Why Are There Fewer Breeds of Cats Compared to Dogs

Published on Oct 20, 2022 12:00 AM
Why Are There Fewer Breeds of Cats Compared to Dogs

The list of dog breeds goes on while the cat's is limited. How did breeding dogs pique our interest more than breeding cats? Tom Gilbert has expressed his opinion in this regard.  

The World Canine Federation recognizes over 300 dog breeds, whereas the Cat Fanciers' Association only recognizes 42 types of moggie. Why such a vast difference?

Gilbert, a professor of paleogenomics at the University of Copenhagen, says, "My guess would be that dogs are just an awful lot more useful than cats."

Before we get into the debate, let's take a closer look at why this is the case. What does usefulness have to do with the number of breeds? Gilbert has investigated the domestication of dogs from wolves through genetic studies. Wolves are pack animals that live and work together. They are also predisposed to follow a leader, known as the alpha dog, a role humans can fill.

Gilbert adds, "All these characteristics mean that dogs can be trained to do so many things that are useful to humans, such as pull and carry things, hunt and protect."

On the other hand, cats are primarily solitary creatures with an ambivalent relationship with humans. Gilbert explains, "Because they don't come from a particularly social animal, you can't get a house cat to do much," and adds, "Thus, whereas dogs have been bred to perform different tasks, cats have largely been bred for looks—the result being that there are more dog breeds than cat breeds."

Feral Case of Kitten

To understand how essential this proclivity for socialization is, consider the case of the feral kitten. As Gilbert explains, if a cat runs away, becomes feral, and has kittens that aren't exposed to humans within the first few weeks, they become almost untameable. On the other hand, a domesticated street dog will form a bond with its human owners.

"You can only change behavior if there's a standing behavior to build on," Gilbert observes. "While cats are great hunters, you can't breed a cat to hunt on command because that behavior was never there in the first place."

In other words, cats are incapable of performing the vast array of tasks frequently linked to domestication.

How Does Puppy Love Relate To It?

Of course, there are exceptions to the rule that dogs are more valuable. While there are no working cat breeds, not all dogs are bred to work: clearly, some are bred purely to shower their human owners with love and affection (pugs, for example).

As Gilbert observes, "We tend to forget that dogs were originally bred purely for function, and that it was only in the past couple of 100 years that we started selecting based on looks."

However, this does not mean that dogs are no longer bred for a specific purpose. Guide dogs, comfort dogs for post-traumatic stress disorder, and airport sniffing dogs are a few examples. "These are new tasks that dogs—not cats, mind you—are being employed to do," Gilbert concludes. "This once again demonstrates why canines are more useful than their feline counterparts and why, as a result, we have more dog breeds than cat breeds."