Tuesday 2 March 2021

90 per cent of animals interred at an ancient Egyptian pet cemetery were cats

A recent archaeological dig in Egypt confirms what we probably already knew, namely that the favoured companion animal by far in ancient Egypt was the domestic cat. The archaeologists have dug up the remains of pets at what is considered to be the world's first pet cemetery. And they say that the vast majority of the skeletons, more than 90%, were cats although there are also dogs, baboons and 2 species of macaque monkey.

Remains of cat at world's first pet cemetry in Egypt
Remains of cat at world's first pet cemetry in Egypt. Photo as per photograph.

In all they exposed 585 animals. They were laid out carefully in individual graves which indicates to the archaeologist that this was a pet cemetery at a remote seaport on the western coast of the red Sea, Berenike.

Some of the animals were wearing collars and some showed evidence of illness indicating that they were companion animals. As the animals had not been mummified and there was no sign of a sacrifice at this 2000 year old site, this further supported the view that this was a cemetery.

Berenike was a busy Roman port at the time and founded in 275 BC. They also uncovered remnants of goods from India and other luxury items from across the Empire including fabrics, spices and ceramics.

The scientists, Marta Osypinska and her husband Piotr, who are called 'archaeozoologists', first discovered the cemetery in 2011 when they were excavating a Roman trash dump on the edge of this ancient town.

Apparently some experienced archaeologists said that they were wasting their time in digging up the pets but it has proved enlightening they say.

The research is published in the journal World Archaeology. The site existed as a pet cemetery for about a hundred years from the mid-first century to the mid-second century.

Comment: There was a time when the experts thought that the first domestic cats in the world were pets of the ancient Egyptians. However, it is now believed that the first North African wildcats were domesticated around 10,000 years ago which, as I understand it, is before the Egyptians adopted them as pets as long ago as 3700 BC. 10,000 years ago is about 8000 BC.

It is believed that the domestic cat went through a golden era of adoration as pets of the ancient Egyptians because they created gods in their likeness. I think this is a misconception because many kittens were deliberately killed as sacrifices to the gods. It is believed that these kittens were bred for the purpose of sacrifice.

As is always the case there are those who abuse animals even in countries where a particular animal appears to have been worshipped. My clear impression is that there was far more abuse of animals in general and cats in particular in Ancient Egypt than people care to reflect on. Not a cat loving society if you dig deep.

However, the fact that 90% of the skeletons at the cemetery were cats clearly indicate that they dominated the pet marketplace and were far more popular than dogs at that time.

Monday 1 March 2021

What is the cat fancy?

The cat fancy is that group of people who breed purebred pedigree cats for adoption and for showing at cat shows and it also includes those organisations called cat associations which govern cat shows and provide guidelines in the form of breed standards for breeders to follow.

Lynx point Siamese cat at a cat show. Cat shows are part of the cat fancy.
Lynx point Siamese cat at a cat show. Cat shows are part of the cat fancy. Photo: Pixabay.

In short, it is that group of people who are involved with showing, selling and breeding purebred cats. The word "fancy" is an interesting one because you may have also heard of the phrase 'pigeon fanciers'. These are people who breed racing pigeons. There are other fanciers concerning other animals. The word 'fancy' in this context means 'to like', to put it simply.

So cat fanciers are those people who like purebred cats and therefore they like to breed them. And if you breed purebred cat you want to breed the best purebred cat you can. This means that you want to win a cat show or win a category at a cat show. 

You do this by making sure that the cat that you breed fits in as near as possible perfectly with the breed standard as provided by the cat association to which you are affiliated and where your purebred cat is registered.

All purebred cats should be registered with a cat association. In some countries you will see purebred cats, often Persian cats, for sale which probably are not registered with any cat association and therefore you can't be sure that they are genuine. Their appearance may be slightly dubious as well.

