Virgin Housecats vs. Chad Wildcats

Gwern in a review of Bradshaw’s Cat Sense:

…Thus, the widespread adoption of early neutering by the most responsible cat owners risks pushing the domestic cat’s genetics back gradually toward the wild, away from their current domesticated state.

A study that I conducted in 1999 suggests that such extrapolation cannot be dismissed as science fiction. 15 [John W. S. Bradshaw, Giles F. Horsfield, John A. Allen, and Ian H. Robinson, “Feral Cats: Their Role in the Population Dynamics of Felis catus,” Applied Animal Behaviour Science 65 (1999): 273-83. ] In one area of Southampton (UK), we found that more than 98% of pet cat population had been neutered. So few kittens were being born that potential cat owners had to travel outside the city to obtain their cats. This situation had clearly existed for some time: from talking to the owners of the older cats, we calculated that the cat population in that area had last been self-sustaining some ten years previously, in the late 1980s.

We located ten female pets in the area that were still being allowed to breed and tested the temperament of their kittens after homing, when the kittens were six months old. Our hypothesis was that feral males must have fathered many of these kittens, since so few intact males were being kept as pets in the area, and all of these were young and unlikely to compete effectively with the more wily ferals. We found that on average, the kittens in those ten litters were much less willing to settle on their owners’ laps than kittens born in another area of the city that still had a significant number of undoctored pet tomcats. There was no systematic difference in the way these two groups of kittens had been socialized, and the mother cats in the two areas were indistinguishable in temperament. We therefore deduced that even if only one of the two parents comes from a long line of ferals, the kittens will be less easy to socialize than if both parents are pets. The study was too small to draw any firm conclusions, but in the years since it was carried out, blanket neutering has become more widespread, and so the cumulative effects of this on the temperament of kittens should be becoming more obvious. Neutering is an extremely powerful selection pressure, the effects of which have been given little consideration. At present, it is the only humane way of ensuring that there are as few unwanted cats as possible, and it is unlikely ever to become so widely adopted that the house cat population begins to shrink. However, over time it will likely have unintended consequences.

It’s interesting how millennia of rigorous and often rather cruel selection is getting reversed in the blink of an eye, across multiple species.

Hopefully they’re not getting bigger. 20 kg feral cats would be legitimately dangerous predators to children.

On the other hand, I wonder if feral cats are also getting more intelligent, to better navigate complex urban environments. This may be happening with respect to Moscow’s dogs, some of whom have figured out how to use the subway.

Anatoly Karlin is a transhumanist interested in psychometrics, life extension, UBI, crypto/network states, X risks, and ushering in the Biosingularity.


Inventor of Idiot’s Limbo, the Katechon Hypothesis, and Elite Human Capital.


Apart from writing booksreviewstravel writing, and sundry blogging, I Tweet at @powerfultakes and run a Substack newsletter.


  1. Spisarevski says

    Hopefully they’re not getting bigger. 20 kg feral cats would be legitimately dangerous predators to children.

    Even a 5kg domestic cat can be more than legitimately dangerous to a child if it wanted to, and can somewhat fuck up an adult too (of course it can’t kill you but it can do a lot of skin damage).

    A 20kg cat would be legitimately dangerous to pretty much any adult human. It’s the weight of a grown clouded leopard which hunts deer and macaques.

  2. Daniel Chieh says

    One thing I do remember is that feral male cats have become increasingly less attached to communal female colonies for the very reason of neutering.

    Pre-neutering, attempting to be a cat version of a pride owner had some value(the “resident tom” was the term IIRC), since all kittens would be fathered by a single tom(or roughly so), but since it is not possible to tell which females are capable of having kittens and which ones aren’t, a much better strategy has simply been to have a very wide range and mate with as many females as possible with no regard for mate guarding strategies.

  3. reiner Tor says

    It’s the same kind of thinking which results in human dysgenics.

  4. As offtopic cultural question – I was wondering why Americans are such “dog people”, while Russians such “cat people”.

    Both are about equally nice pets.

    So is the difference just a result of environmental considerations (Americans have large houses, not apartments), or is average choice in pets expression of some more different worldview altogether, that could be relevant to political analysts?

  5. Hopefully they’re not getting bigger. 20 kg feral cats would be legitimately dangerous predators to children.

    In Australia, feral cats grow up to 20 kg.×4-700×933.jpg

  6. Even a 5kg domestic cat can be more than legitimately dangerous to a child

    A cat of any size can” technically ” injure a child. But domestic cats are good-natured and peaceful and do not offend children.


