Their countries of origin (not!)

Siamese cats probably did come from Siam (Thailand), and Burmese came (probably) from Burma, but otherwise the geographical names of various cat breeds have little or no connection to where the breed actually originated, as you will see in some of the breeds’ descriptions later in this chapter. Chalk it up to bad guesses, the choice of names that sound exotic or other factors.

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“Foreign” vs. “cobby”

Siamese: slim and lithe, the cat equivalent of what would be called a swimmer’s build in a human. The cobby body is heavier, shorter in the legs and sits closer to the ground.

Persians are the classic example of the cobby body. Naturally some breeds fall somewhere in between, and they are called “moderate” or “modified.” The average mixed-breed house cat is a moderate.

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“Spontaneous mutation” breeds

mating that cat with a cat with the same odd trait, an entirely new breed results, all the offspring of which have the same odd trait.

The most famous example of this is the Manx, the tailless cat. A more recent example is the Scottish Fold, with the famous flattened-down ears. No one knows what causes genetic oddities, and not all of them are attractive enough that humans would want more of them.

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“Man-made” breeds

kittens are the new breed, Z. A “man-made” breed results from this deliberate hybridizing.

Once the new breed is established, of course, new litters can be produced by mating the hybrids with other hybrids, instead of reproducing the original mating of breed X with breed Y. As you will see in later entries, many of the newer breeds are man-made.

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“Natural” breeds

Turkish Angoras and Russian Blues.

They are natural because the breeds’ distinctive traits (color, body shape and the like) occurred without any deliberate interference from humans. But take “natural” with a grain of salt: the basic Persian look may have occurred naturally, but the various natural breeds have, over the years, been refined by selective breeding.

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Don’t say “mongrel”

Many dog owners are perfectly content with their “mutt” or “mongrel” dogs, and that is certainly true for cat owners as well. It is safe to say there are a lot more “mutt” cats around than purebred ones.

However, you seldom hear a cat owner speak about owning a “mutt” or “mongrel,” and there is no generally accepted slang term for such cats. Some owners refer to their pets as “alley cats,” and some say the pet is “just cat.” The proper term is “mixed-breed.” There are signs that the British term mog may slowly be catching on in America.

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Melanism, the original mutation

Felis catus, the most common mutation is melanism, or blackness. You might say that a solid black cat is nature’s first variation on the tabby pattern, occurring without any human involvement in the breeding.

Melanism occurs not only among domestic cats but also among thirteen species of wild cats. Genetically, tabby is dominant over black, and as a result there are far more tabby cats than black ones in the world.

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Tabby, the “default” setting

If domestic cats were left to breed on their own, with zero interference from humans, there would be very few longhaired cats and very few solid-colored ones. Genetically, the “normal” cat would be a tabby, with a mostly grayish-brown coat and the familiar striping. That is also the typical coat of many of the world’s smaller wildcats.

Most of the larger cats, such as leopards and tigers, have spots or stripes to help conceal them when they stalk prey. Even solid colored cats—lions and cougars—have coats of muted colors that serve as camouflage. For a predator in the wild, a gray-brown coat with irregular stripes is the perfect camouflage, so the gray-brown tabby is, because of the coat, the perfect stalking machine.

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Sizing up cats

Felis catus, the common house cat.

Humans have been breeding and crossbreeding dogs for centuries, which is why we have tiny breeds, huge breeds and every size and shape in between, all so different that the proverbial visitor from Mars might conclude that these dogs are different species. Not so for cats, which have never lent themselves to the same kind of genetic manipulation.

So the largest breed of cats (the Maine Coon) isn’t that much bigger than the smaller breeds, and frankly there isn’t much variation of the basic body shape of cats. The differences are mostly matters of hair color, hair length and texture, eye color and head shape.

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The root of “breed”

Since there is much discussion about breeds of cats and other animals, let’s pause here for a quick history of the word breed. It comes from the Old English bredan, meaning “to nourish, to keep warm.” (The word brood is rooted in the same word, by the way.)

In times past an individual offspring in a litter could be called a breed. As farmers and animal experts became more aware of animal heredity and how to control it, the term breed took on its current meaning, that is, “a specific type within a species, having distinctive traits that are passed on through genetics.” In addition to cats, there are breeds of dogs, horses, cattle, hogs and so on.

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Tails talk

A cat’s tail is a great communicator, as every cat owner knows. When excited, the cat’s tail flicks quickly from side to side. If it is still, and raised, the cat is friendly. If it is raised but twitching, the cat is on the alert.

