Cats vs dogs

04 December 2018

Question

Why are there so many more varieties of domestic dogs than there are cats, for example in shape and size?

Answer

Chris Smith put forum user Neilep's question to animal behaviour scientist Eleanor Drinkwater...

Eleanor - This is a really lovely question and in fact this has been an area of a bit of debate in biology as some people have been suggesting that it might be that dogs are kind of special genetically, perhaps they mutate a bit quicker. But I'm afraid the consensus at the moment is a little bit more boring but still quite cool. It's because of us and it's because of selective breeding. So if you think about what dogs have been bred for so you have Huskies who have been bred to pull sleds. Or dogs who've been bred to to hunt deer or go down rabbit holes, it’s a real variety of things that they've been bred for, whereas cats perhaps they've been bred for not quite so many chores.

Chris - Cats just won't cooperate with anything, in my experience.

Eleanor - If you look at something like horses for example, something like a shire horse who has been bred to carry huge loads or like a Shetland pony and get a bit more of the same size dimorphism than you do it in cats.

Chris - Thanks Eleanor, so it’s all in the breeding and it's probably because cats absolutely refuse to indulge in any kind of thing other than just using you as a slave and a food machine. What do you think Patrick, you’re the geneticist. Is there a genetic reason why cats don’t behave?

Patrick - I'm familiar with how dogs became domesticated to some extent. There's I suppose some kind of cooperation between humans and wolves and ultimate domestication but I don't know how cats became domesticated.

Chris - Perhaps the Egyptians had something to do with it. They loved cats didn't they?

Patrick  - They did. But what was the original big cat that they took and made into a small, friendly cat?

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