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Basepaws Wild Cat Index: What Kind of Wild Is Your Cat?

As we gear up for the release of the first batch of Basepaws results to our earliest customers, we would like to introduce you to our Breed and Wildcat Indexes. Read up on the ways your cat is similar to wildcats, and how Basepaws is creating a way to compare your cats DNA to those of it’s more wild ancestors.

Your cat might love a soft couch and fancy canned food, but all it takes is the flutter of a bird or the twinkle of a laser pointer to remind your cat that she is a true born hunter. Cats were first adopted by humans only 10,000 years ago and your cat’s DNA is only a pounce away from its wild ancestors. That said, every housecat has more in common with some wild cats than others.

Evolution of the Cat Family

All living cats, big and small, shared the same ancestors around 10 million years ago. If you go back another 10 million years, they even shared ancestors with the extinct saber-toothed cats.

Figueiró, H. V., et al. (2017)

Your cat is more related to some species of wild cats than others. Its closest relatives are the African and European wild cats and the Chinese desert cat. This means that your cat shared ancestors with these wild cats much more recently, on a scale of hundreds of thousands of years. On the other hand, your cat’s most distant relatives are lions, jaguars, tigers and leopards.

Even though their family trees diverged around 10 million years ago, domestic cats and tigers still share 95.6% of their DNA. What’s in the remaining 4.4% of DNA that separates the average housecat from a tiger? This DNA includes genes that make tigers into powerful hunters, like better senses of smell and stronger bodies than your housecat.

On an individual basis, your cat will have slightly more or less than 95.6% of their DNA in common with a tiger. This individual metric is based on random inheritance from your cat’s ancestors. The same type of random inheritance is also true for humans and is the reason why one sibling might look much more like a great grandparent than the other sibling.

The Mixed Ancestry of Cat Hybrids

Sometimes, two different species of cats get together and create kittens called "hybrids". Cat breeders often do this on purpose, mating wild cats with house cats to create popular cat breeds like the Bengal or Savannah. This also sometimes occurs in zoos, resulting in cats like the leopon, half leopard and half lion, or pumapard, half puma and half leopard.

Cat hybrids can also happen in the wild. Hybrids are usually infertile (cannot have kittens), but if they do reproduce, it will move DNA from one cat species into another species. This complicates how scientists use DNA to trace wild cat ancestry, because ancient hybrid relatives make distant wild cat relatives appear to be closely related. This has happened repeatedly during the evolution of cats.

Does this mean your cat’s grandfather could be a lion?

Not likely. Hybrids occur more often in closely related species of cats. We do not know of any kittens born after introducing a housecat to a lion, and we suggest you do not attempt it. On the other hand, in areas where domestic cats are in regular contact with closely related wild cats, hybrids are much more common. For instance, in Germany where the European wildcat lives, close to 20% of the European wildcats have domestic DNA mixed into their recent ancestry.

If your cat has a hybrid in his ancestry, then his DNA will be more similar to his wildcat ancestor compared to a typical domestic cat.

In Perspective: Humans and Neanderthals

Just like cats, humans have also been influenced by hybrid DNA. We, humans, have anywhere from 0% to 4% Neanderthal DNA, depending on where our ancestors are from. That means that some people are more related to Neanderthals than other people are. But here’s the tricky part: The average human’s DNA is 99.5% similar to Neanderthal DNA. How can both of these statistics agree?

By evolutionary calculations, humans and Neanderthals last shared a common ancestor a few hundred thousand years ago. This is why our DNA is very similar to Neanderthal DNA. However, Neanderthals and early humans had hybrid babies before Neanderthals went extinct around 40,000 years ago. These hybrids integrated into the human population and are ancestors to some of us.

If you have more Neanderthal DNA than everyone else, then around 4% of the sections of your DNA will be 100% similar to Neanderthal DNA instead of only 99.5% similar. You might be "more Neanderthal" than everyone you know, but you are still human, and only a tiny bit “more Neanderthal” than other people. Overall, your DNA will only be 0.02% closer to Neanderthal DNA than a person who does not have a Neanderthal hybrid ancestor.

Likewise, when your housecat has more wildcat DNA than any other housecat, your cat is still genetically a housecat. Unless you adopted a wildcat.

Basepaws Wild Cat Index

Basepaws has developed a unique genetic test that compares your cat’s DNA sequence to different wild cats. Our Wild Cat Index tells you which wild cats your cat is most related to, ranked in comparison to other housecats.

Will your cat be more related to a Jaguar or a Lion than other cats? Find out!

The following wild cats are currently included in the Basepaws Wild Cat Index:

Asiatic golden cat

Cheetah

Clouded leopard

Eurasian lynx

Fishing cat

Flat-headed cat

Jaguar

Leopard cat

Lion

Ocelot

Pallas’s cat

Puma

Rusty-spotted cat

Scimitar-toothed cat

Serval

Snow leopard

Tiger