When stalking, the tail is carried low, either still or with a slight twitching at the end. In the classic “fright” pose made famous in Halloween decorations, the tail is straight up with the hair standing on end, in accompaniment to the arched back and loud hiss.

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Jumping, pouncing, etc.

jumping ability, for the cat can jump six times her own length. (And that’s from a still position, not a running leap.) This comes from the same powerful but fast-tiring muscle cells that enable the cat to sprint swiftly. The same muscles are involved in the classic pounce: using the hind legs to spring forward, arching her back, then landing with her front paws on the prey.

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Sprinters, not long-distance runners

cheetah. Talk of the cheetah’s amazing speed has to be accompanied by a disclaimer: very fast, but only for short distances.

Every cat, including your pet, is the same as the cheetah: made for fast sprints, not endurance over long distances. Some house cats can run thirty miles per hour—faster than you, probably, but you could outlast the cat, and so could a dog. A cat will literally overheat after a minute of running and will have to stop. Such is the nature of the cat’s muscle cells.

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Gut juices

saliva as the first digestive fluid to start working on the food, but cat saliva contains hardly any ptyalin, the enzyme that breaks down starches. (Cats do not naturally seek out starchy foods, and there is little point in their owners giving them starchy snacks.)

But what they lack in saliva power, cats make up for in phase two, the stomach, where their stomach acids are much more powerful than those of humans. The cat stomach has no difficulty digesting bits of hard bone and other things that send the human stomach into a tizzy.

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“Hair up!” in Latin

Let’s learn some hair-related Latin terms: piloerection (“hair standing up”) and arrector pili (“raiser of hair”). Piloerection occurs in humans, cats and many other animals.

The arrector pili are muscles under the skin of all areas of the body where hair is present. When the muscles contract (due to fear, excitement and so on), the hairs stand on end. It probably won’t surprise you to learn that the most developed of a cat’s arrector pili muscles are on the back and tail.

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Fat acceptance vs. averages

Maine Coons can be even larger, averaging nine to twenty-two pounds—again, many of them lean toward the heavier end. The “generic” American cat, the American Shorthair, averages from eight to fifteen.

On the lighter side (literally), the short-legged Munchkins average five to nine pounds, but lightest of all is probably the quiet little Singapura, averaging from four to nine pounds. Not even the Ragdolls are anywhere near the record set by Himmy, an Australian tabby who died in 1986. Hefty Himmy weighed almost forty-seven pounds.

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Three types of hair

Whether short or long, a cat’s coat, or fur, is of great appeal to humans, especially those of us who like to touch. Nature made cats touchable but also provided them with three different types of hair to protect them against the elements. The longest are the guard hairs, which form the topcoat, along with the shorter, bristly awn hairs.

Underneath these is the undercoat, which insulates and is composed of short, soft down hairs. (Some hot-climate breeds, such as the Siamese, lack down hair, while cold-climate breeds, like the Maine Coons, have thicker down.) A cat’s skin, like human skin, has erector muscles that raise or lower the hairs in response to emotions or temperature.

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Nose leather

Cats are almost entirely covered with hair. One of the few bare areas is the end of the nose, which is known as the leather. Kept damp by secretions from the nostrils, the leather is highly sensitive to touch.

The cat version of “kissing” a human, or another cat, is to touch her nose leather to the other’s nose. Interestingly, the nose is the only part of a cat’s skin that has no sweat glands.

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True and false vocalists

Both you and your cat possess a larynx, also known as the voice box, at the opening to the windpipe. Vocal chords, made up of cartilage, produce the “voice” of the cat. Veterinarians distinguish between the “true” vocal chords—those that produce meowing, crying and growling—and the “false” vocal chords—those that produce (you guessed it!) purring.

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Global position systems

Automobile makers tout their sophisticated global positioning systems (GPS) in vehicles, but GPS is nothing new in nature. For centuries birds have migrated huge distances, and cats, dogs, horses and other animals somehow find their way home, without depending on computer technology.

Chalk some of it up to sensitive vision, hearing and smell, but also to some mysterious natural forces we barely understand, such as their perception of magnetic fields, reactions to the slant of the sun’s rays and other phenomena.

These senses have delighted pet owners who had given up their pets as hopelessly lost, but whose pets somehow managed to come home again. The flip side: a cruel owner who carries his pet off and abandons it is often dismayed to find the pet back on his doorstep in a few days. (Serves him right!)

