True to a cat's nature, the elusive feline took its time deciding whether to warm up to humans. Unlike dogs, cats lived for thousands of years alongside humans before becoming pets. DNA analysis suggests that early ancestors of today’s domestic cats spread from southwest Asia and into Europe as early as 4400 B.C. and started hanging out around farm communities. Rodents were attracted to crops and other agricultural byproducts, and so, about 8,000 years ago, cats became rodent patrol, a mutually beneficial relationship with humans.
Surveying the DNA of more than 200 cats, spanning the last 9,000 years, researchers found that two major cat lineages of Felis lybica contributed to the domestic feline we know today. Their genes have changed little from these early wildcats--though they've picked up up two more recent tweaks, the distinctive stripes and dots of the tabby cat. Then, as now, cats were cherished companions. As many as 74 million cats live in U.S. homes today.