THE GISTThis theory would seem to suggest that the practice of adopting cats as pets probably was a result of the earlier human association with domesticated wolves. The association with wolves had a very practical effect of making humans better hunters. Cats were less clearly useful, but required that agriculture develop. Only after agriculture developed was the use of cats to protect stored crops from rats important. The adoption of cats, then, would be useful in the female practice of farming and storing the food. This might explain why men tend to be more social with dogs (hunting) while women seem to be more social with cats (farming.)
- Relationships between cats and their owners mirror human bonds, especially when the owner is a woman.
- Cats hold some control over when they are fed and handled, functioning very similar to human children in some households.
- While the age, sex and personality of owners affect these relationships, the sex of the cat doesn't seem to matter.
The bond between cats and their owners turns out to be far more intense than imagined, especially for cat aficionado women and their affection reciprocating felines, suggests a new study.
Cats attach to humans, and particularly women, as social partners, and it's not just for the sake of obtaining food, according to the new research, which has been accepted for publication in the journal Behavioural Processes.
The study is the first to show in detail that the dynamics underlying cat-human relationships are nearly identical to human-only bonds, with cats sometimes even becoming a furry "child" in nurturing homes.
"Food is often used as a token of affection, and the ways that cats and humans relate to food are similar in nature to the interactions seen between the human caregiver and the pre-verbal infant," co-author Jon Day, a Waltham Centre for Pet Nutrition researcher, told Discovery News. "Both cat and human infant are, at least in part, in control of when and what they are fed!"
For the study, led by Kurt Kotrschal of the Konrad Lorenz Research Station and the University of Vienna, the researchers videotaped and later analyzed interactions between 41 cats and their owners over lengthy four-part periods. Each and every behavior of both the cat and owner was noted. Owner and cat personalities were also assessed in a separate test. For the cat assessment, the authors placed a stuffed owl toy with large glass eyes on a floor so the feline would encounter it by surprise.
The researchers determined that cats and their owners strongly influenced each other, such that they were each often controlling the other's behaviors. Extroverted women with young, active cats enjoyed the greatest synchronicity, with cats in these relationships only having to use subtle cues, such as a single upright tail move, to signal desire for friendly contact.
While cats have plenty of male admirers, and vice versa, this study and others reveal that women tend to interact with their cats -- be they male or female felines -- more than men do.
"In response, the cats approach female owners more frequently, and initiate contact more frequently (such as jumping on laps) than they do with male owners," co-author Manuela Wedl of the University of Vienna told Discovery News, adding that "female owners have more intense relationships with their cats than do male owners."
Cats also seem to remember kindness and return the favors later. If owners comply with their feline's wishes to interact, then the cat will often comply with the owner's wishes at other times. The cat may also "have an edge in this negotiation," since owners are usually already motivated to establish social contact. So cats really are social animals and not solitary parasitic denizens in our human households. My old joke that our cat rules the household with an iron paw -- it's true!
For more information on cats, see my earlier blog post Where do cats come from?
See also A History of the Domestic Cat.
Addendum 11:38 AM CST
An earlier Discovery News article entitled Pets Vital to Human Evolution presents the theory that the evolution of human beings was strongly aided by the unusual practice of humans taking in and adopting animals.
Dogs, cats, cows and other domesticated animals played a key role in human evolution, according to a theory being published by paleoanthropologist Pat Shipman of Penn State University.This theory would seem to suggest that the practice of adopting cats as pets probably was a result of the earlier human association with domesticated wolves. The association with wolves had a very practical effect of making humans better hunters. Cats were less clearly useful, but required that agriculture develop. Only after agriculture developed was the use of cats to protect stored crops from rats important. The adoption of cats, then, would be useful in the female practice of farming and storing the food. This might explain why men tend to be more social with dogs (hunting) while women are most social with cats (farming.)
The uniquely human habit of taking in and employing animals -- even competitors like wolves -- spurred on human tool-making and language, which have both driven humanity's success, Shipman says.
"Wherever you go in the world, whatever ecosystem, whatever culture, people live with animals," Shipman told Discovery News.
For early humans, taking in and caring for animals would seem like a poor strategy for survival. "On the face of it, you are wasting your resources. So this is a very weird behavior," Shipman said.
But it's not so weird in the context something else humans were doing about 2.6 million years ago: switching from a mostly vegetarian diet to one rich in meat. This happened because humans invented stone hunting tools that enabled them to compete with other top predators. Quite a rapid and bizarre switch for any animal, Shipman said.
"We shortcut the evolutionary process," said Shipman, who published her ideas in the latest issue of Current Anthropology and in an upcoming book. "We don't have the equipment to be carnivores."
So we invented the equipment, learned how to track and kill, and eventually took in animals who also knew how to hunt -- like wolves and other canines. Others, like goats, cows and horses, provided milk, hair and, finally, hides and meat.
Managing all of these animals -- or just tracking them -- requires technology, knowledge and ways to preserves and convey information. So languages had to develop and evolve to meet the challenges.
Tracking game has even been argued to be the origin of scientific inquiry, said Peter Richerson, professor emeritus in the Department of Environmental Science and Policy at the University of California, Davis.
One of the signs that this happened is in petroglyphs and other rock art left by ancient peoples. At first they were abstract, geometric patterns that are impossible to decipher. Then they converge on one subject: animals.
"Think what isn't there: people, landscapes, fruit and edible plants," said Shipman. This implies that animals and information about animals was of great importance."Think what isn't there: people, landscapes, fruit and edible plants," said Shipman. This implies that animals and information about animals was of great importance.
Addendum 03/11/2011 4:23 PM CST
This is also quite interesting. National Geographic has a video on the development of cats.
I found the video in a link from an AP article on cats. Here is a very interesting part of that AP article:
Dr. Leslie Lyons leads a research team studying the genetics of the domestic cat at the University of California, Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. In the interview excerpted here, she explores the origins and domestication of the house cat:I'm not sure that humans actually domesticated wolves. One story I have heard is that wolves began to come close to human encampments in order to eat from the trash found there. Wolves who had a natural tolerance for association with humans came in closer and closer so they ate better and survived better than did those wolves who ran whenever a human came into sight.
AP: Feline geneticists say cats "domesticated themselves." What does that mean?
Lyons: We say cats adapted themselves to us rather than the other way around. As humans became farmers, we started a civilization. And civilization has grain stores and refuse piles, two things that draw rodents. Cats started coming closer to households to eat the rodents, filling the niche that humans developed. Cats were the first to come close to humans. We tolerated them because they ate the rodents, and cats tolerated humans because we provided food.
Q: How is this different from the domestication of dogs?
A: Dogs were domesticated much longer ago when we were hunter-gatherers. Unlike cats, we actively domesticated them. Probably we took wolf cubs and tried to tame them, raised them to be companions and to use for protection. Horses are like that too, we had to go out and capture and tame them before we could use them.
That would suggest to me that east Asian wolves became dogs by domesticating themselves, and humans began to care for their puppies. It intrigues me, though, that in both cases the present dogs and cats exist because as humans began farming they created ecological niches for dogs and cats to fill.
I guess I should look at the history of domesticating chickens, goats, cattle, sheep and llamas also.