Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Dog and Cat History

Dogs and cats are the two animals who have shared our homes for the longest time. They have very different histories, and they see the world in very different ways. Dogs, it is been said, see themselves as one of us, but cats see us as one of them.

Man started domesticating the dog’s wolf ancestors at least 15,000 years ago, and, as pack animals, they responded to training from their new human pack leaders. Cats, according to recent studies, chose to live with humans and in effect domesticated themselves. When humans began growing grain in the Middle East around 10,000 years ago, their stores of wheat attracted rats and mice. Wild cats found a ready food source and moved in. Since there was food, it was comfortable, and they were protected from other predators, they stuck around. Because it suited the humans to have the rodent problem solved, they let the cats stay. The earliest known domestic cat is a kitten discovered in Cyprus that was buried with its owner 9,500 years ago.

Cats have done well. They spread across Europe, Asia, and Africa and came with Europeans to the Americas. In the USA today, almost half of domestic cats live in a household where there is also a dog. So it is pretty important that they are able to get along.

Dogs and cats have become so much a part of our domestic scene that we sometimes forget how much of their DNA they share with their wild ancestors. Cats—like their big relatives, lions and tigers—are among the most effective hunters on the planet. One reason is that for cats, hunting was always a matter of life and death because they need meat to survive. Dogs, on the other hand, evolved to be able to supplement meat with plant matter when they could not find prey.

To understand a cat, it is important to understand it first as a hunter.

Physically, cats evolved as formidable hunters. They have extra vertebrae, which enable them to be flexible; sharp teeth that can deliver a fatal neck bite to prey; retractable claws, which help them to move while leaving almost no track; and their eyes can see in one-sixth the light a human needs.

Psychologically, too, the cat is first and foremost a hunter; that dictates much of its behavior. The games kittens play are hunting exercises, and the urge cats have to pounce from a perch, the stealthy, deliberate way they move, and the ways they mark and “own” territory are all rooted in their hunting DNA. Cats are much less likely to act impulsively than dogs—stalking an object cautiously, as if it were prey. And although many people think of cats as solitary creatures, the decision to be part of a group or not is decided by the availability of prey.

Are dogs and cats born to fight with each other—or can they get along peacefully?

Here is a cute video of a dog and cat best friends.

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