International Cat Day 2023 has just passed. The day gives cat lovers (and haters) the opportunity to reflect on the good (and very bad) side of the cat-human relationship.
International Cat Day was first dedicated as August 8 about 20 years ago. It is a celebration of the special bond between humans and cats. It is alss a clear effort to market to the millions of cat owners. But the good news always comes with the bad and there is no exception when it comes to International Cat Day.
The current thinking is that the house cat (Felis catus) is a direct descendant of the African wildcat (Felis sylvestris lybica).
. Cats are now believed to have “self-domesticated” themselves about 8000 years ago. The African wildcat is among the cats most tolerant or “friendly” to humans.
About 8,000 years ago agriculture began in the Fertile Crescent in the Near East. It is believed that the wildcats began to come around humans to eat rodents and other pests eating stored grain. Their personalities enabled them to ingratiate themselves and rapidly become beloved pets. It must be noted that some experts believe the domestication began at least twice, in Fertile Crescent and elsewhere in greater Asia.
The relationship has been beneficial to both species much of the time. But cats have been both beloved and hideously persecuted. They have been revered in Egypt as godlike. Cats have been caged and tossed into roaring fires. The feline is an enormously popular pet, that is still frequently denied veterinary attention and allowed to wander. “House tigers” are a mainstay of Youtube and still left unguarded for coyotes to eat. People spend billions on toys and food for them. But many still abandon kittens when they are no longer cute.
Being wild animals and prodigious hunters they are a major invasive species in Australia. Several million feral domestic cats are wreaking havoc on Australia’s unique wildlife. Much of it helpless and flightless. Poland has declared them a nuisance. Polish scientishts think millions of birds are killed a year by cats and urge owners to spay and neuter them and keep them inside. In both countries free-roaming or feral cats kill birds and other sometimes endangered wildlife by the millions.
Yet, at least one researcher is using our peculiar bond to study diseases common to both animals in the hope that cats and people can help cure each other. One intriguing avenue of research is food based. Cats and humans share certain diseases that may be amenable to dietary treatment. developing a cat food that reduces the feline incidence could lead to human dietary supplements.