How did pets become domesticated animals?


And what were they when they were still in the wild?

In: Biology

Baiting them with food, captivity, then selective breeding for domestication.

There are still examples of wild dogs, cats, and other common household pets.i would assume that’s more or less what they’ve been for quite some time.

Mutually beneficial relationship. We provide food and warmth, they deter predators from eating our livestock and/or food.

Dogs and cats self-domesticated, which is different from how other animals because domesticated.

Most animals became domesticated when ancient humans deliberately made an effort to capture them, tame them and breed them to be more docile.

Cats and dogs are a bit different.

With dogs, the theory is they started hanging around ancient camp sites to eat our scraps. Gradually they became less afraid of humans, and humans started interacting with them more and teaching them to help with hunting and keeping guard at night.

There are actually some colonies of baboons that keep dogs as pets, which might be what early human-dog relations looked like.

Cats, meanwhile, started hanging around when we developed agriculture. Cats eat mice, which helps humans out by protecting our food, and they don’t cause any real damage to anything we care about. So after a while, cats evolved to be less afraid of humans, and just kinda ended up moving into our houses like a “short term” houseguest who just never gives a timeline for moving on.

There’s actually not a huge difference between domestic cats and their wild equivalents. It’s pretty much some minor cosmetic changes in cost colour, and domestic cats being less afraid of people.


Domestication is essentially the process of changing animals so their properties are more desirable to us.

For instance, domesticated sheep grow more wool. Domesticated chickens lay more eggs. Domesticated cows give more milk and grow more muscle (meat) and so on.

This happens because we intentionally or unintentionally select for qualities that we like and allow those animals to reproduce or reproduce more. An excellent stallion is used to sire many offspring while a horse with poor qualities is intentionally castrated so it doesn’t reproduce.

Many of these animals are intentionally domesticated because we intentionally try to breed them to maximise the benefits we get from them.

But animals can also domesticate themselves more or less. The earliest dogs resulted from the wolves that were the friendliest towards us. A wolf that ate our scraps and warned us of danger was useful. A wolf that ate or chickens or threatened our children was killed on sight.

The end result is wolves that became increasingly tolerant and eventually friendly towards humans.

Dogs are a great example in general really. A lot of dog breeds are the result of intentional selective breeding for size, temperament, colouring, coat etc. We choose which dogs we want to breed in order to pass their qualities on to their offspring.

But dogs also have a lot of unintentional adaptations. Dogs are much better at digesting carbohydrates than wolves for example. Wolves are almost entirely carnivorous and their diets consist mostly of meat. But dogs ate a lot of human scraps, right from the start. And humans ate a lot of carbs.

Dogs also evolved the ability to move their eyebrows, wolves can’t do that. This gives dogs much more expressive faces than wolves. Most of us know exactly how effective dogs can give you a sad face when they’re begging for food or attention. More expressive dogs got more positive attention and rewards than inexpressive dogs or wolves.

And most domesticated animals are nearly exactly what they were in the wild. Cow, pigs, chickens, goats, sheep, dogs etc. all have wild relatives that are so closely related to them that they can interbreed.

The differences are so small that when domesticated animals go feral, they start to lose their domesticated traits and become more similar to their wild kin within the space of a few generations. After all, a lot of their domesticated traits are just disadvantages in the wild. And they still carry the genes for everything that made them successful as wild animals.

Feral pigs for instance become less fat, more muscular, hairier and grow bigger tusks in just a few generations of going back into the wild.

If you take a whole bunch of purebred dogs with unusual looks and leave them free to breed amongst themselves, a couple of generations later the mutts all start to look more wolf like. They start to lose all of the ridiculous features that humans bred into them.

Some animals’ biological tendencies and skills lend themselves well to humans, and vice versa so symbiotic relationships form.

For example – cats. Cats are naturally inclined to hunt rodents. Rodents are pests that eat the kinds of things a farmer would be harvesting. Cats don’t want grains and fruits, though. They want to eat the rodents. So the nature of a farm attracts rodents. Rodents attract cats. Cats kill rodents, which keeps them from eating crops. So the farmer decides to let the cat stick around since the cat gets rid of the things that actually harm his livelihood.

Cat benefits by having a constant supply of food. Human benefits by having a way to get rid of pests. That’s likely how cats ended up becoming domesticated.

Any animal that has been domesticated from the earliest civilizations will have some characteristic that is helpful for human survival in a more primitive world.