July 7, 2015

The idea that cats are not domesticated animals.

First, you've got to define "domesticated":
For some, it’s as simple as being tame and able to live with people generation after generation, criteria under which cats easily qualify. But others propose more stringent standards: complex genetic and behavioral changes that transform a creature inside out. 
Oh, the real question is: What do you like to think? I'm more interested in people: I can see that some of us, including David Grimm, the author of the linked Slate piece — "Are Cats Really Wild Animals?/Experts clash over whether they count as a domesticated species" — like to think we've got a wild animal in the house. If you like that, you'll pick the narrow definition of the term.

By the way, Grimm's cat is named Jasper. I named my first cat Jasper. I've had 2 cats, Jasper and Ramona. Both exhibited horribly wild behavior. I guess I'd like to think cats are not domesticated so I wouldn't have to feel personally guilty for how bad my cats were. But I won't indulge myself. Nor will I ever incarcerate another feline within my doors.

The other day, I looked at Zeus, our local Labrador Retriever, and thought: Imagine a cat that size in the house!

54 comments:

Louis said...

Cats are self-domesticated. They are as domesticated as they need to be to flourish with humans. Just like dogs.

Gabriel said...

Bees are wild animals and common law treats them as such. If your bees swarm and go to your neighbor's land, they become your neighbor's bees.

buwaya said...

Cats can be trained in some ways but not others. They will always scratch furniture and prowl over any surface, including shelves loaded with tsotchkes. If such can't be lived with, avoid indoor cats.
Also, I suggest having cats in pairs. They behave better if they aren't lonely.

tim maguire said...

I consider them wild animas that live in close proximity to us because, while comfortable with people they know, most cats are not comfortable with people generally, nor do they need people or get particularly attached to them. One of the interesting things discovered by cat researchers who have attached cameras to cats and recorded their behavior (Besides the fact that they are enthusiastic hunters) is that many "outdoor" cats have multiple families. If you have an outdoor cat, you may not be the only person who feeds and waters it and considers it theirs.

jr565 said...

both my cats are domesticated as far as that goes. One is completely timid and non confrontational. The other likes to swat at me with her paws when I walk by. I assume its playful, but she got me on the face just the other day and drew blood. I can see a bit of feral in her.

Ann Althouse said...

"Cats can be trained in some ways but not others. They will always scratch furniture and prowl over any surface, including shelves loaded with tsotchkes. If such can't be lived with, avoid indoor cats."

Our cat Jasper took to growling and attempting to scratch and bite anyone who approached him.

"Also, I suggest having cats in pairs. They behave better if they aren't lonely."

That reminds me, we took in a second cat to be with Jasper. Gave it back a few days later. The 2 cats ran around like mad all night long.

Ann Althouse said...

"... prowl over any surface... "

If your cat is prowling on your kitchen counter, you have a problem! Cats walk in their litter boxes.

tim maguire said...

Are there other "domesticated" species that are not either herd or pack animals?

kcom said...

Badgers?

Michael K said...

The songbirds of England, of which billions have been killed by domestic cats could not be reached for comment.

Chris N said...

I consider them tasty and delicious.

iowan2 said...

Are cats domesticated animals?

The important lesson here is 'animal'.

Debate the domesticated part for whatever enjoyment it brings you. No one cares.

But truth is they are animals.

A couple of anecdotes about animals that man has been living with and utilizing for 1000's of years.

Over the 4th I attempted to explain to a six year old that petting a miniature Daschound while eating put him at risk of getting bit. His mother pop pooed it away by the facts that she had known the dog for years, and it is really small. I tried unsuccessfully to explain that all animals are wild at there core and defend their food and babies. It took a mean reaction of the dog to drive home the point. Now they think the dog is misbehaved, when all it did was very natural and people refuse to accept animals as animals.

The second, a good friend was nearly killed by a stock cow. The man has worked with stock cows, and all livestock, since early childhood. He is now 60, and the only thing that saved him was he always had at least 2 outs. He also never entertains the thought that his stock is anything but potentially dangerous.

m stone said...

Dogs attach themselves to an owner or keeper.

Cats require us to develop the relationship. We generally concede before the cat. Ann.

Gahrie said...

Pigs are much less domesticated than cats. They will literally kill and eat you if given the chance. They are very smart too.

My current cat is quite devoted to me, almost dog-like. She demands some whipped creme as a treat every night. She usually brings home at least one bird, rodent or lizard every night, often alive and thoughtfully drops them at my feet.

They are currently developing breeds of cats that are quite large.

MSG said...

Unlike other domesticated animals, domesticated cats, like wild cats, are not herd or pack animals and therefore are not inclined to follow or obey. But unlike wild cats, domestic cats retain infantile character traits throughout their lives, and this must surely reflect a genetically based distinction between them and other cats.

