The Evolution of the Domestic Cat By: Alani molina


How have cats evolved to get to the domestic cat we have today?

Your typical house cat


Domestic cats evolved from a large prehistoric cat that lived around the time of the Ice Age because we not only have small house cats, but bigger wild cats roam as well, and there were many large cats during this time that are known by many people such as Smilodon (Sabre-toothed cat).

A reconstruction of the Sabre-Toothed cat by the Indiana State Museum.
The most recent Ice Age was in the Pleistocene

Scientific Terms

Epoch - an extended period of time usually characterized by a distinctive development or by a memorable series of events

Geological Time Scale - The geological time scale (GTS) is a system of chronological dating that relates geological strata (stratigraphy) to time, and is used by geologists, paleontologists, and other Earth scientists to describe the timing and relationships of events that have occurred during Earth's history.

Miocene - The Miocene Epoch, 23 to 5.3 million years ago,* was a time of warmer global climates than those in the preceding Oligocene or the following Pliocene and it's notable in that two major ecosystems made their first appearances: kelp forests and grasslands.

Oligocene - The Oligocene is a geologic epoch of the Paleogene Period and extends from about 33.9 million to 23 million years before the present.

Ma - Ages are abbreviated from Latin: Ga (giga-annum) is a billion years, Ma (mega-annum) is a million years, Ka (kilo-annum) is a thousand years.

Plantigrade - Walking on the sole with the heel touching the ground

Digitigrade - Walking on its toes and not touching the ground with its heels


It's still unclear whether cats are domesticated or not. There are six criteria for domestication:

  • Good diet (easy to feed)
  • They must grow and mature at a rate that makes sense
  • They have to breed well in captivity
  • The animals must be nice towards humans
  • They can't be prone to freak outs or panic
  • They must be a relatively social animal

Cats meet all these, but scientists can't tell if they were really domesticated by humans. Some scientists say that cats stayed with humans because of the food, while others say that humans noticed they were killing pests and captured them. We clean their litter, admire them, but unlike dogs, they do not have to please and satisfy our needs. They are fully capable of living without us, pet or not (that doesn't mean don't get them fixed).

Lil O'l Kitty on a Farm


  • Many different websites
  • A book called, "Life and Times of Washington State by The Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture," this book has descriptions on how Washington looked during a few different periods of time, and what fossils they have found here.
  • A wall chart called, "600 Million Years of Life on Earth by Spizzirri Publishing," which shows the different animals that lived in different periods of time.


  1. Find out what topic I want to do.
  2. Inspired by my cat, Keetah, I researched how cats were domesticated.
  3. I didn't stop at how the cat was domesticated, so I went back further and researched what cats evolved from.
  4. I started to go on many different sites that had info on the first "true cat," which was proailurus.
  5. After studying proailurus, I studied pseudaelurus.
  6. I made many notes on how the cats had evolved, and how the cat was domesticated.
  7. Finally, I put it all together.


Controlled variable: Cats - The general animal we're talking about here is cats, it is kept the same, so it is the controlled variable in this presentation.

Manipulated variable: Time - Time is our manipulated variable, even though we might not be the ones changing it, it's still constantly changing through the time progression shown in this.

Responding Variable: Species - The species of the cats are the result of evolution over the certain amount of time shown in this presentation.

To start....

The first "true cat" was proailurus lemanensis.

A reconstruction of Proailurus by Roman Uchytel.

Proailurus or Proailurus lemanensis was a prehistoric carnivore that lived in Europe and Asia approximately 25 million years ago in the Late Oligocene and Miocene. Fossils have been found in Mongolia, Germany, and Spain.

Proailurus lived during the Late Oligocene and Early to Mid Miocene epoch (28 ma to 11 ma).

Geological Time Scale
Oligocene Epoch

Proailurus lived in forests and grasslands of Eurasia.

These cats were stocky, they had short legs but were very flexible and agile creatures. Which came in handy when trying to climb trees. They weren’t full digitigrades, which reflected their need for stability when moving along branches of trees. Their muzzles were also longer compared to those we see today. Since they weren’t exactly made for a diet just consisting of meat, they retained a few more premolar teeth, which resembles the condition of modern viverrids (civets, genets, linsangs, etc.)

The next cat....

Proailurus became the ancestor of Pseudaelurus, or Styriofelis lorteti.

A reconstruction of Pseudaelurus by Mauricio Anton.