A lot of countries do not have a cat fancy. The biggest cat fancy is in America and the idea of a cat fancy was started in England in the late 19th century. The largest number of purebred cats are in America. America is a nation of cat lovers with the world's largest number of domestic cats and the highest number of purebred cats. However, like all nations there are those who dislike cats of which there are many millions in America.

The most popular purebred cats in America are probably the Persian, Siamese, Bengal and Maine Coon. You can find out which are the most popular by finding out which cat breed sells the best and that information should be available with the cat associations and if not they can at least tell you the number of cats that they register of each particular breed. That is an indirect way of finding out which breed sells the best.

Young confident cat cures elderly dog of separation anxiety

This is a beautiful picture of a young, confident cat, Pete, lying next to an elderly dog, Lucy, who suffered (past tense!) from separation anxiety when Joe's job took him away from the family home for long periods. Jo's wife, Lindsey, was at her wits end because Lucy's separation anxiety was acute. As soon as Joe packed his suitcase she'd start whimpering and when he left she wouldn't get out of bed.

She wouldn't go to the bathroom and everything she tried to assuage her separation anxiety failed. Her children, aged 3 and 6, wanted a new pet anyway, and I suppose this encouraged her to try that route. She decided to adopt a young cat rather than another dog as a companion for Lucy and made enquiries at a Pennsylvanian animal shelter called Forever Home Animal Rescue.

Young confident cat cures elderly dog of separation anxiety
Young confident cat cures elderly dog of separation anxiety. Picture: Lindsey Getz.

They were 'advertising' Pete on their website, I presume, describing him as laid back with a really easy-going temperament. An ideal cat she thought although you can never be sure that it is going to work out when you introduce a new companion animal to a home where there is a resident companion animal. Interspecies relationships are more problematic as well.

She shouldn't have been worried because Pete was very well socialised to dogs and that factor in combination with his confident and laid-back nature leapfrogged all the barriers that could have been presented. On the day he was brought home from the rescue center he was lying next to Lucy in the evening cuddling up.

Initially he was a bit fearful and hid for a day or two but Pete quickly became friends with the kids and importantly with Lucy. Lucy had a companion, a substitute to Joe, and Pete was looking after Lucy. Her separation anxiety faded. It is still there but to a much lesser extent. It is almost a cure and of course Lindsey is delighted because she has resolved what she no doubt saw as a major problem in her life.

She says that her life has been transformed for the better in solving Lucy's separation anxiety and in addition, both the lives of Lucy and of course of Pete have also been transformed. And Joe doesn't have to worry any more about Lucy being troubled with his departures. He can do his job without being concerned about Lucy's anxieties. Perhaps that makes him feel better as well because no doubt when you love your companion animals if your behaviour causes anxieties in them it will cause anxiety in you as well.

The lesson is that sometimes taking a chance on introducing a cat into a home where a dog suffers from anxieties of this nature can be hugely beneficial to both animals and to their owners.

Note: this story is from 2016 but it counts as it is educational as well as beautiful.

When do domestic cats stop growing?

Domestic cats probably stop growing at around 3 years old. Disappointingly, I have to admit, my reference books on the subject of when domestic cats stop growing are short of information. It is a topic which has been overlooked or perhaps the authors regard it as unimportant. It is believed that the domestic cat's wild cat ancestor, the North African wildcat, are nearly adult in size at about 10 months of age.

Young cat entering the last phase of their growth to adulthood
Young cat entering the last phase of their growth to adulthood.
Image by DanaTentis from Pixabay.

My observation of my cat, who I raised from a 7-week-old kitten, is that domestic cats stop growing at around 18 months old. But that is a very generalised answer. Frequently, I read online that the purebred cat, the Maine Coon, does not become an adult until they are 4 years old.

And the tiger, yes, I'm referring to the wild tiger, is still putting on muscle at 5 years of age. I'm being very imprecise but perhaps we have to be imprecise because although domestic cats visually stop growing at about 12 months to 18 months of age, they may still be developing and changing towards completed adulthood over the next few years.

