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How Were Cats Domesticated?

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iStock

House cats share 95.6 percent of their DNA with tigers, but despite how adorable they can be, most people probably wouldn't want the latter as a pet. While big cats and our furry friends have several other things in common, one of the main differences is that many years ago, people successfully domesticated Felis catus. But how did it happen?

To understand how cats became pets, you have to understand what it means for a species to be domesticated. In scientist and author Jared Diamond's 1997 book Guns, Germs, and Steel, he lists failed attempts at domesticating zebras in 19th century South Africa, gazelles in the Fertile Crescent, grizzly cubs in Japan, and cheetahs in India. “Of the world’s 148 big wild terrestrial herbivorous mammals—the candidates for domestication," he writes, "only 14 passed the test.”

According to Diamond, there are six criteria for successful domestication: the animals must be easy to feed; they must grow and mature at a rate that makes economic sense; they have to breed well in captivity to keep the population going; they have to be generally nice animals; they can’t be prone to freak outs; and the social structure of the species has to be strong. Thousands of years ago, cats hit every mark for people looking to make them pets, though when that happened exactly is still a point of contention.

According to Smithsonian, cat remains have not made their domestication timeline any clearer, because house cats and wildcats have similar skeletons. Archaeologists have found evidence that suggests that cats in Cyprus were domesticated around 9500 years ago, long before the love affair with cats began in Ancient Egypt. A separate study and genetic analysis suggested that domestication of the animals began closer to 12,000 years ago. A theory about these wildcat ancestors, according to Stephen O'Brien of the National Cancer Institute in Frederick, Maryland, is that they “just sort of domesticated themselves.” O’Brien said that one of the cat species had a “genetic variance” that made the animals approach humans and hang around, while others were likely captured so that they could hunt mice and other pests for farmers.

Unfortunately, because cat domestication is believed to have started so long ago, history doesn't offer written manuals that explain every step of the process. By bringing the cats in as rodent killers, early domesticators may have given them certain amenities (like warmth and food) that persuaded the cats to stay. Over the course of time, that mutual relationship led to the breeding of slightly tamer cats than their cousins in the wild, though some would argue that even the house cats of today aren't fully domesticated.

Smithsonian Institution archaeologist Melinda Zeder tells The New Yorker that it’s the mutual relationship that makes cats the “ultimate domesticate.” But the domestication process didn't equal full subservience on the part of the felines. “I think what confuses people about cats is that they still carry some of the more aloof behaviors of their solitary wild progenitors,” Zeder said. “Sometimes they don’t give a damn about you, but they are very much part of your niche. Cats have us do everything for them. We clean their litter, stroke them, admire them, but unlike dogs they do not have to constantly please and satisfy our needs." Makes you wonder—who's domesticating whom?

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Smart Shopping
15 Funny Novelty Toys For Pets
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iStock

Want to get your pet a toy that shares your interests? These cute and amusing novelty creations will provide your dog or cat (and you) with plenty of entertainment, and your human friends will appreciate their strong pun game. And, they're great inspiration for funny Instagram photos.

1. STARBARKS COFFEE; $12

Starbarks Coffee DogToy
Amazon

If your dog loves going to Starbucks for a puppuccino, order a grande Starbarks Frenchie Roast so they can get their fix every day.

Find It: Amazon

2. EXCALIGRRR SWORD; $14

ExcaliGRRR Sword dog toy
BarkShop

This chew toy is worth it just to repeat the "Knights of the Hound Table" and "King Arfur" jokes that BarkShop suggests.

Find It: BarkShop

3. THE BARK POST; $10

newspaper dog toy
BarkShop

Did you know that dogs prefer print media? After all, you can't shred the internet. This newspaper toy is printed with real dog articles from BarkShop's blog, BarkPost.

Find It: BarkShop

4. CAT NIP TEA BAG; $4

cat nip tea bag toy
Etsy

If your ideal Sunday involves lounging on the couch with a good book, a cup of tea, and your cat at your feet, get your kitten its very own tea bag. This handmade toy is filled with organic cat nip and comes in four different ribbon patterns.

