Why the cat is not “man’s best friend”

Rosie as a puppy (Photo: LB/notesfromafrica)

Sometimes I watch our dog, and admire the simplicity of a dog’s life.  Ours basically requires four things: food, regular walks, daily play sessions (plural) and lots of naps. If all these things happen during a day, she’s a had a good day. Of course she relies on her human family to provide the first three. Our cat has pretty much the same needs, except for substituting the walk with a warm lap to sleep on, and a chin/back rub.

So just when did cats and dogs train us to accommodate them so well? In the June 2009 edition Scientific American,  there was an article on The Evolution of House Cats. In this article they made a couple of points.

Cats did not contribute towards human survival. Unlike other domesticated animals which provided milk, meat, wool/leather or labour. Oh okay, I know, cats do catch mice and keep down the rodent population. But it seems they do it for themselves, rather than to benefit us!

The traditional theory was that the Ancient Egyptians were the first to domesticate cats around 3 600 years ago. Recent genetic and archaeological research suggests this happened far early in fact (around 10 000 years ago) in an area known as the Fertile Crescent, where it can be associated with the beginnings of agriculture. And maybe it wasn’t humans who domesticated the cats, but the other way around. Cats found us to be very good sources of food and shelter, and latched onto us. I think those of us who have had a stray cat walk into our homes, and decide to stay, can believe this theory!

Scientists have discovered a similar pattern regarding dogs.  Dogs, the descendants of wolves, were domesticated some 12 000 – 14 000 years ago.  With DNA analysis and archaeological findings showing that East Asia was probably the area where this first occurred. This week German scientists claimed they have identified the world’s oldest (long dead) dog – or at least its bones.

Unlike with cats though, dogs actually had a job to do in Stone Age culture. They helped humans hunt and provided protection. And they could also be harnessed as draft animals – as in ice sleds.  This mutual sharing of food, shelter, survival and play resulted in the “man’s best friend” label. Let’s face it, dogs are just far more useful to man.

Of course it could all just be down to the old saying that dogs think we are gods (because we provide for them) and cats think they are gods (because we serve them)!


Tags: , , , , , , ,

Categories: Nature/Environment, Science/Technology


I live on the Southern coast of South Africa, and write about the things that interest, amuse or inspire me. You can find me at https://notesfromafrica.wordpress.com and http://southerncape.wordpress.com (my photoblog)


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7 Comments on “Why the cat is not “man’s best friend””

  1. Bron de Vine
    August 4, 2010 at 10:26 am #

    As a “cat person”, I must point out that cats DO serve a useful purpose. They act as good examples to children: regular naps, balanced meals, good personal hygiene, proper posture and – not least – self-respect and excellent prioritisation. Yes, yes, dogs are utilitarian, but they are also obsequious, weak-willed and dirty (rolling in fish heads and dung – I ask you!).

  2. August 4, 2010 at 11:06 am #

    Thank you for your observations, but is just wanting to eat meat a “balanced diet”? Isn’t it a little like children just wanting to eat their pudding?!

  3. August 4, 2010 at 1:41 pm #

    Nice post!

    Cat’s have this ‘playing it cool’ thing down pat. My cat greets me when I come home (okay, sometimes I have to ask really nice), doesn’t jump up against me (the closest thing to that is when she rubs some of her hair off on me), waits patiently for me to give her food (no annoying barking) and snoozes on my lap as soon as I park myself in front of the TV.
    That’s what I call a good pet-friend 🙂

    I like dogs too, but they demand so much attention.

  4. August 7, 2010 at 12:58 pm #

    I’m afraid I’m totally a 100% dog person. Cats do nothing for me though we did have a cat when I was growing up, I didn’t ‘enjoy’ it.

    I love the attention I get back from my dogs and playing with them is fun. (Can you tell my kids are grown up now)?

    • August 7, 2010 at 1:27 pm #

      I was a “cat person” UNTIL we got our first Staffie. They’re such wonderful dogs.

  5. Dave Joubert
    August 10, 2010 at 5:10 pm #

    Well, the cats did perform a function, they ate the mice and rats associated with the production of grains. Your dog looks beautiful, any relatives needing a home? (the dog’s relatives that is)

    • August 10, 2010 at 10:07 pm #

      The cats did perform a function, but more as an unintended consequence. They weren’t trying to help or please us!

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