6 of The Oldest Cat Breeds

Cats have always played a role in human history, and many ancient breeds still walk with us today.

Feb 29, 2024By Maya Keith
oldest cat breeds

It’s unclear how long cats have called us friends, but modest estimates see them domesticated as far back as 12,000 years ago. This may not be anywhere close to the 30,000 years of friendship we have with dogs, but it’s resulted in some of the most ancient lineages seen today.

We see hints of cats in nearly every culture, from folklore that predates written history to Egyptian hieroglyphics and so much more. Surprisingly, the cats recorded thousands of years ago resemble many of the breeds on this list!


abyssinian cat in sun
Image Credit: Burkhard Mücke, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

There are few cats as iconic (and ancient) as the Abyssinian. While this exotic breed seems to have a simple solid-colored coat, the dual-tone cinnamon color is just a hint of their majesty.

Their lithe appearance seems to recall ancient Egyptian artwork, but recent genetic studies show the Abyssinian most likely originates in coastal regions of Southeast Asia.

The breed name is attributed to the Abyssinian war, when soldiers brought them back from the region. However, there is no record of the breed originating from that area.

You can see the earliest identifiable Abyssinian in the Leidan Zoological Museum. The taxidermied creature, labeled as Partie, domestica India, was purchased around 1834 to 1836 and hints at trade from India introducing the breed to England in the 19th century.

Egyptian Mau

silver egyptian mau
Image Credit: Achet Aton, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Egyptian Mau is a striking cat that is right up there with the Abyssinian in its ancient lineage. Ancestors of the breed were mummified along pharaohs thousands of years ago, serving as an afterlife guide and companion.

The spotted cat is seen in papyri and frescoes dating back as far as 1,550 years, easily identified by their slender build and naturally spotted coat. Today, the Egyptian Mau is one of a few naturally spotted cat breeds, meaning their coat comes from natural selection and not human’s selective breeding.

In fact, the Egyptian Mau is the only naturally spotted domestic cat breed, and they lend their spots to other domestic breeds like the Bengal.

Norwegian Forest Cat

norwegian forest cat in snow
Image Credit: Pieter & Renée Lanser from The Netherlands, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

It’s difficult to pin down cat history, especially when they can’t speak to use their tales, but many believe the Norwegian Forest Cat breed originated in Northern Europe, traveling to Norway on Viking Ships as they paid their passage with superb pest control skills.

Affectionately known as “Wegies”, these fluffy giants weigh anywhere from 10 to 20 pounds when fully grown. Their water-repellent fur and dense undercoat are perfect for those northern regions, but they shed heavily in spring and summer months.

As you might expect, the Norwegian Forest Cat is a superb climber. Trees are their favorite to scale, but rocks are no more difficult, and they spend plenty of time observing the world from up high.

Maine Coon

three maine coon cats
Image Credit: Ankord, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Genetic testing proves that the Maine Coon line comes from the Norwegian Forest Cat. Their history is clouded by myths, including claims that they’re cat-raccoon hybrids, but we know they likely came to the Americas either on Viking ships early on or with Europeans sailors to New England ports in the 1700s.

We see them first in Frances Simpson’s The Book of the Cat, and they entered the show circuit in the late 1800s. Their popularity dropped in the early 1900s when other long-haired breeds made their way to the states. The breed was declared extinct in the 1950s, but made a comeback later that century.

This dog-like cat is now the third most popular pedigree cat breed in the world, and they serve dutifully as the official state cat of Maine.


siberian male in tree
Image Credit: Roswitha Budde,Cattery vom Hohen Timp, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Siberian cat is a major figure in Russian folklore, with its earliest records appearing in 1000 AD. This fairytale breed is characterized as a protector of children and an opener of alternate worlds, as well as a contributor to many full-furred breeds we see today.

While much of its legacy is captured through oral tales, Siberian cats make their appearance in Russian artwork. In folklore, they were said to make their homes in monasteries, perusing the high beams and keeping an eye out for intruders.

It wasn’t until the post-Cold-War era in Russia that the breed entered the modern world. In 1990, American Himalayan breeder Elizabeth Terrel traded two of her cats for three Siberian kittens. Combined with the efforts of David Boehm to retrieve examples of the breed from Moscow, they introduced the breed to the United States.


korat cat
Image Credit: Goele, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Korat is a medium sized cat with a stockier build, mentioned alongside the Siamese in the 14th century Thai manuscript Tamra Maew (The Cat Book Poems). In it, the Korat is described as a coat with the base of its hair “the colour of a cloud” and with eyes “like dew when dropped on the leaf of a Lotus”.

According to the Korat and Thai Cat Association, this silver-blue “good luck cat” once served as a traditional gift, given as a pair, to newly married couples.

Despite hundreds of years of history, they weren’t introduced to the United States until the 1960s. The United Kingdom didn’t see their first litter until 1972, and the breed. To this day, the Korat is one of the least altered breeds from its ancestral lineage.

Maya Keith
By Maya Keith

Maya is a lifelong animal lover. While she switched from studying veterinary medicine to English, she continues to help by fostering animals in her community. Her permanent residents include 3 dogs, 2 cats, 5 quail, 19 chickens, and a small colony of Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches.