No one knows exactly when cats became domesticated, but some experts believe it was about 10,000 years ago. The ancestors of the domestic cat were probably Libyan wildcats from North Africa and were much larger in size than those in Egypt today. Their fur was yellow-gray with striped markings. The markings provided camouflage that the cats needed to hide among the rocks and sands of the desert.
Perhaps as an act of gratitude or to tame them, the ancient Egyptians would leave morsels of food around for the cats to eat. Eventually the cats accepted the Egyptians and became an important part of their households. The Egyptians realized that cats were very skilled hunters and very adept at killing rats, mice and most importantly, poisonous snakes such as the cobra or the horned viper whose bites were usually deadly. This rodent hunting helped reduce the spread of diseases such as bubonic plague, typhoid, salmonella, and dysentery.
Cats also played a part in Egyptian medicine. The fat, fur and excrements of a male cat were used in medicine, while the placenta and the fur would be used from a female cat. A female cat’s fur, in combination with human milk and resin, could be applied to the skin to soothe burns. Feline placenta would be used in a lotion to keep the hair from turning gray. Cat fat, as well as other animal fats, was used in bandages as a remedy for stiffness. The fat of a tomcat rubbed over things was also guaranteed to keep the rodents away.