History of Cats - Cat Info Detective

History of Cats

Skye Blake-updated, white background

Greetings all furry history buffs! Skye Blake here… following a trail back in time to see how we wily, independent cats have survived through history. 

Our story is as old as our friends… people. (OK, sometimes they don’t like us very much. Can’t imagine why!)

paw prints coming in from a distance

Who Is Skye Blake?

Skye Blake-updated, white background

Skye Blake, Cat Info Detective, is a curious cat researcher (not a veterinarian or historian) who sniffs out expert, reliable sources about cats, studies their information, then passes it on to you!

Sometimes there’s not enough evidence for easy answers, so Skye gives you all sides, explains the situation as thoroughly and clearly as possible, and links you to experts on each page.

All sources are given at the bottom of each page so you can do more snooping.

Ancestor of Domestic Cats

Let’s start at the very beginning with a brief summary…

tabby cat looking unamused

All house cats descend from the African Wildcat (felis silvestris lybica).

This wild relative still lives in parts of Africa, the Middle East, and western Asia.

Some of us even still look like them, tabby cats in particular.

Egyptian and Other Ancient Cultures

Artwork of Egyptian goddess holding black cat

It’s believed by historians that cats were domesticated around 7500 B.C. in Egypt.

This, however, is just as mysterious as we felines are!

There’s plenty of evidence they were worshipped in Egypt by 3100 B.C.

There are cat statues, mummies, paintings and documents from ancient Egypt exhibiting their belief in the cat god “Mafdet”.

The Greeks and Romans had domestic cats but preferred weasels as pets and mousers. Romans saw cats as a symbol of freedom and liberty.

In the Far East, people valued cats for protecting valuable manuscripts and other documents from rodents.

Medieval Times in Europe

black cat sitting on planter pot

Medieval times were superstitious times in Europe.

A scientist, Hungarian physician Ignaz Semmelweis, discovered the role of cleanliness and hygiene in disease prevention in 1847.

Up to then cleanliness was part of religious rituals signifying purifying body and soul, but not necessarily an important part of daily life.

Because invisible bacteria and viruses were unknown, people looked for visible scapegoats to blame for the spread of deadly diseases.

Cats, especially black ones, became associated with witches as mediums and demons.

People blamed all the ills, diseases, and problems of life in Europe on people deemed witches, especially by the leaders of the Roman Catholic Church.

(This was a good way to get rid of political and religious enemies.)

cat sitting on branch silouhetted against orange moon

Many cats were killed, usually in gruesome ways, because people wanted to ward off “bad spirits”.

Historians believe this, ironically, added to the spread of bubonic plague (“The Black Death”).

Fleas on rats that came off ships going from port to port were spreading the plague because there weren’t enough cats to control the rats.

Even now, some superstitious people associate black cats with “bad luck”, witches, and Halloween.

History of Farmers & Cats- The Eternal Partnership

From the beginning, cats have been a friend to farmers.

Cats provide natural rodent control and help protect grain crops from mice, rats, voles, and other critters.

Without cats, a lot of hard work would be ruined and people would go hungry.

historic mill

Stores of grain are vital for people to survive famines, so cats help make the difference between life and death for their human partners.

Townspeople also have historically needed the services of cats… millers, bakers, even family homes, could easily be overrun by rats and mice.

So the partnership between cats and humans has continued worldwide in many situations.

Changing Times-Modern Day Cats

person petting cat

In modern times, the discovery of bacteria and viruses as the cause of many illnesses has put to rest the idea of blaming cats.

But people are people, so the idea of black cats being evil, witches’ mediums, and bad luck lingers, especially at Halloween.

Did you know some animal shelters won’t adopt out black cats during the month of October because of this?

crouching black cat

My black brethren are also the ones most overlooked in shelters by potential adopters.

The friendship between farmers and cats continues, but it wasn’t until the invention of cat litter in 1947 by H. Edward Lowe (“Clay Cat Litter“) that cats started staying indoors.

We felines have steadily become pets and family members since, and today there are feral cats, farm cats, show cats, and companion cats.

We’ve even become social media stars!

If you’re thirsty for more animal history check this out… “History of Veterinary Medicine

If you’re curious about other crazy cat topics, here are a few to keep you busy…

Cat CultureCat BehaviorHot Cat Topics

Sources

Sources used on this website are either primary or secondary.

Primary sources are always preferable and have the most reliable information because they’re original and directly referenced.

Scientific abstracts and data are good examples of primary sources.

Secondary sources are weaker because they usually consist of opinions or articles that give no sources of their own.

However, sometimes they refer to primary sources.

When I use secondary sources, most are those with some authority, such as historian, veterinarian, or cat behaviorist books and articles.


List of Sources

“A Brief History of House Cats”, by David Zax, Smithsonian Magazine, June 30, 2007

“Cat”, Wikipedia

The Cat in ancient Egypt, illustrated from the collection of cat and other Egyptian figures formed.” by Langton, N. & Langton, M. B. (1940), Cambridge University Press

“The Cat in Ancient Egypt” (Revised ed.), Malek, J., 1997, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press

Cats first befriended humans over 5,300 years ago in China“, by Mikael Angelo Francisco, GMA News, December 18, 2013

“The History of Cats: a Look at Feline Domestication”, by Maura McAndrew, PetMD Editorial, January 19, 2018

How Humans Created Cats“, Following the invention of agriculture, one thing led to another, and ta da: the world’s most popular pet, by Rebecca J. Rosen, December 16, 2013

Ignaz Semmelweis, the doctor who discovered the disease-fighting power of hand-washing in 1847“, by Leslie S. Leighton, Visiting Lecturer of History, Georgia State University, The Conversation, April 14, 2020

“The Near Eastern Origin of Cat Domestication”, by Driscoll, C. A.; Menotti-Raymond, M.; Roca, A. L.; Hupe, K.; Johnson, W. E.; Geffen, E.; Harley, E. H.; Delibes, M.; Pontier, D.; Kitchener, A. C.; Yamaguchi, N.; O’Brien, S. J. & Macdonald, D. W., Science, 2007

Updated April 1, 2024

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