All the cats in this genus share a common ancestor that is believed to have lived around 6–7 million years ago in the Near East (the Middle East). The exact relationships within the Felidae are close but still uncertain, e.g. the Chinese mountain cat is sometimes classified (under the name Felis silvestris bieti) as a subspecies of the wildcat, like the North African variety F. s. lybica.
In comparison to dogs, cats have not undergone major changes during the domestication process, as the form and behavior of the domestic cat is not radically different from those of wildcats and domestic cats are perfectly capable of surviving in the wild. Fully domesticated house cats often interbreed with feral F. catus populations, producing hybrids such as the Kellas cat. This limited evolution during domestication means that hybridisation can occur with many other felids, notably the Asian leopard cat. Several natural behaviors and characteristics of wildcats may have predisposed them for domestication as pets. These traits include their small size, social nature, obvious body language, love of play and relatively high intelligence.:12–17 Several small felid species may have an inborn tendency towards tameness.
Cats have either a mutualistic or commensal relationship with humans. Two main theories are given about how cats were domesticated. In one, people deliberately tamed cats in a process of artificial selection as they were useful predators of vermin. This has been criticized as implausible, because the reward for such an effort may have been too little; cats generally do not carry out commands and although they do eat rodents, other species such as ferrets or terriers may be better at controlling these pests. The alternative idea is that cats were simply tolerated by people and gradually diverged from their wild relatives through natural selection, as they adapted to hunting the vermin found around humans in towns and villages.