    In the eighties and nineties we had a tomcat we didn’t neuter, he sired a number of kitten litters in the area, I see his physical traits in a number of cats in the area. The current cats, brother and sister, in the family are both neutered. I can understand the reluctance to not neuter a female, a litter is a pain, but I wouldn’t choose to neuter a male.

  8. Lions are pretty tame too.

  9. Spisarevski says

    Yes, that’s why I said “if it wanted to”. Luckily for us, cats are chill and magnanimous.

    My point was that a 20kg cat should be able to murder most adults. Besides the clouded leopard I mentioned, caracals are also less than 20kg (between 8–18 kg according to wikipedia) and they hunt antelopes.

  10. Possibly related: Poorer Russians tend to own more dogs, while the correlation goes the other way in the US.

    I assume this is mostly because in the US dogs are almost exclusively a luxury good, while in Russia many of them are still used for functional purposes (e.g. guard duty). If you just want a pet, cats are lower maintenance than dogs.

    This may soon reverse if it hasn’t already. I already see plenty of Yorkies, poodles, etc. even in the prole areas of Moscow.

  11. domestic cats are good-natured

    Even servals seems quite friendly pets (although these cruel people say at the end they removed its claws).

    • Historically, cats may have never been “domesticated” – maybe it’s more like they domesticated people.

  12. A 5kg cat is more than large enough to do serious damage – not from the initial attack, but infection and disability from a bite. Even a very nice loving cat can do that. I mentioned the example of my grandmother’s cat: that cat loves her but nevertheless, for some reason, one day he bit her hand and being so old and fragile, it did a lot of damage to her. It didn’t sever any nerves or tendons, fortunately, but the eventual infection still sent her to the hospital and once you’re in the hospital, iatrogenics can easily kill you.

  13. I was told that if he does not get neutered, he will be more likely to wander away and get into nasty fights with other toms.

  14. They’re unlikely to be getting bigger. Pre 20th century, non-pedigree cats were selectively bread to be larger in order to kill rats and not just mice, they were given extra food as well though. In the wild, it’s probably advantageous to be lighter and have a lower metabolism. In countries with visible feral cat colonies, they’re noticeably smaller than pet cats.

  15. Daniel Chieh says

    Food might not be so rare for ferals: plenty of garbage dumps and cats are agile.

  16. Cats really are biological machines, IMO. They misdirect their anger – not even a normal dog does that.

    I have heard there are as many nerve cells involved in digestion in humans as there are in the brain of a house cat.

  17. Well that explains how my female cat acted when she was young. Though, it was strange at the time how 2 cats from the same litter could be so different. The 1 still alive was very feral for a long time, while the other female was far more friendly.

  18. Cats are highly territorial and breed prolifically, so feral cats are likely to run into malthusian conditions quite quickly, or become persecuted; either traditionally (poisoned/shot) or humanely (trap neuter return-renoved from the gene pool). Raiding humans’ garbage makes them very vulnerable to the latter. In this situation, being small and shy seems optimal.

  19. Daniel Chieh says

    True, and the effects of traffic also seem to select against physical size. Smaller cats are probably less likely to be hit by a car than a larger one.

    Incidentally, r/e garbage dumps & hunting by ferals:

    All of these animals are usually easier to kill than a big, tough adult rat. Even easier for cats is looking cute to sucker a human into feeding you. Or just eating trash—of which there is plenty in a city. Jamie Childs, a researcher at Yale who has also studied cats and rats in Baltimore, says that only very desperate and very hungry cats are likely going to go for an adult rat. Most of the time, there’s plenty of other food. “I see cats and rats eating out of the same trash piles,” he told me on the phone.

    “At the same time?” I asked.

    “At the same time.”

  20. EliteCommInc. says

    I and my housemate rescue cats. I think at one time we had thirteen or more. Here’s some of what we have learned.

    1. feral cats aside over time if not immediately, appreciate being brought in doors. It’s as if they understand that their lives are no longer at risk as they once were outdoors. They get it.
    2. despite being pregnant when feral, females mothers will teach their cats to use litter boxes as soon as they can walk — we watched this and were amazed by it.

    3. feral cats can be domesticated and be incorporated into domestic life as friendly, happy, lovable and painful additions to homelife

    4. pets that have never been feral are spoiled rotten and expect to be catered to in every way.

    5. I have really come to appreciate and love cats. They are great owners. I have nursed no less than six in passing and each one was an emotionally excruciating process. I miss every one of them. For a long and healthy life — no dry food.

    We rescue cats otherwise they might over run a neighborhood. We believe our rescue is a service to to community — even though it might be expensive. I told my housemate that if she wanted me around it would be me or the cat — that was more than twenty years and some thirteen cats ago.

    ****** But I still want my favorite owner a big dog large enough to know me over.

  21. I agree about cats being able to injure kids, especially babies. I was attacked by a cat next to my flat when I was 12. It was old 5 story Khrushevka and cat happen to pop out beneath of the landing. Probably because it was warm there. I’ve seen this feral cat before on garage roofs, but it never got close to our block before. I was in the shock as I didn’t know why this was happening. It was hissing at me and when I tried to run it just sunk it’s claws into my leg. I was with backpack full of school books and with big fluffy winter jacket so I was very uncomfortable. But I managed to crab the cat by the neck and squeeze it as hard as my dads plastic ring he used to train his grip. The cat suddenly turned itself while being in my grasp and sunk it’s claws into my hand. This what I really felt so I instinctivetly whacked it into the ground few times and it died. I dislike cats from that day, well except for the cat I rescued and couldn’t find new owners. I can tolerate her, but everytime she meows(more like growls) she gets a slipper thrown at her.

  22. This may be happening with respect to Moscow’s dogs, some of whom have figured out how to use the subway.

    Saw one a couple of years ago. Got on the subway, was quiet and polite, eventually made its way to a grandmother with a bag, sat in front of her. She pulled out a piece of sausage and gave it to the dog. At the next stop, the dog moved on.

    Moscow street dogs are particularly attractive because they tend to be somewhat furry (they have to be), they don’t have that mean-looking hairless pitbull appearance.

    In the early 2000s, when one of my kids was a toddler the child barked a lot in public once. Within five minutes, out of the woodwork, about 20 street dogs came to investigate.

    I don’t remember seeing any when I visited this spring.

  23. i have an outdoor cat that eats all kinds of things – mice, birds, snakes, lizards, etc but won’t eat rats for some reason, just bites their heads off and leaves it there

  24. I don’t know if it’s the reason or not, but I do think that some cats have a built-in behavior where they want you to see that they killed vermin.

  25. When a cat brings its owner prey, it’s believed to be the cat’s way of offering a gift. Some cats bring in live mice and birds for the seeming purpose of having a toy to play with until the latter die from getting swatted and bitten about.

  26. i think that’s part of it becuase the cat leaves them where they’re easy to spot, but i also wonder if rats taste terrible

  27. One day, I saw something curious on the ground. It almost looked like a rotten apple and I couldn’t account for it – where it was and how it had gotten there – so I poked it with a stick to hold it up to my eye for closer inspection.

    I immediately recognized it: it was a squirrel’s liver. The cat, or whatever it was, had eaten every part of the squirrel but its liver.

    I thought that was funny because I recalled a certain monster from folklore which was said to eat every part of a man but his liver.

  28. I maintain there is no such thing as a really domesticated cat. Common housecats are relatively safe for humans because of the size differential. If you were the size of the cat you’d be dead meat.

    What amazes me are the number of people who keep wild cat species around-everything from bobcats, servals, ocelots and margays through cougars, cheetahs and the big cats-lions tigers, etc. Occasionally someone gets killed or mauled, but given the number of people who have these things in some places, the amazing thing is that so few wind up getting the chomp considering that these are highly efficient apex predators easily capable of killing and eating humans.

  29. anonymous coward says

    So is the difference just a result of environmental considerations

    Yes. Rural Russians who live in houses keep dogs, not cats.

  30. Almost Missouri says


    “millennia of rigorous and often rather cruel selection is getting reversed in the blink of an eye”

    My immediate thought was, you mean like Western Europeans?

  31. Hippopotamusdrome says

    Adopt Pinky, PLEASE!

    In soviet Russia, cat neuters you!

  32. Hippopotamusdrome says

    “non-pedigree cats were selectively bread

  33. Daniel Chieh says

    I am a simple man. I see cat, I click upvote.

  34. When a cat brings its owner prey, it’s believed to be the cat’s way of offering a gift.

    That’s not at all what it is, and anybody who thinks that way is a sentimental, anthropomorphizing moron who ought to be neutered himself to avoid passing along his stupidity. Animals do not offer “gifts.”