Gahrie said...

But unlike wild cats, domestic cats retain infantile character traits throughout their lives, and this must surely reflect a genetically based distinction between them and other cats.

Not so much. It really depends on how much human interaction they receive as kittens. Kittens who get a lot of human interaction do tend to retain behaviors from infancy as adult cats. However take that same kitten, have it grow up feral with little to no human interaction, and it will revert to the wild and retain none of these behaviors.

Bob R said...

This is a really BS metaconversation about definitions. There's some mild disagreement about the natural behavior of cats living with humans. But then people pretend they are talking about the definition of "domesticated." You lawyers need to find more billable hours if you are going to argue about this nonsense.

David said...

The other day, I looked at Zeus, our local Labrador Retriever, and thought: Imagine a cat that size in the house!"

Imagine how quickly it could kill you.

Very quickly.

Unless it decided to play with you for a while.

Roughcoat said...

We all know the difference. It's no mystery. A big cat will kill you in heartbeat. A big dog will lick your face. Over the past decade or so great strides in the technology developed for studying the brain have been used to see what makes dogs tick. Dogs have been trained to lie still while undergoing brain scans. Various stimuli are applied. Turns out that, on a basic level, they react to many of the same stimuli as we do in much the same way as we do.

But anyone who has lived with dogs knows that already, without all the fancy-schmanz science gizmos to show us, am I right?

As for cats: I dunno. Not a cat guy.

Grant said...

I have a relative who has a dog that's half-wolf. It's illegal so we pretend not to know, but I don't want that half-dog around if her owner isn't right there with her,

As to cats, I've learned to avoid males, even if fixed. Too many problems. But I've never had a problem with a fixed female acquired early, or even one carefully chosen as a rescue.

No dogs for me though. They stink. Even the small ones.

John said...

Can there be a CATegory we define as "domestic, but under protest?"

Gahrie said...

Turns out that, on a basic level, they react to many of the same stimuli as we do in much the same way as we do.

Humans and dogs are both pack predators, so it is only natural that this would be so.

Roughcoat said...

I tried unsuccessfully to explain that all animals are wild at there core and defend their food and babies.

No. That hasn't been my experience with dogs and their puppies. A bitch with her litter will let you take her puppies if she knows you and regards you as the alpha. Most dogs will also let you take their food--again, if they know you, and you're established as the alpha. Dogs won't challenge to the alpha. The only time they'll snap an alpha is if they're terrified or panicked, and in those situations their snapping is a defensive involuntary response. If a dog snaps at you while it's eating, that dog has behavioral/socialization issues that need correction. Which is to say, their behavior is not normal. Normal is letting you, the alpha, do whatever you want.

Dogs are not wild at their core. At their core, they are domesticated.

Michael K said...

The great thing I have seen about dogs lately is one about the special forces dogs. One has a video of a dog jumping out of an airplane with its master. Dogs are millennia ahead of cats as domestic animals.

For example.

I have always been a dog person although I have had a lot of cats.

More here. Another photo shows the dog jumping out without being attached to the handler.

Roughcoat said...

Humans and dogs are both pack predators, so it is only natural that this would be so.

Yes. Precisely. Dogs and humans have much more in common, with respect to social structure and the behavioral traits that their structures produce, than primates and humans.

Also, cats are servants of Satan.

Gahrie said...

than primates and humans.

just to be pedantic, "than the other primates and humans."

Roughcoat said...

A dog took part in the mission to kill bin Laden. I believe it was an Alsatian/Tervuran mix. The dog was used to smell for explosives and such.

Roughcoat said...

just to be pedantic, "than the other primates and humans."

Yes. Point taken.

Big Mike said...

Imagine a cat that size in the house!

Cats the size of Zeus are called Mountain Lions.

Roughcoat said...

You can also train a dog to act against its instincts. If the dog trusts and respects you (because you're the alpha), you can train it do just about anything that doesn't require opposing thumbs. I herd sheep competitively with my border collies. If you saw the movie "Babe" you'll have a pretty good idea of what we (my dogs and I) do on the trial course. Here's the amazing thing about this. Border collies have a unique way of herding. They use their "eye" to move the sheep, and their movements are all "creep and slink." In other words, they're acting like wolves on the hunt. They move the sheep with their "eye" and with the predatory movements. It's wondrous to behold. But what's really wondrous is, they make all the predatory moves but stop short of making the kill. As the handler I send them out on an "outrun" and stay at the handler's pole and direct their movements with whistles and voice commands. They "fetch" the sheep to me: in effect, they're bringing the kill to the alpha, because the alpha and only the alpha gets to make the kill. But I don't make the kill. Instead I "ask" the border collie to drive the sheep into a pen. This goes against the dog's basic instinct. But the dog will do it because I'm the alpha. Really quite amazing.

