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It has traditionally thought to be a borrowing from Late Latin cattus "domestic cat", from catta (used around 75 AD by Martial), The Late Latin word is generally thought to originate from an Afro-Asiatic language, but every proposed source word has presented problems.
In any case, cat is a classic case of a Wanderwort.
An alternative word is English puss (extended as pussy and pussycat).
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.
The origin of the English word cat (Old English catt) and its counterparts in other Germanic languages (such as German Katze), descended from Proto-Germanic *kattōn-, is controversial.
A 2016 study found that leopard cats were undergoing domestication independently in China around 5,500 BC, though this line of partially domesticated cats leaves no trace in the domesticated populations of today. Cats have either a mutualistic or commensal relationship with humans.