Pseudaelurus lived in the Miocene epoch (about 18 ma)

Geological Time Scale
Miocene Epoch

Pseudaelurus lived in the forests of Eurasia and the micro-thermal broad-leaved deciduous forests of North America. It also migrated from Eurasia to North America across the Bering Land Bridge. Which connected what today is known as Siberia and Alaska.

The Bering Land Bridge during the miocene epoch

Pseudaelurus pretty much stayed the same, except for a slight change in size and teeth. It had slightly larger legs, and lost a premolar. This helped it to eat meat, as its diet lied a little heavier on eating meat. Pseudaelurus had evolved to be a digitigrade. With it’s ankle raised and the sole of it’s foot partially on the ground.

Pseudaelurus was also the ancestor to all the bigger cats we have today.

The last cat in the evolution process...

The African Wildcat was the cat to evolve into the cute little kitten that sits on your lap.

The African Wildcat lives in modern time. It lives in Africa, Iraq, Iran, Scotland, France, Spain, India and Pakistan.

The African Wildcat’s habitat is in woodlands, wooded grasslands, and savannas.

The African Wildcat

The african wildcat also has a much smaller muzzle than it’s prehistoric ancestors, and only has three molars. This occurs because the cat's diet consists mainly of meat.

The African Wildcat has longer back legs, and is a complete digitigrade. The African Wildcat is larger than the domestic cat, with larger hind legs, but it's characteristics are mostly the same.

The domestication process...

Egyptians weren't actually the first to domesticate cats. Some clues of the cats domestication came from the island of Cyprus in 1983, when some archeologists found a cat's jawbone dating back about 8,000 years ago. Since it seemed highly unlikely for a human to bring a wild cat to the island, the finding suggested that the domestication occurred before 8,000 years. In 2004, the finding of an even older site at Cyprus, in which a cat had been buried with a human, made it certain that the island's ancient cats were domesticated, and pushed the domestication back about 1,500 years.

Cyprus, a very small island.

A study in the research journal SCIENCE secured more pieces in the cat domestication based on genetic analysis. All domestic cats, the authors declared, descended from a Middle Eastern wildcat. Cats were first domesticated in the Near East, the study authors speculate that the process began about 12,000 years ago.

The Near East map

In Europe, people used cats to get rid of rodents and other pests. Cats were used on ships to control rodent population and disease. When Christopher Columbus came to America, the cats were left in the country and flourished.

Future Exploration...

I could dig deeper into how the prehistoric cats relate to the big cats we have today such as the leopard, jaguar, puma etc. I could also research the other prehistoric cat species that lived after proailurus and pseudaelurus.


DeMarino, Nicholas. "What Animal Did All Cats Evolve From?" The Nest, XO Group, 1 Jan. 2016, Accessed 21 Jan. 2017.

Strauss, Bob. "Pseudaelurus." About Education, About, 23 Jan. 2016, Accessed 21 Jan. 2017.

International Society for Endangered Cats Canada, editor. "African Wildcat F.s." Wildcat Conservation, International Society for Endangered Cats Canada, 1 Jan. 2016, Accessed 21 Jan. 2017.

Holden, Constance. "A Fertile Domestication of Cats." Science Magazine, AMERICAN ASSOCIATION FOR THE ADVANCEMENT OF SCIENCE, 28 June 2007,

Marie. "History of the Domestic Cat." Edited by Lilly Antoneavic. CatsInfo, Marie, 1 Jan. 2001, Accessed 21 Jan. 2017.

Merriam-Webster. 1 Jan. 2017, Accessed 21 Jan. 2017.

Wikipedia contributors. "Geologic Time Scale." Wikipedia, Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, Accessed 21 Jan. 2017.

Polly, David. "The Miocene Epoch." University of California Museum of Paleontology, U of California Museum of Paleontology, 14 July 1997, Accessed 21 Jan. 2017.

Hannula, Kim. "How Should Geologists Abbreviate Time?" Science Blogs, edited by Seed Media Group, ScienceBlogs, 21 Sept. 2009, Accessed 21 Jan. 2017.

BBC. "History of life on Earth." BBC, 1 Jan. 2017, Accessed 22 Jan. 2017.

Pillai, Arvind. "Evolution of the Felidae, Part 1." Fins to Feet, Arvind Pillai, 29 July 2010, Accessed 22 Jan. 2017.

Created By
Alani Molina


Created with images by 258817 - "wildcat animal nature"

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