What are the Oldest Cat Breeds in the World?
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The antiquity of cats is fairly well-known. Many are aware of the high esteem with which the Ancient Egyptians viewed their feline compatriots, honoring them to the point of deification. This meant that cats were becoming part of human life around 3,000 BCE via the process of domestication. However, there is evidence to support this process beginning up to 10,000 years ago.
In this list from AnimalWised, we bring you the oldest domesticated cat breeds to show just how ingrained our relationship is with these animals. There may be some on the list you expect, others may be a surprise. Keep reading to see which ancient cats still survive into the present.
Natural cat breeds according to the CFA
As related by a scientific study comparing the genomic analysis of more than 1000 cats belonging to 22 different breeds of domestic cat, the CFA (Cat Fancier's Association) highlights 16 ‘natural’ breeds among the 41 feline breeds it currently recognizes. The ‘natural’ breeds are those that were born spontaneously from locally adapted varieties of cat (landraces) and were then domesticated by different ancient civilizations.
These felines show a more stable genetic code than breeds created by controlled crosses between different specimens of other breeds. In general, this is expressed through greater physical resistance to disease and a lower genetic predisposition to develop numerous degenerative pathologies. It was only later that these spontaneously born breeds become recognized as individual breeds by the corresponding federation or organization (the CFA for example). The aim of these groups became establishing an aesthetic pattern based on selective crossings between the specimens.
Through selective breeding, some breeds achieved the objectives set by these standards. This led to the classifications of breeds by certain feline societies (not all breeds are recognized by all organizations). An example of these breeds is the Persian cat which is no longer considered natural, but established.
What is the oldest cat breed in the world?
In addition to the sources referenced above, we have consulted the excellent research carried out by different researchers and published in the Journal Genomics. This study analyzed the different natural breeds, established breeds, hybrids and mutations recognized by the CFA as well as the ICA (International Cat Association). It offers new information about their origins, including a careful estimation of their birth years. This is one of the ways we can provide a list of the oldest cat breeds in the world, but it is important to show that these are estimations only. There is no definitive way to prove exactly what is the oldest domesticated cat, but we can use the best evidence available to suggest which ones fall into this category.
1. Egyptian Mau
For many experts, the Egyptian Mau could be considered the oldest cat breed in the world. It is estimated that their ancestors were first recorded more than 4000 years ago in Ancient Egypt. The breed would have begun to be perfected by the Egyptians themselves who were responsible for selecting the best representations of their revered feline figure.
Despite its antiquity, the breed was only introduced to the United States of America in the 1950s. This was at the behest of Princess Nathalie Troubetzkoy who helped bring three of the cats from Italy. They were quickly welcomed as a beloved pet, not just for their their elegant physique and beauty, but for their incredibly caring character.
2. Japanese Bobtail
The Japanese Bobtail initially attracts attention due to its very short tail, resembling that of a rabbit. This is a result of a recessive gene present in this breed. It is estimated that their ancestors existed during the 5th century. However, these kittens were introduced to Japan around 1000 years ago and it is this country to which we attribute its origin. For many years, the Bobtail has been the iconic street cat of Japan and, to this day, is an important part of local Japanese folklore.
This beautifully furry kitty was born in Ancient Persia, parts of which were located in what is present day Iran. There is no scientific consensus on when the first Persian cats were born, but we do know that the first duly registered specimen was imported from the region of Khorasan (Greater Persia) to Italy at the beginning of the 17th Century.
However, the aesthetic vision of the breed which we see today has been greatly influenced by the Turkish Angora and was established in the 1800s after its introduction into English society. Due to its remarkable beauty and affectionate character, the Persian quickly became the number one most popular feline breed in the world.
4. Turkish Angora
The Turkish Angora is a natural breed which originates in the Ankara region near central Turkey. There it is considered a national treasure. It is estimated that this breed was introduced to Europe by the Vikings, probably during the 10th century. However, it only began to be officially registered in some French writings of the 16th century. It should also be noticed that the moniker ‘Angora’ was used to refer to many different types of long hair breeds.
Although the breed can have different colors, the most valued Angora specimens are those with completely white fur and two differently colored eyes (heterochromia). These felines are more reserved creatures, generally preferring to live with one or two people. They greatly appreciate tranquillity and are therefore generally not advised for large families or small children.
5. Turkish Van
The Turkish Van is a native breed not only from the regions near Lake Van in Turkey, but also from central and southwest Asia and southwest Russia. These felines have important cultural value not only to the Turks, but also to Armenian and Kurdish citizens. For this reason, it is often considered a controversial national symbol.
The breed was incorporated into the UK in the 1950s, but is estimated that its lineage is as old as that of the Angora. This is why the Turkish Van is also considered one of the oldest cat breeds in the world. The Angora and the Van are different breeds with different genetic lineages, although they have generated much confusion due to their aesthetic similarities.
For those considering adopting a Turkish Van as a pet, it is important to emphasize that it is a dominant cat which needs to be socialized well from being a kitten (preferably in its first 8 weeks) if you want it to get on with other animals.
