Cats have been getting the better of dogs for a long time. A study recently published by an international group of scientists that involved analysis of over 200 fossils revealed that “the arrival of felids to North America from Asia had a deadly impact on the diversity of the dog family, contributing to the extinction of as many as 40 of their species.”
According to a press release put forth by the University of Gothenburg (Sweden) about the research:
The dog family originated in North America about 40 million of years ago and reached a maximum diversity around 22 million of years ago, when more than 30 species inhabited the continent. Today, only 9 species of the dog family live in North America….
The evolutionary success of carnivorous animals is inevitably linked to their ability to obtain food. The limited amount of resources (preys) imposes strong competition among carnivores sharing the same geographic range. For instance African carnivores such as wild dogs, hyenas, lions and other felids are constantly competing with each other for food. North American carnivores in the past might have followed similar dynamics and much of the competition is found among species of the dog family and from ancient felids and dogs. Interestingly, while felids appeared to have a strongly negative impact on the survival of ancient dogs, the opposite is not true. This suggests that felids must have been more efficient predators than most of the extinct species in the dog family.
The scientists concluded that competition with ancient cats had a greater negative effect on canine species than did climate change or the dogs’ increasing body size (today, large carnivores tend to be at a higher risk of extinction than are small carnivores).
And the feline conquest of dogs is still continuing. According to the 2015-2016 American Pet Products Association National Pet Owners Survey, 85.8 million pet cats live in the United States, in comparison to 77.8 million pet dogs.
While being superior predators aided cats in the past, I bet that their continued success as domesticated animals (I use that term loosely when referring to cats) has more to do with their perceived ease of care. As the human population becomes increasingly busy and urbanized, taking care of a dog can seem like a daunting task. In comparison, cats:
- Take up less space
- Don’t require walks or access to the outdoors
- Can handle relatively longer periods of “alone time” without becoming stressed
- Cost less, both when it comes to day-to-day care and veterinary bills
- Are generally cleaner and don’t need baths
- Don’t bark and bother the neighbors
None of this is to say that cats can be acquired and then forgotten. They still do require attention, exercise, love, and care; it’s just that they can be happy and healthy with less of all of those things than dogs.
What do you think? Are cats taking over the world?
Dr. Jennifer Coates
The role of clade competition in the diversification of North American canids. Silvestro D, Antonelli A, Salamin N, Quental TB. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2015 Jul 14;112(28):8684-9.
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