Roughcoat said...

In a recent article about the new discoveries concerning dog behavior and the canine/human relationship, a researcher observed that we actually should be anthropomorphizing dogs, given that their emotional lives and social structures are so similar to ours. I think the article was in Wall Street Journal or Nature.

buwaya said...

I'm not a pet person, but cats have always liked me. Not really the opposite, but wife and kids wanted cats so here we are.
Yes, cats will run around the house, if they decide to play hunt the other cat. Doesnt bother us.
They also play-fight a lot, so we get free catatorial games, hail Caesar.

Anonymous said...

What about my EX?

Gahrie said...

The perfect pet would be a meerkat. Some people already keep them as pets, but they are still wild. Someone needs to start breeding them to reduce the wildness, and make them more domestic.

Why would they be perfect? They are pack predators and territorial like dogs. However they bury their poop like cats (so they would use a cat box) and would hunt rodents like cats.

agilnie ardiyan said...

Hello there, just was aware of your weblog thru Google, and located that it's really informative. I am gonna be careful for brussels. I'll be grateful for those who continue this in future.




get best bv treatment boots

bleh said...

Dogs are goosestepping fascists and cats are loner sociopaths. Pick your poison.

I'd rather have the goosestepping fascist in my home if it means I can be the Fuhrer.

traditionalguy said...

Cats are in the domesticated game for sure, but it's them that have domesticated us.

All our cats cares about is her food, water, litter box and air conditioning/heating. As long as we keep that coming on time, she lets us live with her.

yetanotherjohn said...

I have a cat who comes when I call him, including when he is outside. Surely a reasonable definition of a domesticated animal is one which obeys it's master's voice.

firstHat said...

Oh for heaven's sake! I've been owned and have owned both feline and canine. Specimens of both species terrorized me as a child and other members of each group were loving and loyal. I think there are civilized and uncivilized among all species.

A few things in response to some of the above discussion about cats
1) of the six who I've shared space with through my adult years, exactly zero destroyed property with their intact nails. Hint to the ignorant: you can train your cat to use scratching posts and boxes. They are quick to learn, and pleased with themselves when they do things right.
2) they often do the late night crazy cat run. In adult cats this usually happens more often in celebration of the change of seasons. Better that than destroying your furniture. (And less annoying than the guest Sheltie I had who spent her nights herding my dining room table and chairs)

Really, just stop with the comparisons. In general, our relationships with animals (or humans) depend less on the animal in question and more on what we are willing to put into it.

tim maguire said...

It's funny to read the comments from people upset that this thread is exactly what it purports to be.

rhhardin said...

Vicki Hearne says that your wolf may love you, but you can't trust him around your friends.

He doesn't make sense of human activities.

Brando said...

I thought "domesticated" meant "bred in captivity" as opposed to animals that were simply tamed. So you catch a deer in the wild and put it in a corral, you tamed it, but if you catch male and female deer and breed new deer for generations, and the new generations are more docile as a result, you domesticated them.

dustbunny said...

A survey conducted by Oxford Univ. found psychopaths to overwhelmingly prefer dogs to cats. Dogs can be controlled.

The Drill SGT said...

Like Tradguy says:

"Dogs have family"

"Cats have staff"


PB said...

Cats have become domesticated in the sense you really don't have to do much to train them to use the litter box any more. It was much harder in the past. Ask a vet.

Paco Wové said...

"the dog jumping out without being attached to the handler."

Who pulls the ripcord?

jono39 said...

Are house cats domesticated? Ask the mice. Dogs joined us many 000s of years ago. They are fully domesticated despite our ability to train dogs to guard and attack. Until relatively recently cats lived among people but were not really in the house. That has been going on for a relatively short period of time. A few thousand years. Most "domesticated" cats would not last a week on the streets. In the wild I presume most cats get to breed once or twice and then they are eaten. Those who have moved in with us seem to understand the tradeoff. Heart and Soul are eyeing me as I type this. They look longingly out the windows but they are not longing to leave.

Hagar said...

If kittens are exposed to humans at a certain time in their development, they will tolerate humans for the rest of their lives and so be "domesticated." If not, not.

paminwi said...

We had a home with 2 cats and a dog. Had to put 1 cat down earlier this year. The remaining cat is lost at times still. My cat is trained in that he knows he is not allowed in our bedroom and sits on the dividing line of carpet and hardwood between the two rooms. Also, if I am bringing in groceries he sits in the door to the garage but doesn't try to escape. No kitchen counter jumping either. A spray bottle filled with water kept him down. I consider that trained. My cat is totally declawed so no scratches on me, or my furniture, my drapes. People think that's mean, I don't care what they think.

