How Cats Became a Popular American Pet

orange tabby cat on white wooden cabinet

Cats have become an integral part of many households, providing companionship, comfort, and entertainment to millions of people around the world. In the United States, the history of cats as common pets is a fascinating journey that spans centuries. From their early arrival as mousers on ships to their current status as cherished members of American families, let’s explore the timeline of when cats became popular pets in the United States.

tabby cat standing near wall
Photo by Gijs Coolen

The Early Days

Cats have a long history intertwined with human civilization, dating back thousands of years. However, in the early days of the United States, cats were not widely kept as pets. They were primarily valued for their hunting abilities, particularly in controlling rodent populations on ships and in agricultural settings.

19th Century: From Working Cats to Beloved Companions

As the 19th century rolled in, cats began to transition from being merely working animals to beloved companions. This shift was partly due to the rise of urbanization and the Industrial Revolution. Cats became essential for controlling the rodent population in cities, especially in places like New York City where rat infestations were rampant.

Moreover, the publication of books such as “The Cat: Its Points and Management in Health and Disease” by Gordon Stables in 1873 contributed to raising awareness about cat care and health. These publications helped spark an interest in cats as more than just working animals, but rather as pets that could provide emotional support and companionship.

20th Century: The Cat Fancy Movement

The early 20th century witnessed the emergence of the Cat Fancy movement, which sought to promote the welfare and appreciation of cats as pets. Cat shows and exhibitions became popular, showcasing different breeds and providing a platform for cat enthusiasts to share knowledge and exchange ideas.

In 1895, the Cat Fanciers’ Association (CFA) was established, and its presence helped promote responsible breeding practices, define breed standards, and encourage the adoption of cats as pets. The CFA’s efforts, along with increased media attention and the availability of various cat breeds, helped propel the popularity of cats as domestic companions.

shallow focus photography of white and brown cat
Photo by Yerlin Matu

Modern Times: Cats as Treasured Family Members

In recent decades, the perception of cats has evolved further, and they are now commonly regarded as cherished family members. The internet and social media have played a significant role in the proliferation of cat-related content, including videos, memes, and online communities dedicated to feline enthusiasts. This digital exposure has helped foster a widespread love for cats and their endearing antics.

Furthermore, the emphasis on animal welfare and the benefits of pet ownership have also contributed to the increasing popularity of cats. Many shelters and rescue organizations actively promote cat adoption, encouraging individuals and families to open their homes to these furry companions.

The journey of cats from their humble beginnings as working animals to becoming common pets in the United States has been a remarkable transformation. Over time, cats have gone from being valued for their utilitarian roles to being treasured for their companionship, bringing joy, comfort, and a sense of connection to countless households. With their independent yet affectionate nature, cats have undoubtedly found a special place in the hearts and homes of Americans, enriching our lives in immeasurable ways.

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