International Society For Endangered Cats

A Voice For The Wild Cats of the World

A thought about domestic cats

Cat difficultiesI know this blog is about wild cats, but here’s a thought about the local team – domestic cats.

A while back, I was watching a show about dogs and how they developed from wolves into the sometimes wildly different breeds that now exist. The show postulated that people bred the tamest of the ‘tamed’ wolves to each other, until they became other than wolves – dogs. Then they bred the dogs – a tamed wolf – and got all sorts of different looks. The show claimed that breeding for a ‘tame’ gene is what caused the canine genome to become elastic enough to create all the new subspecies of dog.

Keep in mind, however, all the stories about how many breeds of purebred dogs are now showing major genetic issues; hip dysplasia, sterility, and more.

People have been doing this with cats for some time. Humans have seen the change from domesticated wild cats to just ‘cats’; and now, to all sorts of special breeds like Siamese, Burman, Ragdoll, Spinx, etc. And most of these ‘new’ breeds are just that – relatively new (1 – 2 centuries old), although I know some like the Siamese are older. But does the recent proliferation of domestic cat breeds mean that cats are starting to show the same sort of genetic elasticity that dogs have already gone through? Some species of domestic cats even demonstrate positive anti-survival instincts (like the Ragdoll). Have we bred for tameness? And have we bred wisely?

It’s all very recent and due to human intervention in feline breeding. Most of these new breeds are accidental (a genetic abnormality, like curly hair – or no hair at all) which humans then breed to become dominant – or at least, recurring. If breeding for tameness leads to new breeds, but over time inbreeding of these new breeds causes the development of genetic issues, are all the new types of domestic cats good or bad for the species? I’ll grant you that this takes time, probably centuries, but still….

It shows how humans are, or have chosen to become, an evolutionary effect/cause. Goodness knows, the dodo would certainly think so – that is, if they were still around. So would most breeds of modern food animals. The question that disturbs me is “Are we a good effect” or “Are we a bad effect”, especially when you consider all the new diseases and abnormalities showing up in our food animals (swine flu, mad cow, etc.)

It’s just something I think about sometimes.

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3 responses to “A thought about domestic cats

  1. Lauri October 7, 2012 at 3:38 am

    Interesting and definitely worth pondering.
    However, I do know that even before humans there have been countless mass extinctions.
    And wild deer get a form of Mad Cow, where the prions overwhelm the brain. The wild Tasmanian Devil is threatened by disease….now I can’t bring it to mind…is it a cancerous tumor that occurs on the face? Or was it fungal. Anyway, my point is that viruses and diseases have always been around and mutating. So, while our genetic meddling definitely increases some problems…hip dysplasia, epilepsy….oh, many many problems, the wild critters have their share of problems, too.

    Humans definitely do need to be mindful of what we breed for, so that we become more often a “good effect” than a bad one.
    Interesting post!

  2. Danice October 7, 2012 at 6:57 pm

    Yeah, sometimes I also wonder if modern breeding for specific traits is always a good thing. Are we really keeping the animal’s best interests and health in mind, or just “creating” an animal with traits that we want.

  3. Animal Advocate November 27, 2012 at 1:37 am

    Another issue to be concerned about is the damage to all domestic cats from improper feeding. Pottenger’s cat study suggests poor diet can cause genetic damage to future generations of cats (could be true for humans as well). I’m not into owning purebreds myself and am not a breeder, but I have seen reports from breeders who feed their cats raw food instead of processed plant-based, water-depleted stuff (I can’t call it food). They note that when they switched from commercial diets, their cats were healthier and this tended to improve with every generation; they had fewer dental issues and less chance of developing diseases.

    I have no idea if cat breeders will be able to maintain breeds that are over-bred, but domestic cat owners need to do their homework and get more info from reliable non commercial sources if they want their own pets to be as healthy as possible, pure-bred or not.

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