Why Jezebel is Wrong that Cats Don’t Care About You.

Jezebel has a post titled “Why House Cats Generally Don’t Care (About You)“, in which they assert that cats don’t care about humans because they’re so close to wild cats.  Where do I start with this?

  1. The claim that domestic cats are closely related to wild cats is not backed up by numbers.  Jezebel claims ” house cats may not be that genetically different from wild cats”, citing sister site io9, which in turn cites a summary (warning: PDF) of the base article for its claim that the feline genome is “highly conserved.”  (Jezebel eventually links to the full article, but only the abstract is accessible)
    1. I’m not sure it’s actually wrong to describe an entire genome as highly conserved, but the term is usually applied to specific genes or even gene sequences, not entire genomes.
    2. You know what is a good system for measuring how different two things are?  Numbers.  For example: humans and common chimpanzees share 97% of their DNA.  Eyeballing it, it would not surprise me at all if domestic cats were more related to their ancestral wildcat than humans to chimpanzees.  I don’t see any numbers in either blog post or any of the article summaries I have access to.
  2. Despite numbers being excellent at measuring things, genetic similarity does not correlate very strongly with behavioral similarity.  For a fascinating example of see the fox domestication experiment, in researchers attempted to breed fur-farm foxes for tolerance of humans.  They succeeded in less than 40 years.  

     

     

    1. Domesticated foxes vary from undomesticated fur-farm foxes by only 40 genes.  They tragically don’t give a total gene count, but farm + domesticated foxes different from wild foxes by 2,700  genes, so 40 is almost 0%.  Nonetheless, undomesticated adult farm foxes will either bite your face off or cower from you, and domesticated ones want tummy rubs.

      .  We’ve had thousands of years with cats, we could make them want tummy rubs if we wanted.

  3. Which we have done.  Jezebel seems to be ignoring variation between breeds and individuals.  Certain breeds, like burmese, scottish fold, and Maine coon, really love and orient towards humans.  They don’t have dogs ability to read human facial expressions, but they do seek out their owners for attention, even when no food is on offer.  My cat loves tummy rubs and will fetch his favorite toy, although he has yet to realize people other than me can throw them.
  4. Meanwhile chow chows, one of the earliest dog breeds, possibly originally intended as food, are described as “cat like” because they’re so independent, and need extensive socialization to even tolerate strangers.
  5. Jezebel also comments on cats’ hunting behavior.  What they say is true, but it’s equally true of dogs: domestic and wild, feline or canine, animals have hunting behavior built in but need to be taught to eat what they kill.

And thus concludes your daily dose of Someone Is Wrong on the Internet