So perhaps a better answer is that domestic cats stop growing completely, probably, at around 3 years of age but depending upon whether they are random bred or one of the purebred cat such as the Maine Coon, which I have mentioned.

I notice that the North African wildcat remains in their natal area until they are about a year old which is the age when sexual activity has been observed in captive cats. This means that when the domestic cat's wild cat ancestor leaves their mother's home and becomes independent they are around 1 year of age. That would indicate that they are adult at that age or nearly adult and certainly able to behave independently and survive.

Humans stop growing at about 20% of their lifespan. Domestic cats stop growing at about 17% of their lifespan if we say that they stop growing at the age of 3 and live to the age of 18.

Domestic cats are polyphasic sleepers

It is important for cat owners to be aware of the fact that domestic cats are polyphasic sleepers This is a cross post because it is an interesting topic in my opinion (read the other article by clicking here). You don't see this topic discussed very often. Polyphasic sleep means sleeping many times during the day as the prefix 'poly' means many and 'phasic' means phase. 

There are two other types of sleep namely monophasic and biphasic. People are generally monophasic sleepers which means they sleep at night and work during the day. It's a convention but a lot of people are biphasic and retired people are often polyphasic, napping throughout the day combined with broken sleep at night.

Domestic cats are polyphasic sleepers
 Domestic cats are polyphasic sleepers. Photo: Pixabay.

Boris Johnson is a good example of a person who has a biphasic sleep pattern because he uses a power nap in the afternoon to energise himself for the remainder of the day.

Polyphasic sleep for domestic cats fits in with their lifestyle. Innately they hunt during the day and night. Although they tend to focus on crepuscular activity which as you probably know is activity at dawn and dusk because their prey animals are more available at these times. Another reason for a domestic cat's polyphasic sleep pattern is because they have to fit in with the human lifestyle.

The human's biphasic sleep pattern because of their circadian rhythms is in friction with the domestic cat's lifestyle which is more fluid. The domestic cat is motivated in terms of activity to hunt. That is the raison d'ĂȘtre of their life and it requires fluidity. They need to hunt whenever they can because they are opportunistic hunters. The end result is a fluid lifestyle and a fluid sleep pattern which means that they are polyphasic sleepers.

The sleep pattern of domestic cats depends somewhat (at least) on whether they are full-time indoor cats or indoor/outdoor cats. The full-time indoor cat is likely to be the sort of cat who will sleep more often. This is not true sleep but napping and snoozing to kill time. The indoor/outdoor cat can behave more naturally in that they can hunt which means they're likely to rest and snooze less but they are still polyphasic sleepers.

An interesting point worth making is that because domestic cats are polyphasic sleepers they give the impression to people that they sleep a lot more than they do. There must be a million articles on the Internet about domestic cats sleeping for inordinate lengths of time, up to about 18 hours or more a day. I'm going to say that these are misleading articles, everyone of them.

Domestic cats are polyphasic sleepers
Domestic cats are polyphasic sleepers. Image: PoC.

Domestic cats are not actually sleeping during these phases. They are snoozing and resting. Based upon careful observations of my domestic cat, I can confidently state that when he is apparently sleeping he is only in genuine sleep, including REM sleep, for about 25% to 30% of the time. The rest of the time he looks like he is sleeping but he's alert and ready to get up and do things. I know this because at the slightest sound he gets up. And his ears are constantly mobile.

There is a misconception which is sadly disseminated and constantly reinforced on the Internet that cats sleep far more than people. I'm going to argue that domestic cats do not genuinely sleep more than people. If you add up the many phases of their sleep - and it may be 4 or 5 or 6 times in a day - you will find that they genuinely sleep for about 8 hours or maybe even less. This is a similar amount of time to people.

It is arguable, in fact, that domestic cats genuinely sleep less time than people.

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