At first sight the title of this article seems a reasonable question for any cat owner. As with most individual members of the human race, we tend to orient our personal world into our own system of logic, predictability and orderliness. We establish our routines and habits to fit a life style that gives us a comfort level free from the fears that always seems to surround us. We are continually reminded of those fears whether it's broadcast yellow journalism espoused by the news media, or from neighborhood gossip by people who seem to need such excitement because they are either just bored, or think that you're in need of some kind of realistic jolt into seeing things the way they do. As narrow as that may seem, there's no doubt that each person organizes their home into some kind of system, that is a life style, that encompasses the concepts of order and predictability with logical results that ensures peace, comfort and tranquility.
It's about that time many will decide they would like a pet to complete the picture. Some may want the company of a pet because they live alone; others might want surrogate children, either because they don't have any yet, or maybe their children have grown and flown the nest. Of course, there are those who just appreciate the easy love and fidelity pets seem so easily capable of. Many will opt to get a cat. It's here that the peace and tranquility you have established and come to know and expect is sure to be interrupted, if not challenged.
The introduction of any new pet, and cats in particular, will require a new way of thinking. With this new way of thinking, to be a successful cat owner will depend on how well one can incorporate balance and perspective, as an evaluation of oneself, into their new relationship. In other words, one needs to balance their own personal needs and the needs of their cat with a perspective that allows them to see the relationship in the long term as well as on a daily basis.
There's a lot hidden in that last paragraph.
- Balance and perspective as an evaluation of oneself requires complete honesty when analyzing ones emotions and reactions to a given situation. Any biased rationalization of an event or circumstance just won't do when one is seeking the 'truth' of a situation.
- A person's needs can be either emotional (a harmonious, peaceful and happy home environment), spiritual or physical (food, warmth & shelter). The same goes for your cat. She has emotional and physical needs not dissimilar to your own. As for the spiritual needs of either people or cats, we'll leave that for other discussions.
- Perspective is necessary to perceive a relationship with your cat as a long term affair, what you might call the forest, in light of the activities of day to day living, or the trees that make up a forest. Moreover, reactions to a given situation can change from one day to the next, some of which can have an altering effect on the long term view. You can see that moving from the long view to the short view and back again requires a good measure of mental agility.
So, what's all that got to do with cat behavior?
The instincts of cats have been ingrained over eons of evolution. The qualities that distinguish a cat from all other animals (people included) can be listed as follows:
- Cats are nocturnal : Cats learned a long time ago that they could find prey and avoid predators by doing their hunting at night. Physiologically, they evolved senses that allowed them to be quite successful at night time activities. Senses such as eyes that could detect motion in very little light. Hearing that allows them to accurately pinpoint a prey's movements in the dark. Their hearing range far exceeds that of humans so that they can not only hear noises people can't, but they can communicate in those ranges, too. They've the ability to lay a scent trail that doesn't require light to follow which is useful when escape from predators can be the difference between life and death in total darkness.
- Cats are territorial : A cat will mark off an area with her scents and claim it for herself. Usually her territory would be just large enough to support her, and any of her kittens, with a food source in the form of prey. Her scent marking also warns other cats that this is her land and it would be best if they just move on.
- Cats are solitary : Except when mating, cats are used to living alone. This is closely related to the territorial aspect of the cat's personality. In order to keep from spending all their time marking a territory, the claimed land is usually small enough for only one cat. Besides, to many scents can be confusing especially if she is trying to escape a predator in the dark of night.
- Cats are predatory : They have learned to be quite proficient at hunting, especially for small nocturnal prey. The cat's hunting technique can be divided into four phases:
Most cat owners are familiar with the staking phase. All cats will stalk from kitten-hood. But, the success of any cat's ability to stalk, catch, kill and eat prey is solely dependent on what their mother teaches them when they were a kitten. If they didn't get good training in these predation techniques, they may be less than stellar at being a predator. Still, the instinct to act out all four phases is inherent in every cat's nature.
- Cats are maternal: Because a cat is solitary and her territory will only provide prey for her and her brood, it's necessary for the kittens to learn a lot before mom kicks them out of the house. Otherwise, there would be too many mouths competing for a limited supply of food. Not to mention all the different scents cluttering up the territory. The maternal instinct has to be strong to teach so much in a short period of time. Unlike pack animals that will share in child rearing, a cat has only herself to rely upon to successfully raise her brood and perpetuate the cat species.
So, when someone decides to own a cat as a pet, they should realize that the cat comes with some pretty deeply ingrained characteristics. Most see only a package that doesn't require a lot of attention (unlike dogs), is basically clean and doesn't have to be house trained. But, then when a person's logical sense of order and predictability comes into conflict with the basic natural instincts of a cat … the fur begins to fly !!
When a cat's feeling at home, she will rub her cheeks against prominent pieces of furniture, your pillows, or your leg. Most people find that an endearing quality. She's really marking her territory which she shares with you. If she becomes stressed (due to a change in or invasion of her environment such as a move to a new home, or the introduction of a new pet or family member), or due to certain illnesses, she may feel the need to mark her territory a little more strongly, say with urine. In both cases she is marking her territory, but only one marking is acceptable to you. The other can cause you fits and wonder why you brought her home in the first place. Your reaction will have a lot to say about you and how you evaluate circumstances. It will say less about your cat since she will only be doing what comes naturally to her.
It's sometimes hard to believe, but cats really aren't diabolical.
I know that there are many who'll disagree with me. But, I've found that cats are just as loving, faithful, playful and needful of attention as any dog. They just manifest those qualities in a different manner which is unique to cats in general. Mostly, I've found that with an understanding of the instinctual feline characteristics, many of the problematic behavioral confrontations people have with their cats can either be corrected, albeit with some compromise on the person's part, or avoided altogether. Yes, you'll have to be smarter than the cat. And, being smarter than anything requires a lot of work. In the end, cats aren't diabolical, or out to make your life miserable; they don't try to get even, even when you think they should. They just do what comes naturally. Whether what they do is normal or not … that depends a lot on their childhood experiences. Something even people have a hard time being. Normal, that is. Kitten-hood experiences and how they relate to adult cat behavior will be discussed in the next newsletter. For now give yourself a little test. Without looking at your cat, ask the following questions:
- What color are your cat's eyes and coat?
- Describe the quality of your cat's coat, skin, teeth and gums.
- What sex is your cat? Is your cat neutered or intact?
- How much does she / he weigh?
- How much does she / he eat and drink every day?
- When, how much and how often does she / he urinate and defecate?
If you can answer these questions, then you are on your way to really knowing your cat and a big step towards a peaceful coexistence which you both want, for sure. Learning her instinctual drives will complete the picture. Then your life together will be remembered as a life of harmony. Not of strife or détente. Or worse with her staring at euthanasia or becoming feral.
Work in Progress : Coming to Cat Lovers Gift World will be a section entitled Cat Behavior which will discuss the concept of the cat's natural instincts and how they affect the cat in her relations with people.