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fancy scientific terms: digitigrade describes animals that walk on their toes, while plantigrade refers to those that walk on the whole foot. Bears are plantigrade animals (so are humans, usually) whereas cats are digitigrade. Generally, digitigrade animals can run faster than animals that put their whole paw, foot or hoof on the ground.

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The no-slip grip

Cats, like humans, have sebaceous glands in their skin that secrete sebum, a fatty substance that gives hair its sheen and also provides a water-repellant covering to the skin. The one area totally lacking in sebum are the pads of the paws, which explains why a cat’s paw pads always feel dry. It also explains why the pads are such excellent grippers—they’re oil-free!

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Pad vibes

The pads on a cat’s paws make excellent grippers, which your cat proves through her agile climbing. But the pads are also sensitive as all get-out, sensing vibrations and other movements on whatever surface the cat touches.

The cat’s pads feel slight movements that would not be perceptible to the human palm or sole, and they alert the cat to be aware of where she’s walking—or, better, turn around and flee.

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No clipping here!

Whiskers are part of the total look of the cat, and most cat owners like them. But occasionally an owner will notice a wild hair (pun intended) and decide to trim the cat’s whiskers, the same way we trim our own whiskers and eyebrows. No permanent harm is done since they do grow back.

However, trimming whiskers should be avoided because they are the cat’s “antennas”—her sensitive feelers of the world around her—and are especially needed in the dark. There is even a kind of “whisker reflex”: in the dark, if something brushes against the cat’s eyebrow whiskers, she will shut her eyes immediately to protect them.

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Flexible whiskers


The long upper-lip whiskers are called mystacials, and the muscles under them can move the bottom and top rows of hairs independently. The short whiskers on the lower jaw are called mandibulars.

The whiskers on the cheeks are called genals, and the antennalike whiskers above the eyes are known as superciliaries. Quite apart from the face, each front leg has backward-pointing hairs that serve the same function as the head whiskers. All of them are, of course, supersensitive touch receptors.

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Alas, they’re called “canines”

We’re referring to the most noticeable teeth in the cat’s mouth—the “fangs,” two on the top, two on the bottom. Biologists referred to these sharp, prominent teeth as “canines,” regardless of what animal has them (including humans).

They are the “rippers” in the cat’s mouth that not only do the serious business of tearing large bits of food, but also do the equally serious work of biting an attacker. As in most animals, the cat’s canines are pointed slightly inward, so whatever they fasten to—food or enemy—finds it difficult to escape.

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No sweet tooth here

The cat tongue, like the human tongue, can taste four general categories: saltiness, sweetness, sourness and bitterness. Cats’ favorite tastes are salty and/or sour, and they definitely do not share humans’ (or dogs’) love of sweet things. But there are curious exceptions to every rule.

In spite of being carnivorous, and in spite of what was just said about sweet foods, some cats like sweet tastes, especially floury sweet objects like cookies. (Note that cookies and other sweet treats like pastries do have fat in them, and it’s likely that the fat is the draw, not the sugar.)

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Grate tongue

pink tongue could feel so abrasive, like a pliant file on the skin.

Under a microscope, the tongue’s surface is far from flat, but has “barbs,” called papillae, which are slanted toward the back of the cat’s throat. These barbs are multi-functional: they help lap up water and food, “polish” the coat, clean off helpless kittens. The rough tongue even has a function in defense and hunting, for those barbs cause the wounds of the prey to bleed more profusely.

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Do the external ears really help?

hearing. Do the external ears really help that much, or is their sensitive hearing all a matter of internal sensors?

As with human ears, cats’ external ears play a large role in hearing—in fact, a larger role than human ears, since cats are able to turn their ears more than humans can. Humans who have had their external ears removed do not go deaf, but their hearing does suffer, and this is true for cats as well. The external ears are extremely useful “funnels” for sound.

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Ear range

Recall that an octave is the range of sounds, higher or lower, from one musical note to the next corresponding note—say, from C to the next higher or lower C. The normal human ear can detect sounds over a range of about 8.5 octaves.

Cats, as you might expect, have a wider range, about 10 octaves. Specifically, they are good at sensing higher pitched sounds than humans—such as the faint and high-pitched calls of kittens or rodents. In scientific terms, cats have an upper hearing range of 65 kilohertz.

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amber, and you’ll usually find it among white cats.

