Have you ever wondered where all the different cat breeds come from?
There’s the Russian Blue and the Norwegian Forest Cat, the Himalayan and the Siamese, and the Domestic Short and long-haired felines. Although there are over 70 specific cat breeds recognized today, they can all trace their lineage back to the Felis Sylvestris or the Middle Eastern Wildcat.
It was here, 12,000 years-ago, that people began to recognize the usefulness of the feline to keep vermin under control and also the loving qualities it brings as a domesticated pet. Back around 4,000 years-ago, some folks in Egypt even elevated the feline to the status of a god, a trait which seems to have followed this independent creature throughout time.
Let’s claw back the curtain of feline history to explore the what’s and how’s of our furry pals to uncover some fascinating facts of where the different breeds of cats come from.
Nature or Nurture?
Did you know 95% of US cats are randomly bred and are called American Domestics, while the other 5% are pedigreed? That’s a whole lot of nature being responsible for the majority of our cat population.
Nature has also done some amazing things to help the feline species cope and adapt to its surroundings.
For example, the Maine Coon cat commonly has extra toes, a completely harmless condition known as polydactylism. These extra digits not only look adorable, but it allows the cat to walk on top of the snow without sinking—great for the cold climate it originated from.
As cats became more and more popular, man took it upon himself to encourage traits in our felines that were naturally occurring in some litters.
For example, a completely hairless kitten sparked the idea of a cat that would be more suitable for those who suffer with allergies and later became known as the Sphinx, while half a litter of kittens were born with super-short legs inspired the Munchkin breed.
These are relatively new breeds to the Cat Fanciers Association (CFA), but there are ancient breeds that have been around for hundreds and even thousands of years.
Ancient Cat Breeds:
There’s a catalogue of cats that have been known throughout history. See if your favorite breed can count itself as “ancient.”
This fluffy breed can trace its documented lineage back as far as the 1600s in France. However, it is quite possible that the Turkish Angora originated in the mountainous regions of Turkey, where it developed an unusually soft, medium-long coat for protection against the harsh winters.
In addition, long-haired cats were also present as far back as the 1400s in Europe. In the early 1900s, this breed was used indiscriminately in breeding programs with the Persian cat to improve on the quality of the coats in the offspring. This almost lead to the demise of the entire Turkish Angora breed; fortunately, a breeding program was set up in Turkey to preserve the cat.
Today, all purebred Turkish Angoras must be able to trace their lineage back to Turkey to be registered with the CFA.
Another long haired feline, the Persian, also makes the list for being one of the oldest cat breeds known today.
Way back in the 1600s this cat was smuggled out of Persia (modern day Iran) by European explorers, along with spices and jewels. It then went on to grace the castles and courtyards of royalty in France, Italy and England.
In fact, this breed was favored by England’s Queen Victoria and Florence Nightingale. Experts believe the Persian can trace its lineage all the way back to the wild cat, Felis Libyca, which are still found in Africa and Asia today.
The elegance of the Siamese breed can trace its roots back to Thailand (formerly Siam) and in fact a cat described in detail resembling the Siamese was found in a book that was believed to be written between 1350 and 1767.
As this breed gained popularity, President Rutherford B. Hayes (1877-1881) and his wife Lucy were the recipients of a Siamese cat shipped to them in 1878 by David B. Sickels, a U.S. diplomat stationed at the consulate in Thailand. The letter detailing the feline-gift is still on file at the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center in Fremont, Ohio.
Thought to bring good luck to those that own one, the Korat can also trace its ancestry back to Thailand and was documented in The Cat-Book of Poems or Smud Khoi of Cats in the 1300s.
It’s piercing greens eyes and silver coat were highly valued and were the qualities that were believed to bring prosperity to the pet parents back then and even today to newlyweds and farmers in Thailand.
Unfortunately, the Korat may be difficult to locate outside of its native land.
This centuries old breed dates back hundreds of years to Russia. It was fondly mentioned in children’s fairy tales and books, as well as officially named in 1889 in a book by Harrison Wier’s called, Our Cats and All About Them.
Not only was the Siberian Forest cat talked and written about, it was also highly revered for its natural hunting abilities in keeping the rodent population under control on the local farms.
After the Cold War, the Siberian cat was imported into other countries and finally made its way into the United States in June of 1990.
Another long-haired breed makes the ancient list as the Norwegian Forest cat can trace its furry roots back centuries to the area of Norway. It was featured in their folk tales and mythology and was referred to as the “Skogkatt” which when translated means, “forest cat.”
It is thought this cat was most likely used on the ships of Vikings to keep the rodent population under control, the same role they played on the Norwegian farms.
According to the CFA, their first appearance in North America may have been Leif Erickson (or his contemporaries) in the late 900s. This Icelandic man is thought to be one of the first to land in North America, even before Christopher Columbus.
Although researchers are not entirely sure just how far back the Abyssinian breed dates, there are depictions of this feline in Egyptian art and sculptures. However, recent genetic testing now suggests the breed most likely originated in Southeast Asia on the coast of the Indian Ocean.
According to the CFA, the first mention of the Abyssinian was in the Harper’s Weekly (January 27, 1872 issue) where the 3rd prize in the December 1871 Crystal Palace show was taken by the Abyssinian Cat “captured in the late Abyssinian War.”
Perhaps the most “ancient” of them all, the Egyptian Mau was found mummified in the tombs of the Egyptian Pharaohs and Kings.
In addition, Papyri and frescoes dating back as far as 1550 B.C. depict spotted cats. Many documents found from the dawn of the New Kingdom on make it well know that this breed was an integral part of daily life, as well as a worshipped deity.
This cat is thought to have been used to aid hunters. It still retains the skill of being the fastest cat alive, reaching speeds of up to 30 miles-per-hour!
Historically Cool Cats:
Now that you know where cat breeds come from, perhaps you have made a decision to bring a fancy feline into your life.
If so, do you research on the breeds you are most interested in to get the purrfect fit for your lifestyle, then either contact a reputable breeder or look to your local animal rescue to adopt your furry pal.