Find It: Etsy

5. LICK-CROIX BARKLING WATER; $14

LaCroix dog toy
GlamourMutt

If your dog loves to ride in your cart while you shop at Whole Foods, get him his own can of LaCroix-inspired Lick-Croix Barkling Water (Pamplemutt flavor, of course). Cheers!

Find It: GlamourMutt

6. HUMUNGA TONGUE; $11

Humunga Tongue dog toy
Amazon

This giant tongue with a ball on the end will make for tons of silly photos. Just make sure you buy the right size for your pooch.

Find It: Amazon

7. DOGGO DOGGO BILLS, Y'ALL; $8

stack of bills dog toy
BarkShop

Have you already spoiled your dog with every fancy bed, jacket, and toy imaginable? Maybe with a stack of money, they can learn to finance their own doggo lifestyle. In addition to squeaking, the toy crinkles just like crisp dollar bills.

Find It: BarkShop

8. RUCKSACK; $10

Rucksack dog toy
BarkShop

Does your pup love the great outdoors? This rucksack is perfect for his travels around the yard—just don't let him chase any cars while carrying it!

Find It: BarkShop

9. BOOM BOX; $11

boom box dog toy
BarkShop

When your dog picks up this boom box, he'll look like he's ready to party—or make a grand romantic gesture à la Lloyd Dobler in Say Anything.

Find It: BarkShop

10. CHEWY VUITON HANDBAG; $10

Chewy Vuiton dog toy
Amazon

This Chewy Vuiton purse is perfect for any fashionable doggies, even if they're named Gucci, Prada, or Dolce.

Find It: Amazon

11. TAKEOUT DUMPLINGS; $16

Dog with plush dumpling toys
BarkShop

If your fur baby begs for a bite every time you order in, get them their own "meal" of plush dumplings, complete with a Chinese takeout box replica.

Find It: BarkShop

12. IBONE; $17

iBone Plush Dog Toy
Amazon

Does your dog feel left out when you're Snapchatting or playing Candy Crush? Get him his own "iBone," so you can each stare at your phones in peace.

Find It: Amazon

13. VANDERPUMP SANGRIA; $17

Vanderpump sangria dog toy
GlamourMutt

It's not drinking alone if your dog is drinking with you! Get your overly pampered pooch a bottle of Lisa Vanderpump-branded sangria in pink or red, and settle in for a night of looking for Giggy or Rumpy Pumpy appearances on RHOBH or Vanderpump Rules.

Find It: GlamourMutt

14. CATNIP BANANA PEEL; $7

Your kitty will be tripping all over itself to get ahold of this organic catnip-filled banana peel. And perhaps it can serve as a reminder to increase your own daily fruit intake.

Find It: Etsy

15. ERNESTO THE FISH TACO; FROM $10

fish taco dog toy
BarkShop

Not all beaches allow dogs to bask in the sun, but that shouldn't stop your pup from enjoying a giant fish taco.

Find It: BarkShop

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Catio Spaces
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Animals
A 'Catio' Gives Your Indoor Cat a Taste of Nature
Catio Spaces
Catio Spaces

Cats usually fall into one of two categories: outdoor or indoor. Now, a company based in Seattle is working to erase the boundaries between these groups. As PureWow reports, Catio Spaces sells plans for outdoor enclosures that allow your feline companions to enjoy being in nature without wandering too far from home.

Each Catio is designed to be made from a wooden frame, escape-proof wiring, and cedar shelves for cats to lounge on. The boxes can attach to a window or door leading outside, allowing your cat to wander in and out without putting itself in harm's way (or posing a threat to wildlife).

"Cats naturally want to be outside where they can breathe fresh air and experience the sights, sounds and stimulation of the natural world," the Catio Spaces website reads. "A catio, an outdoor cat enclosure or 'cat patio,' is the purrfect solution to solve the indoor/outdoor dilemma."

Plans for DIY catios you can assemble at home range in price from $40 to $70 (materials not included). You can order and download yours today, with 10 percent of your purchase price going to an animal welfare organization.

Patio for cats.
Catio Spaces

Cats in cat patio.
Catio Spaces

[h/t PureWow]

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