Cats have been cherished companions for thousands of years. However, as we explore the history of feline domestication, an inevitable question arises: What is the oldest cat breed? At first thought, one may conjure up images of ancient versions of hairless cats from Egypt or sleek Siamese cats lounging in ancient Thailand, but are these assumptions accurate?
If you’re looking for a fascinating deep dive into the history of cats as human companions, look no further. In this article, we explore feline domestication and shine a spotlight on the oldest cat breeds that still exist today. Let’s dig in!
What Is The Oldest Cat Breed?
Determining the absolute oldest cat breed can be a challenge, as feline history is often somewhat cryptic. Unlike the meticulous breeding records of some dog breeds, cats have a long history of natural selection and adaptation to various environments. However, by examining historical evidence, genetic studies, and the distinctive characteristics of certain breeds, we can begin to determine which breeds are the oldest.
While there’s still much debate about the subject, it’s believed that the Egyptian Mau is the oldest cat breed. In fact, Egyptian Maus may be direct descendants of African wild cats domesticated in Ancient Egypt around 4000 years BC.
So, what makes these ancient cats so special? And which breeds give the Egyptian Mau a run for its money? Keep reading to find out.
Cats as Human Companions: A Brief History
If you look up when cats were domesticated, you’ll probably find many different answers. Nevertheless, many feline historians believe the first domesticated cats were African wild cats who began coexisting with humans as far back as 10,000 years ago.
Instead of surviving as nomadic hunters and gatherers, ancient humans began to establish their lives in one place during this time, planting and harvesting crops and keeping animals for food and goods.
The African wildcats, who needed to consume as many as 1,100 small animals each year to survive, began to coexist with humans for one reason: the large rodent population.
So began a synergistic relationship between people and cats. I mean, who wouldn’t want an adorable mini tiger running around killing all the grain-eating mice and rats? The rest is literal history.
Did Cats Domesticate Themselves?
Fascinatingly, yes. In their true independent fashion, cats came into our lives on their own terms. Unlike many domesticated animals that were intentionally bred by humans, cats decided it was beneficial to live alongside people due to the abundance of food.
Throughout time, it’s believed that felines and humans grew fond of each other, and as a result, cats adapted to appeal to their human companions more and more.
In fact, Egyptian art and writing depict cats in domestic settings as early as 4,000 BC. By 1,450 BC, cats became a common feature in paintings of domestic scenes, particularly in the art of the New Kingdom.
Thus, kitties have been by our sides for a long, long time, but they did it on their own accord. Eventually, they decided they would let us pet them and bring them into our homes. Cats have and will always run the show, and our own history proves it.
Pro tip: Are you curious about your cat’s lineage? Discover more about your feline friend with a cat DNA test.
What Are the Oldest Cat Breeds That Still Exist Today?
Several ancient cat breeds have withstood the test of time, maintaining their distinctive characteristics and unique personalities. Let’s explore some of the oldest cat breeds that continue to grace our homes today.
The Egyptian Mau
Unsurprisingly, Egypt, with its rich history and reverence for feline deities, is home to one of the oldest cat breeds – the Egyptian Mau. Known for its distinctive spotted coat and striking green eyes, the Egyptian Mau is believed to have ancient roots. This breed’s name, “Mau,” is the Egyptian word for cat. It’s pronounced “mah-oo” and likely comes from the sound cats make.
The British Shorthair
The British Shorthair, with its round face and plush coat, is another beloved ancient breed. Its origins can be traced back to the domestic cats brought to Britain by the Romans. Over time, these cats adapted to the British climate, developing the muscular physique and dense coat that characterize the breed today. They make excellent indoor companions because of their docile nature.
Norwegian Forest Cats
Venturing into the northern realms, we encounter the Norwegian Forest Cat – a breed that thrives in the harsh Scandinavian wilderness. With its thick, water-resistant coat and tufted ears, “Wegies” have a long history in the Nordic countries. Their archives date back to the Vikings, who kept them on their ships to control the rodent population. “Wegies” are also a part of many ancient Norweigan tales, which tell of the mythical cats of Norse Gods. This breed’s history is intertwined with Norse mythology, where cats were revered as hunters and protectors.
Middle Eastern Mountain Dwellers
- Turkish Angora
Chartreux and The Turkish Angora are two distinct breeds with ancient origins, both hailing from the mountainous regions of the Middle East.
The Chartreux, known for its robust build and distinctive blue-gray coat, has ties to the Carthusian monks of France. While we’re not exactly sure about the Chartreux’s origins, they likely date back to the 13th century, brought to France by the Crusaders from Syria. Legend has it that the Chartreuxs were named after the yellow and green Chartreuse liquor made by the Carthusian monks.
On the other hand, the Turkish Angora boasts a luxurious, semi-longhair coat and stunning almond-shaped eyes. Believed to have originated in Turkey, this breed has a history entwined with royalty. Turkish sultans treasured these elegant cats as loved companions.
Suggested reading: Do You have a Chartreux with bright orange eyes? If so, you could have a rare kitty.
- Japanese Bobtail
The enchanting cats of Asia have also played a significant role in shaping domestic cats as we know them. From the regal Siamese to the playful Japanese Bobtail, these breeds showcase the diverse characteristics that have evolved over centuries.
The Siamese, with its striking blue almond-shaped eyes and color-point coat, is one of the oldest Asian breeds. Originating in Thailand (formerly Siam), the Siamese was revered in ancient Thai culture and believed to bring good fortune to its owners.
Burmese cats, originating from Burma (now Myanmar), exhibit a sleek and muscular build, with a short, satin-like coat. These cats were considered sacred in Burmese temples, reflecting their beloved status in ancient Burmese society.
The Japanese Bobtail, characterized by its short, bobbed tail and playful demeanor, holds a special place in Japanese culture. Represented in traditional art and folklore, the Japanese Bobtail has a respected history in mysticism and lore.
The Abyssinian, with its ticked coat resembling the wildcats of Africa, is believed to be one of the oldest known cat breeds. Despite its name suggesting an origin in Abyssinia (modern-day Ethiopia), genetic studies point to Southeast Asia as the likely birthplace of this ancient breed.
America’s First Settlers – The Maine Coon Cat
Last but not least, we have the beloved Maine Coon. As Europeans settled in North America, they brought their feline companions with them on long sea voyages. These cats eventually became the ancestors of the Maine Coon breed. Historians have theorized that they played a crucial role in controlling the rodent population aboard ships. The Maine Coon, with its large size, tufted ears, and bushy tail, is now recognized as one of the oldest natural breeds in North America.
The Timeless Connection Between Cats and Humans
The exploration of the oldest cat breeds not only offers a glimpse into the past but is a celebration of the enduring relationship between kitties and their hoo-mans. As we admire the rich history of feline companionship across the globe, we also recognize that the ancient connection between cats and humans is truly timeless. After all, cats chose us, and we can only be thankful it happened that way.
Do you have one of these ancient breeds in your home? Let us know in the comments below!
Stay Informed – Join the HypePets Community!
If you’re like us, your pets are like family. Stay up to date on the latest news, info, tips, and gear to help your pet live its best life!
Also, join the conversation over on our HypePets Discord server!