Less evolved: The average domestic moggy maintains some independence of humans.

Less evolved: The average domestic moggy maintains some independence of humans. Photo: Getty Images

The phrase you can’t teach an old dog new tricks should perhaps be applied to cats instead.

This is because domesticated cats haven’t evolved much from their wild ancestors, a new study has found.

“Cats, unlike dogs, are really only semi-domesticated,” says Wes Warren, professor of genetics Washington University and co-author of the first study to identify how house cats and wild cats differ.

Unlike domestic dogs, which were weaned from wolves more than 30,000 years ago, cats only became pets around 10,000 years ago, about the same time as humans shifted to agriculture.

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“Humans most likely welcomed cats because they controlled rodents that consumed their grain harvests,” said Warren.

“We hypothesised that humans would offer cats food as a reward to stick around.”

Indeed, one of the few differences the scientists found was in the gene related to reward-seeking behaviours.

So those independent kitties learned over time to keep coming back and eventually stayed so they could tap into the treats.

As they have become more domesticated, their patterns and facial features have also changed along with genes associated with behaviours such as memory and fear.

But, cats still have night vision and sharp hearing to detect prey along with guts that allow them to eat a high-fat, high-protein diet.

This, researchers suggest, means our feline friends (frenemies?) haven’t evolved to be dependent on humans, unlike man’s best friend.

Despite this we love cats.

Well, some of us do. There are about 4.2 million pet dogs in Australia compared with about 3.3 million pet cats.

A study this year found that dog lovers and cat lovers have distinct personality traits.

People who said they were dog lovers in the study tended to be more outgoing and also tended to follow rules closely.

Cat lovers, on the other hand, tended to be more introverted, more open-minded and more sensitive.

This being the case, it’s no surprise that cat-lovers accept their kitty’s wild streak and independent tendencies.

Despite this, and despite some suggestions that a cat’s affection is actually them marking you as their territory, humans are starting to grow on cats.

“There’s a big difference between house cats and wildcats,” another of the paper’s authors, Stephen O’Brien, told Wired. “A house cat will sit on your lap, but a wild cat will hand you your behind.”

Fairfax Media