It’s a genetic oddity that is little understood. Some people find it unpleasant to look at on first glance, but owners of these “bi-eyed” cats claim that the distinctive look does grow on you after a while. (And considering that these cats are usually white, it does add an extra dash of color.)

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Nictitate = wink

Your cat possesses one more eyelid (per eye) than you do. This is the haw eyelid, or nictitating membrane. (The verb nictitate means “to wink.”) The haw eyelid shuts horizontally (like a drapery being closed sideways across a window) instead of vertically (like a window shade drawn up and down), and is an extra layer of protection for the cat’s eye. Many other animals have them; humans don’t.

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A soft-focus world

vision is superior to ours. Their amazing ability to sense motion (obviously something that would be highly useful to a predator seeking prey) is one example. Apart from their poor sense of color, however, cats also are not very good at distinguishing sharp details.

You might say they see the whole world in “soft focus.” The large lens in the cat eye is useful for gathering lots of light but is not so useful for seeing detail. Cats could not “read the fine print” even if they had the mental capacity to read.

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Focusing on details

Cats amaze people with their ability to focus in on some tiny object—say, a gnat or a tiny lizard crawling on the fence. The retina of a cat’s eye contains the area centralis, a heavy concentration of cone cells, and thus the most sensitive area within the entire eye. When your cat “locks in” on something small that had escaped your attention, you can be sure that that object is right in the center of the cat’s area centralis.

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Can they see in color?

eyes have two types of sensory cells: rods sense shape and cones sense color. (The old memory trick for sorting out which is which is to remember that cones and color begin with the same letter.)

Cats do have cones in their eyes, two different types, in fact, one for blue and one for green. That doesn’t exactly give them a full-color view of the world, but it does mean that they do have some sense of color.

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Cat alarms?

burning house with no thought for us. We tend to assume that the only threat to a burglar would be that he might trip over the cat in the dark. Dogs, so people assume, are the “hero pets,” warning their owners of fire or other dangers.

But in fact there are true stories of cats waking up their owners when the house was on fire or raising a ruckus when someone was breaking into the house. There are even cases of cats saving the lives of people (or other cats) who were being attacked by vicious dogs. Yes, cats do seem to be selfish creatures, but they do have their noble moments.

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Kitty falsetto

We do it without thinking: call out “Here, kitty” in a high-pitched voice. Both men and women will, for reasons we never analyze, pitch our voices an octave or so higher than normal when calling a cat.

The habit actually makes perfect sense, for the simple reason that cats’ ears are sensitive to higher-pitched sounds. Those hypersensitive ears are much more likely to respond to a soprano than a bass. (Then again, even after hearing you, they can still choose to ignore you.)

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The bag drag

If your cat really trusts you, you can do things with him no stranger would be allowed to do. One pas time that a few coddled cats will endure (and even enjoy) is the bag drag, which needs to be done on either wood or linoleum: have the cat lie in a bag (either paper or cloth) while you spin the bag in a circle, the cat’s belly touching the floor. The majority of cats probably wouldn’t tolerate it, but a few seem to like the gentle friction generated by the spinning.

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Feline melomanes

Do cats love music? Some owners claim their pets seem happy curled up next to a speaker—assuming the speaker is emitting something pleasant and harmonious, that is.

At least one writer has referred to cats as melomanes, “music lovers.” The author’s own opinion is that a cat’s preferred environment would have no sound at all, but that cats definitely prefer pleasant music over any kind of noise, whatever the source.

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No heaving in the car

Most dogs love to ride in cars and are fascinated to pass by things they haven’t seen before. The bad news is that many dogs get carsick and throw up in the car. Not so for cats.

Assuming your cat rides well in a car, you need never fear him getting motion sickness, for a cat’s legendary equilibrium will keep him steady. The average cat detests riding in a car, but not because of balance problems.

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Cats in cars?

If you’ve ever emerged from your car with several nasty scratch wounds, you probably learned (the hard way) that cats don’t like to travel in automobiles. Everything about the experience disturbs them: the engine noise, the stop-and-go movement of the vehicle and, probably the worst aspect, other vehicles passing by. They meow noisily, and some will scratch anything available, including you.

Most cat owners choose (after losing blood) to put their cat in a cage or carrier when he has to be transported. However, some cats can learn to ride peacefully in a car, but only if you train them as young kittens. Kittens who remain placid on a trial run may turn out to be among the few happy car cats around.

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Light in the eyes

Yes, cats’ eyes really do reflect light, and there are a couple of reasons why. One is that they have a reflective layer, the tapetum, within the eye that intensifies any light coming in.

