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History of the Cat

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Wild Cat
The Wild Cat - the Ancestor of all Domestic Cats

Egyptian Sculpture at the Louvre
Photographer: Guillaume Blanchard
Egyptian Sculpture at the Louvre

Domestic cats belong to the family felidae, as do all species of cat. Cats were domesticated from wild cats approximately 9,000 years ago and it is believed that they were first domesticated in Cyprus.

In ancient Egyptian times cats have been depicted in paintings and sculptures that date back to 3,000 BC. The mythical cat Bast was the goddess of the home and some of the first domesticated cats may have saved the early Egyptians from many rodent infestations.

From Egypt, cats were taken to Italy by the Romans and it is believed that they also introduced cats to Great Britain. During the middle ages cats were associated with witches and witchcraft and they were often tortured or burned alive. Other cultures of the time also considered them evil or unlucky.

In the far east cats were seen as a sign of good luck. In Japanese culture the Maneki Neko is a good fortune or good luck cat. It is a sculpture that depicts a sitting cat with an upright paw and it is often displayed at the entrance to shops, restaurants and businesses - a raised right paw is said to attract money and a raised left paw is said to attract customers.

In Islam cats are a symbol of purity and a cat named Muezza is said to the been the prophet Muhammad's favourite cat.

It is a common myth that cats have nine lives, in some cultures it is seven. This is believed to be true because cats are supple and swift animals which helps them get out of situations that would be fatal for other beings. Also lending credence to this myth is that falling cats often land on their feet because of an instinctive automatic twisting action that enables them to twist their bodies around to land feet first.

The concept of cat breeds is relatively new, two hundred years ago it wasn't in existence, and today only 3% of owned cats actually belong to a specific cat breed. There are almost 100 different breeds of cat as well as mixed breeds and feral cats.

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