There are a lot of house cats with white socks that can be found out there. However, it is interesting to note that said phenomenon is very rare in their wild cousins. As a result, interested individuals should have no problems guessing that the white socks are a product of the domestication process.
Why Do Cats Have Socks Anyways?
We do not have a perfect understanding of how cats became domesticated. After all, it happened so many thousands of years ago that it predated recorded human history, meaning that we don’t have perfect records of anything from that time. Still, there has been a lot of interest in this particular issue, which in turn, means that there have been a fair number of findings.
For starters, the evidence suggests that cats started hanging out with humans because of the rise of agriculture. Basically, humans settled down when they switched over from a hunting-gathering lifestyle to a farming lifestyle, which brought in an enormous number of mice as well as other pests. This is because farmers had to maintain stockpiles of food to see them through the seasons that became very tempting targets for mice as well as other pests. In turn, those pests brought in cats, which are very much predators by nature.
The initial relationship between cats and humans was beneficial for both parties. For cats, the pests meant a very convenient source of food. Meanwhile, for humans, the cats meant a very convenient way to protect their stored food with minimal expenditure of effort on their part. On top of this, it should be mentioned that cats are obligatory carnivores, meaning that they posed no potential threat to the humans’ food stores. As such, cats and humans seemed to have gotten along well without much need for change on the part of cats, with the result that the species lived in close proximity to human communities with little change for thousands and thousands of year.
Still, little change isn’t the same as no change whatsoever. For instance, those humans would have preferred cats that were friendlier towards them, which in turn, meant that they would have been friendliest towards the cats that were the calmest as well as the most comfortable in their presence. This would’ve boosted those cats’ chance of having offspring with those same traits, thus causing the successive generations to become friendlier and friendlier towards humans. The whole thing wouldn’t have been an intentional move on the part of those humans in the same way that humans breed for particular traits in domesticated animals in the present time, but the result was nonetheless what it was.
As for how the white socks showed up, there is still unclear. However, there are a couple of interesting points to consider. One, it should be mentioned that genes don’t have to be as simple and straightforward as having one-for-one correspondence with particular traits. As a result, it is perfectly possible for a single gene to affect more than one trait. This seems to be the case with the white socks on cats because white spots have appeared in mice, rats, pigs, cows, and horses when humans bred them for maximum tameness, though the exact mechanism remains unknown to us for the time being. Two, once the white socks started appearing on cats, it seems reasonable to speculate that humans started selecting for that traits as well. Apparently, there is evidence to suggest that our ancestors favored cats with markings that disrupted their camouflage. Perhaps this is because said individuals preferred cats that stood out in such a blatant manner or perhaps there was some other motive altogether. What matters is that when humans started selecting for tameness in cats, that caused the unexpected appearance of white socks on cats. Something that in turn, became a trait that people selected for as well.
How Will Cats Continue to Change in the Times to Come?
In any case, it will be interesting to see how cats will continue to change in the times to come. The interest in breeding specific traits into cats over the course of generations and generations is something that has risen to prominence in relatively recent times. However, now that it is here – it seems safe to say that it will be sticking around with us for some time to come at the very least.
Of course, there have already been some remarkable results thanks to the interest in cat breeding. For example, the Toyger came into existence because cat enthusiasts bred short-haired tabbies in the 1980s in order to create a new breed that would look like a toy tiger. Likewise, while Munchkin cats can trace their origin to a mutation that happened in the 1940s, the breed was created in the 1980s before being introduced to interested individuals in the 1990s. This interest in creating new cat breeds is by no means limited to those times, seeing as how there are more efforts centered on creating more cat breeds at this very point in time.
Having said that, there are potential issues with cat breeding that could see it become less popular in the times to come. For instance, cat breeding can result in a lot of inbreeding, particularly when the cat breeder is more interested in profit than in the well-being of their cats. This is very bad because inbreeding can cause a wide range of negative traits to show up that wouldn’t show up with a healthier gene-pool, which is one of the reasons why breeds sometimes have strange and unusual medical conditions associated with them. There could come a time when an overwhelming majority of cat owners are so concerned with the well-being of cats that they seek to prioritize that over their desire to see those cats look “right,” which could lead to a decline in the more extreme forms of cat breeding.
Besides this, it will be interesting to see what kinds of tools become available to cat breeders in the future as well. Genetic engineering hasn’t started on a notable scale, but it is already at the point when it promises to become reality sooner rather than later. Due to this, one can’t help but wonder whether people will one day start genetically engineering cats, though that would take a much better understanding of the species than what we have for the time being.