Couple that with the fact that in a low-light situation the cat’s pupils are dilated enormously, and you are, in effect, looking into two small mirrors when you look at your cat’s eyes. Some humans seem to have eyes that are more reflective than normal, and we often say that such a person has “cat eyes.”

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Making the squirrels chatter

Squirrels are rodents. They hate and fear cats, and with good reason, because cats can climb trees. If you have squirrels on your property, you are probably aware that when they see a cat, they immediately head to the highest part of the nearest tree and raise quite a ruckus, chattering noisily to one another. This distinctive chatter (which some people mistake for birds) is both a cry of fear and a warning to any squirrels in the vicinity that—horrors!—a cat is nearby.

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The dry-cleaning alternative

Pet stores also have dry shampoos that function the same way. Some owners give bran baths, using bran sold for either humans or horses.

The bran is heated in an oven, then massaged into the fur, then brushed out, taking dirt and oil with it. In the case of tar or oil on the hair, you can daub the spot with mineral oil, let it set for several hours, and then try to swab it off with soap and water.

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The dreaded Bathing

cleanliness fanatics. But accidents happen: they get splashed with mud or motor oil, fall into a puddle—in short, they need cleaning that their tongues just can’t handle.

Needless to say, bathing a cat (especially one that is not declawed) is a daunting task, but some owners do it often, and apparently cats can learn to tolerate being bathed. Suggestion: arm yourself with gloves and an apron, and pray for patience. (Note: A few breeds, including the Turkish Van, actually seem to like bathing.)

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water for drinking, but house cats are notoriously averse to getting in water. In spite of that, they can swim, though they make for shore as quickly as possible.

In fact, all species of cats can swim. Lions and leopards do it reluctantly, but, curiously, tigers and jaguars enter the water with no hesitation and actually seem to take pleasure in swimming.

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The neck snap

neck, trying to sever the spinal cord.

Alas, predator sometimes becomes the prey, and a cat who finds himself in the grip of a large and aggressive dog may die quickly if the dog grabs the cat by the neck and gives him a quick and life-ending snap.

If you’ve ever seen this happen (and I have) it seems terribly cold-blooded. Suffice it to say, if you and your cat live near a large dog, do what you can to keep your cat out of harm’s way. The dog is just doing what comes naturally, but that isn’t much consolation if a beloved pet dies.

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First blood

dog might be attacking—or might be licking a sleeping cat in a perfectly friendly way. Either way, the cat’s space has been invaded and he won’t tolerate it. In the case of a clearly aggressive dog, the cat will assume his classic “inflated” posture—back arched, hair bristling out, looking larger and more menacing than before.

It’s a bluff, since the cat can’t kill a large dog, while a large dog can kill a cat. But many dogs will be taken in by the “inflated cat” and be content to bark and nothing more. The cat whose bluff fails will run when he can or fight if cornered. But the cat is never the aggressor in a cat-dog battle.

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The occasional kitten eater

Having just said that cats and dogs can get along, a word of warning: some dogs have a strange—and dangerous—reaction to very young kittens. In a word, they eat them. Sadly, this can occur even if the dog had been friendly with the mother cat.

Dogs and cats are both creatures of instinct, and even a dog comfortable with adult cats may look upon tiny kittens with their high-pitched mewing as (alas!) something to eat. Naturally the mother cat, if present, will fight the dog tooth and claw, but the dog is more likely to do its dirty work while the mother is absent. A word to the wise: if your cat just had kittens, try to keep them out of the way of dogs.

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Blessed are the peacemakers

How do you make two cats get along? That is a logical question if you have a cat and are bringing in a new one, but it also happens that, for whatever reason, two cats who have gotten along suddenly start fighting. Here is one peacemaking technique: keep the cats separated for a time, then put each in a separate cage or carrier.

Next, put them in the same room several feet apart and then feed them at the same time. Gradually, over a period of a few days, move the cages closer together at each mealtime. Eventually the two should feel more relaxed near each other, so that in time they can eat in the same room together with no aggression.

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The significance of “belly up”

basking in the sun may lie on his back at times, but in interactions with humans or other animals, “belly up” is bad news. It means the cat is the loser in a two-cat brawl.

It frustrates many cat owners that cats, quite unlike dogs, don’t usually like to be held on their backs while their bellies are rubbed. But, obviously, the cat associates “on my back” with “I’m in the middle of a fight!” It is not a position with pleasant associations. If you’re fortunate enough to have a cat who willingly exposes his belly for you to rub, you can assume the cat trusts you totally.

