d951982e-c913-4fe3-9edf-d80fb1f03fc3
Article on study in Los Angeles Times:
www.latimes.com/science/space/la-sci-sn-cat-genome-20141107-story.html

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