Aunty Trump said...

I read a story that basically made the point that we neuter all cats but the very hardest to catch and most wild feral males. These are the ones providing the genetic material for future cat generations. So it is a good chance we are undoing a lot of domestication.

But it is always fun to argue over what words mean, stretch the definitions, then make new claims based on the stretched definitions.

Stephen A. Meigs said...

A female cat hates being forced into killing by a male, since it spoils her testing of how much she can hate things. This great proper moral hatred of being forced into killing stuff tends to make cats feel like they are not into being controlled. Torturing is not like killing, though. Some female cats can be totally submissive about torturing more what they already want to hatefully kill when they are killing it. Pretty wuss puss would be the easiest to control if in love, but it feels wrong to control wuss pusses for fun, so pretty wuss pusses probably tend to just fall in love with males who wouldn't control them for fun, and so they don't actually often get controlled for fun. But a pretty non-wuss puss tigress who doesn't feel like behaving as though she would trust in her beloved any impression he might make that love of beauty motivates what he finds beautiful for her to do or fantasize about? There can be several motivations for a male to love beautiful behaviors in a female to encourage or force her to do them more. As regards motivations for a particular behavior, female cats may want to see and want all appropriate ones--mostly toward various female cats separately, though presumably female cats can switch out of their main roles at times, e.g., for exploratory reasons.

When female cats get influenced toward right behavior by a male otherwise than for his fun, they mostly don't tend to feel that counts as being controlled, though especially in tigers I feel they can recognize it's a complex question philosophically, worthy of much lazy reflection given its importance.

Bitches (female dogs) probably tend to feel female cats when influenced by a male always tend to be enslaved by their lovers--this makes it more fun for bitches when they feel like the male cat is being right yet merciful towards female cats when he influences female cats into more appropriate, less mass-killing behaviors if the bitch feels no mercy for the cat's victim. Of course, wild dogs can just pretend they find beautiful the way the lionesses killed things, in the hope of being allowed to share the meat of the kill, but this would tend to cause their hyena friends to stop laughing, so it doesn't work. And if the hyenas just pretend to laugh? I suppose that would make the warthogs form a circle and fight back to protect themselves and give the vultures space.

There's much evil in humans caused by bad males trying to force their nefariously enslaved into killing stuff or looking like they want to kill stuff. They are trying to make it seem like catsy people want them, to make themselves look clean. Cats are to be applauded for hating that sort of thing, regardless of how one feels about their predilection to test they can hate.

Freeman Hunt said...

What about fish? Who can tell?

Anthony said...

"Domestication" is one of those borrowed words that scientific people have tried to shove into some sort of formal definition. Kind of like the argument of what constitutes a "sport" (answer: whatever the person defining it wants to consider a 'sport').

I was always fond of David Rindos' explanation of domestication in the context of agriculture as coevolution rather than some sort of conscious process that we do to other species'.

Quaestor said...

The problem with this question of domestication is the imprecise character of the word and how it is used. Firstly, it's not a question of whether an animal is domesticated; it's a question of the degree. Certainly the common house cat can be considered a domestic animal in the loose sense of the term. However, there are other animals, which are more domesticated.

Actually, domestication is an obsolete term. Much more helpful and precise is the concept of co-evolution, which is a fairly recent development in evolutionary biology. There are tens of thousands of species that have co-evolved with humans, though most of them are bacteria, and most of them have co-evolved not necessarily to our advantage. Among mammals our two most co-evolved partners are the dog and the Norway rat. Dogs began their co-evolution with humans at least 25,000 years ago, probably even earlier; whereas rats had little to do with us until the dawn agriculture, say 10,000 years ago. Evolution is defined as biological change over time; however, the time element is best thought of as generations. A mated a pair of rats can easily produce five generations of descendants in one year, whereas canines typically produce only one generation of offspring per year, usually less often than that. Even though rats have been associated with humans for less half the span of years the dogs have been partnered with us that time represents a minimum of 50,000 generations, which means that rats have evolving with us longer than have dogs. To put that in perspective 50,000 generations is roughly the gap between Homo sapiens and Homo erectus.

Cats came in to the co-evolutionary picture with us sometime after the dawn agriculture. Stored grain attracted rodents, which in turn attracted wild cats. Eventually the cats learned to accept our presence and became less wild in their behavior. Since their skill as solitary hunters of small mammals that has been the feline attribute most prized by famers from Paleolithic times until the present, little evolutionary pressure (i.e. early death) has been exerted on domestic cats to adopt interactive behavior patterns with humans. Cats are expected to be cats up to the point of not actually preying on us. Althouse is right to wonder about how much “domestication” in cats is mostly a matter of scale. If house cats grew as large as many dog breeds our kids would be in serious jeopardy.