Study Shows Today’s Cats Are Bigger Than Their Wild Ancestors

Unlike other species, today’s cats are bigger than their ancestors. But no one seems to know why.

Today's cats are bigger than their ancestors.

Today’s cats are bigger than their ancestors, but no one seems to know why.

Most species, including dogs, get smaller when they become domesticated. But, perhaps due to their sometimes perverse nature, today’s cats are bigger than their wild ancestors were. 

Why are cats different? No one knows for sure, but experts theorize the reason might be as simple as regular meals.

And it’s possible that this applies only to cats in Denmark. That’s where researchers had the grisly task of sifting through bags of ancient animal bones looking for some that belonged to cats. 

The Vikings And Seafaring Cats

The Vikings loved cats, but not as cuddle buddies. Like other fishermen and sailors, they counted on cats to forecast the weather and to keep their ships rodent-free.
But the Vikings had another job for cats, too. According to an article in Science Magazine, the ones who farmed found warm, furry cat pelts were a great source of income. That life ended violently for many of the cats was shockingly clear to the researchers as they studied the bones.  


Bones Show Today’s Cats Are Bigger Than Their Wild Ancestors

The Winn Feline Foundation reported the study that discovered today’s cats are bigger than their wild ancestors.

Julie Bitz-Thorsen, a student at the University of Copenhagen, was charged with sifting through bags of bones collected from archaeological sites all over Denmark. Her advisor, archaeozoologist Anne Birgitte Gotfredsen, wanted to know how different Iron Age, Viking, and medieval cats were from today’s house cats.

Using an electronic caliper, they measured the cats’ skulls, femurs, tibias and teeth. They found that today’s cats are bigger than cats were in the Viking Age by 16 percent. 

While they looked just at cats in Denmark, a 1987 study of German cats’ bones also shows that today’s cats are bigger than their wild ancestors. 

Most Cats Are Not That Big, Although Some Are Really Big

Chausie cat

Chausie cat photo from Petworlds

Although the average weight of house cats depends on their breed, most domestic cats weigh between eight and 10 pounds.

 If you want to see a really big domestic cat, look at a Chausie or Savannah, said to be the world’s tallest cat breed. Some Chausies weigh in at 30 pounds.

Maine Coons, Norwegian Forest Cats and Ragdolls are big breeds, too.

And the smallest breeds: Devon Rex, Cornish Rex and Singapura. At seven pounds, the Singapura is the smallest breed of all.


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