The Chartreux, sometimes also known as a ‘Carthusian’, is one of the oldest cat breeds in the world. Although its creation has been attributed to the French, where it began to be more widely known in the 1930s, it is estimated these cats were introduced to Europe during the Crusades. Currently, it is estimated they originate on the border between Iran and Turkey.
A curiosity about these cats is their prolonged childhood, needing more than a year to mature and reach adulthood. We should also note their beautiful orange eyes and bluish coat, the latter being similar to that of the Russian Blue.
7. Norwegian Forest
This natural breed is one of the oldest in the world because it descends from the Nordic wildcats which accompanied Vikings on their longboats to control the rat population on board. It is a cat with long hair, a large and robust body (it can weight between 7 and 9 kilograms) as well as a very lively and affectionate temperament. Because of their large size and high energy, they adapt better to open spaces and love to enjoy outdoor activities.
The Korat, often known as the ‘lucky cat’, is originally a native breed from Thailand. Records of them first date back to the year 1350 CE. These kittens drew attention not only for the beautiful blue color of their fur and the green of their eyes, but for also being one of the smallest domesticated cats in the world. An adult Korat usually weighs little more than 2 to 4 kilos.
While the Korat is one of the oldest domesticated cats breeds in the world, its popularity has only recently grown in Western countries. Its introduction to the USA was not until the 1960s.
The popular Siamese cat would be a glaring omission if not included in this list of the world's oldest cat breeds. We should note that there are two types of distinct Siamese cat, the Siamese and the Classic Siamese (more recently known as the Thai cat). There is still no solid agreement on the origins of the Siamese cat, but it is estimated to be been around since the 14th century in its place of origin; the Kingdom of Siam (present day Thailand). Their arrival on the European continent happened in the 19th century. In England, they quickly gained prominence and even held space in the famous exhibitions at the London Crystal Palace. It wasn't until the 20th century that the first British Siamese cat club was established.
The Siamese cat is noted for its very loving and extremely loyal temperament. They often create unique relationships with their guardians. Additionally, their short coat is not only beautiful to look at, but is easy to maintain and is naturally clean and healthy. Add to this their striking blue eyes and you can understand why they have been popular for so long.
The Abyssinian cat is native to the African continent, where we today find the country of Ethiopia (formerly known as Abyssinia). The first specimens arrived in Europe in mid-1868, but were only recognized by the CFA in the 20th century. Its appearance greatly resembles the Libyan Felis, a wild ancestor of current domestic cats.
11. Russian Blue
The Russian Blue, also sometimes known as the Archangel Blue, is a very old breed. The latter name derives from a Russian port from which it is believed Russian sailors took the cat to Europe and, eventually, the UK in 1860. It was only after this point that records were begun for this particularly ancient breed. According to some Russian legends, it is believed to have been kept a secret for centuries. This is because it was an exclusive pet allowed only to accompany the Russian Tsars and family.
The Manx cat is one of the most striking of the oldest cat breeds. This is partly due to having no tail, the result of a natural genetic mutation which alters their spinal column. This mutation results in a lack of tail, but this doesn't stop them from being a beautiful cat with a robust and muscular body. They have a loyal and sociable character which allows them to form very strong bonds with their adoptive human families as well as with other pets.
13. Maine Coon
The Maine Coon is one of the most recognized and loved giant cat breeds in the world. An adult male of this breed can reach 70 cm long and will have an average body weight of up to 10 kilos. Despite their impressive size and robustness, these felines are very affectionate and sociable. Among the curiosities of this breed, we can mention that Maine Coons love to play with water. Additionally, they have the incredible ability to meow in different tones, practically singing melodies to communicate with humans.
The Siberian cat is also classified as a natural breed by the CFA. As the name suggests, these cats are native to the eastern region of Russia (i.e. Siberia).
Siberian cats retain a somewhat wild appearance which is nonetheless striking and attractive. Additionally, they are strong and resilient cats, with a very loyal and affectionate character. Despite its thick and abundant fur, the Siberian is also one of the best cats for people with allergies. This is because they are believed to produce less of the Fel d 1 protein which stimulate allergy receptors in humans. However, even if it won't make you sneeze as much, its coat will need particular care and maintenance to keep it healthy and shiny.
Singapura cats are small, usually weighing no more than 3 or 4 kg and considered one of the smallest cats in the world. Nonetheless, they have a strong and muscular body. Its head has a rounded shape with almond eyes and markings in the shape of a small ‘M’ on their forehead. In Singapore, its country of origin, one can still find specimens living in a semi-feral state, alternating their habitat between city and jungle.
An interesting aspect of these cats is just how close they relate to their owners, often following them around everywhere and enjoying play as much as possible. This has led to them being called the ‘Velcro cat’ thanks to how closely they stick to humans.
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1 Genetics and Animal Domestication: New Windows on an Elusive Process, En: J. Zool. 269, 261–271, 2006.
2 The Ascent of Cat Breeds: Genetic Evaluations of Breeds and Worldwide, En: Genomics. Jan;91(1):12-21, 2008.
3 Patterns of Molecular Genetic Variation Among Cat Breeds, En: Genomics, vol. 91 (1), p.1-11, 2008.