What We Do

The Origins of the Cat and Breed Diversity

Lesson Plan for Parents and CSPE Teachers.


Cats are one of the most recent animals to have been domesticated. Some humans would argue that cats are not entirely domesticated as unlike dogs, cats are still quite similar to their wild ancestors.

The first evidence of the existence of domestic cats points to a single event in Egypt around the year 1550BC. The ancient Egyptians believed cats to be very special animals and they were protected by laws.

If an Egyptian killed a cat, he/she would be given the death penalty. Archaeological evidence from the great pyramids shows that, just as important Egyptians were preserved or mummified, so were their cats.

Evidence gathered from studying animal cells shows that the African wild cat was the sole ancestor of the domestic cat with a possible input from the Indian desert cat and other races in Oriental and long haired Persian type cats.

Cats are carnivores – animals that eat other animals – and make very good hunters; especially as they have sharp teeth and claws and are able to see in particularly poor light.

The most likely purpose of domesticating the wild cat was as a means of controlling rodents, i.e. mice and rats, around or near stored food products.

There are approximately 100 different breeds of pedigree cat; however most cats we see today are domestic breeds.

Cats have evolved to be solitary and very independent animals, unlike the dog who likes to live in a social group.

Many domestic cats, particularly neutered/spayed ones can adapt well to living in pairs or groups.

Cats use their sharp teeth and claws to catch their prey. They are nocturnal animals who like to hunt at night. Cats are good climbers which means if you put a collar on your cat it should be stretchy so that the cat can wriggle free if the collar gets caught up in a tree.

Cats breed in large numbers. For example a female cat can become pregnant three times a year and have up to six kittens at a time. Once a female kitten has reached 6 months it too can become pregnant; however as it is still a kitten itself it may not necessarily be a good mother. A single female cat and her offspring, if left to reproduce, can give birth to thousands of kittens in their lifetime. For this reason it is in the best interests of the cats and society that all cats are neutered/spayed to prevent them from reproducing.

Domestic cats can become feral and find food and shelter for themselves but without an owner to take care of them, they can become ill and suffer unimaginable injuries and diseases.

All cats require regular veterinary treatment in order to prevent infestations and must be vaccinated against diseases and receive annual boosters. Cats should be taken to see a vet if they show any signs of illness.


• Try to find out where wild cats live in your area. A wild cat is also known as a feral cat.

• Imagine if you lived in Egypt at the time of the Pharaohs. What do you think life would have been like for you?

• What would life have been like for cats?

• How do you treat your own cats?

• How would you describe a wild cat? What are his characteristics?

• What characteristics would be useful to the wild cat in order for him to survive?

• How many ways are wild cats similar to domestic cats?

• Do you think a wild cat would make a good companion animal in your home? Why?

Compare and Contrast:

• Discuss your findings with others.

• Explain your point of view, ask for theirs and listen to it.

• Weigh up what you have found and ask yourself…have I changed my mind?


There are different breeds of cat and each has its own physical features.

Some selective breeding causes welfare problems for cats.

Breed standards and fashion are factors influencing the way cats may look.

Use your research skills to:

• Identify selected cat breeds and use descriptive and photographic evidence to identify your findings.

• Carry out a survey of other cat owning people in your area. What breeds do they have? What types of personalities do their cats display?

• Do these cats have health and/or welfare problems?

• Look up your dictionary and find the meanings to these words:

• Carnivore. Docile. Feral. Genetic Defects. Grooming. Neutered/Spayed. Nocturnal. Predators. Pedigree. Welfare.


Pictures of the following cat breeds:

• An ancient Egyptian cat.

• A Siamese Cat

• An African wild cat.

• A Birman cat

• A Domestic cat.

We will take a look at the Birman Cat.

You’ve found an image of this cat so study it and take a look at the various characteristics.

This breed of cat is believed to have originated in Burma where they were considered to be sacred.

Coat: Semi-long haired.

Colour: Light golden crest with either blue, chocolate, lilac or seal points on the face, legs and tail. They have four white paws and their eyes are usually round and blue in colour.

Characteristics: Large and strongly built; almost stocky. Calm and playful. Docile.

We will take a look at the Domestic Cat.

Also known as the house cat.

Coat: Short hair.

Colour: Various.

Characteristics: Body size is usually compact, muscular and supple.

We will take a look at the Siamese Cat.

Originally from Thailand and famous for its unique vocalizations making them sound like a human baby.

Coat: Smooth, short haired.

Colour: Blue, lilac or chocolate with points of dark fur on ears, face, feet and tail.

Characteristics: Long, slim body.

Additional Information for students, parents and teachers:

Information about the behaviour of the wild cat is scarce, unlike the dog, the domestic cat appears to have changed very little both physically and behaviouraly as a result of domestication. This could be due to the relatively short period of time since domestication and the lack of scope for paedo-morphosis (the skull of a kitten and an adult cat are similar in shape). Many adult cats act like kittens when they paw at your lap – this is kitten behaviour to stimulate milk release – and cats show submission by delivering prey to their owner.

Much of the physical variation in domestic cats occurs in coat colour and length. The primary behavioural change is that of social behaviour. The wild or feral cat is a solitary, territorial animal where as the domestic cat readily forms a colony who will rear their young. The main difference between the wild cat and the domestic cat lies in breeding. Breeding is largely uncontrolled. With the exception of pedigree cats, domestics usually select their own mates and freely interbreed with wild cats when they come into contact.

Pure Breeds:

Humans have produced different breeds of cat by selective breeding. This means they have deliberately selected certain characteristics they want from their cats and continued breeding in this manner can cause cats to develop problems that may cause suffering as a result.

Some people even try to produce the ‘perfect’ cat. If a cat has all the characteristics of a breed and their parents and grandparents also have those characteristics then this cat is called a pure breed or a pedigree. This is called a ‘breed standard.’

However, some breeds have health problems and this is due to their particular appearance – for example, Persian Cats with flat faces have difficulty breathing. Also sometimes cats inherit an unfortunate problem from their ancestors. When the breed has problems, repeated inbreeding with close relatives or other cats of the same breed with the same health problems, these problems just get continually worse.

For more information contact Miriam or email me at miriam.kerins@dspca.ie



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