    The fact of the matter is that cats perceive their human hosts to be rather large, dumb kittens who are in need of cat skills and cat socialization. The reason they bring back prey, either alive or dead, is because they expect you to be able to do the same. Cats have an instinctive drive to teach these things to each other, especially to kittens. None of this proceeds by any conscious choice on the part of the animal, of course.

    And I agree that there is really no such thing as a domesticated cat; or, to put it differently, to the extent that they are domesticated, they domesticated themselves. It’s a completely one-sided arrangement on the cat’s part. The very same feline who will twine about your legs begging to be fed will turn around and hiss at you as it precedes you to the can opener. There is no association in its mind between you as a source of food and a you as a fellow creature it should get along with. The vacant eyes of the cat are simply there to follow movement, to perceive threats and prey items and geometrical relationships. They are not “the windows of the soul” the way they are in humans and dogs. While cats are capable of socializing among themselves, they do so mainly by smell and touch. We humans use the language of touch in a very different way, and of the world of scents we have no highly developed form-language whatsoever. For these reasons the cat and the human always remain in separate spheres of mutual incomprehension, and any attachment the human feels is self-deceptive and illusory.

  35. We also saw that as character, our neutered tom is a bit of a sissy by comparison.

  36. Tom cats and roosters really show how the sexes differ, but relatively few interact with those animals nowadays.

  37. That’s an interesting idea about it be a mothering technique. In theory domestication usually revolves the retention of juvenile traits. Dogs, are for instance, typically more cub-like than wolf-like. Of course, there is nothing to say a maternal instinct couldn’t be preserved, though if Toms do it, that theory probably doesn’t make sense.

    Regardless of the initial source, I think that cats do it because the behavior was selected for. Cats that caught mice were rewarded. To be rewarded, other than eating the mouse, they had to show humans that they caught mice.

  38. John Gray on the philosophical significance of cat hatred –

  39. Incidentally, this essay can serve as a great introduction to Zen Buddhism, even though it does not mention Zen once.

  40. For these reasons the cat and the human always remain in separate spheres of mutual incomprehension

    In his fantastic essay, John Gray agrees with this, but he sees this as precisely why cats are so fascinating and appealing to us – because they are so unlike us, and effortlessly embody a state we try so hard to achieve.

    Cats as an aide to self-transcendence 🙂

  41. Sounds like the relationship between women and the men they like

  42. EliteCommInc. says


    ****** But I still want my favorite owner a big dog large enough to knock me over.

    and regardless of their motherly instruction — they don’t always use the litter box — grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr,

  43. Daniel Chieh says

    Of course, there is nothing to say a maternal instinct couldn’t be preserved, though if Toms do it, that theory probably doesn’t make sense.

    Toms have been known to show parental behavior especially to kittens they recognize as their own(by smell) and bring half-dead animals to them. So they do have some “fatherly” behavior as well.

  44. Hippopotamusdrome says

    You leave the cat ground up dead cow parts mixed with flour in a bowl on the floor. They think it’s normal.

  45. I view feral cat as a dangerous pest, threatening the population of birds.

  46. Toronto Russian says

    Thanks for sharing your experience. It’s written right there in the review that studies on cats are very unreliable. But something tells me guys don’t care and just want to shame people who plan the size of their families. You’re like neutered pets, and the “wild” ones are having more kids than you losers!

    Except contraception is not like pet neutering at all (for one it’s voluntary, and with the most popular methods you have to make a conscious choice every day whether to continue it), and “wild” people don’t have more children.

    In the decade that passed since these posts, wild behavior kept going out of fashion among teenagers – so if you believe it’s inherited, an ever larger proportion of them must be born to “tame” parents.

  47. I guess we don’t have the ancient species to observe. I wonder if that type of behavior is typical in other small wild cats. Maybe, so.

    I recall a situation where a cat called to me, with a very strange call. It showed me a mouse. I petted it, and then it began purring and ate the mouse. The same cat used to try to suckle on a stuffed animal my sister had, when it was fully grown. So, it seemed to favor kitten-like traits.

  48. The student instead of the teacher? That’s a definite possibility.

  49. In the US, outdoor cats are said to kill from 1.4 billion-3.7 billion birds a year.

  50. Even in old age (when they sleeping most of the day), cats will sometimes run around playing games with themselves, like they were still kittens.

  51. I’m not sure cats are really so different to people. Morphologically the brain structure is highly similar to human brains.

  52. Yeah big cats are not necessarily so nice

  53. Guillaume Tell says

    And how many useful insects would have said birds killed otherwise?