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Read the eyes

eyes are a good signal. When a cat is frightened, the pupils of his eyes dilate. (And if you’re familiar with cats, you know those pupils can become really large.)

You may literally see red in the eyes of a frightened cat, because the retinal blood vessels may be visible through the dilated pupils. The pupils of an aggressive, angry cat will constrict rather than dilate.

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Hiss vs. growl

Neither is exactly a sign of pleasure, but hisses and growls don’t communicate quite the same thing. Basically, a hiss is a sign of fear. Something in the vicinity has really rattled the cat, who hisses at it and, if pressed, will attack but, more likely, will try to flee.

A growl is more of a sign of anger and aggression than of fear. If you’ve ever witnessed a serious cat fight, you’ll hear both cats loudly growling throughout the whole ordeal.

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Urban manners

basic fact about human beings: the farther apart they live, the more pleasant their relations are. The flip side: the closer together, the more fights and murders. Stating the obvious, there are more assaults and murders in cities than in rural areas. This seems to apply to cats as well.

Jam a lot of cats together in a city, and you can count on some loud nocturnal battles among toms attempting to stake out their territories. And no wonder: a farm cat might have ten acres to himself, while city cats have to share a relatively tiny amount of space. “Good fences make good neighbors” doesn’t apply if you are small, agile and can easily climb on the tops of the fences!

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Paws together = I’m scared

A truly frightened cat will not only hiss and arch his back, he will literally gather all four feet together under his body, as if his back feet were moving forward and his front feet were moving backward.

The cat seems to be preparing for any eventuality—springing forward, leaping straight up, jumping backward or otherwise responding to what the perceived enemy does.

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Not glad to meet

unneutered toms can be hostile in a very noisy way.

Normally the two approach each other with tails moving slowly from side to side, all the while making direct eye contact. The smaller of the two cats may size up the situation and slink away, but if two cats feel they are evenly matched, they will walk past each other; then, one will spring onto the other, who will roll onto his back.

The one on top will try to bury his teeth into the other’s nape. While lying belly to belly this way, they will claw, bite, urinate on each other and create the noisiest ruckus cats are capable of. At some point the attacker will jump free, giving the other a chance to slink away or engage in a counterattack.

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Go for the gut

Cats use their hind claws to scratch themselves, but those long hind claws serve a defensive purpose as well. A cat under serious attack by another animal will roll onto its back and use its large thigh muscles and its hind claws, aiming at the attacker’s belly.

The aim is, of course, to literally go for the guts, perhaps even to disembowel the enemy. (Owners, if they behave themselves, are never on the receiving end of this.)

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Scavenger buffet

food inside, and while he might have been someone’s pet, he was most likely a feral cat dining at one of his favorite feeding sites.

Humans throw away a lot of high-protein garbage, and feral cats (especially in urban areas) find any open garbage container to be a great source of food. Feral cats still hunt for a lot of their food, of course, but much of it is supplied by wasteful humans’ table scraps.

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A semi-dead token of affection

The author has had half-dead lizards dropped in his lap or at his feet, and countless cat owners get presented with similar “gifts”—dead or half-dead birds, mice, toads and so on. It horrifies some people but delights others.

Give a cat credit for good intentions: an animal who is mostly selfish is sharing the spoils of the hunt with you. There may be some pride involved, too, which you can see on the face of a cat marching home with the prey held high in his mouth. A combination of “Look what I did!” and “Here, master, I brought you something!” Isn’t it kind of silly to get angry when this happens?

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The cat-chicken truce

Siamese tomcat had no qualms about killing and eating baby chicks. And why not, since cats like to prey on birds, and what easier prey than birds that can’t fly? But the usual rule is that cats have a certain grudging respect for barnyard chickens, partly because mother hens are very protective of chicks and partly because roosters are a force to be reckoned with too.

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Why hunt when you’re full?

rodent come within sight and the predaceous genes take over.

Sometimes the hunt can be more involved than that, with a cat waiting by a small hole for hours for the desired prey to come out. A lot of waiting, a lot of stalking, then a few seconds of pursuing and killing. Perhaps men who truly enjoy hunting have a better understanding of the cat as predator than others do.

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The no-lizard rule (seldom obeyed)

prey (and meal) for the house cat, and in Florida the most common small creatures around the house are the many species of lizards available—anoles, geckos and several others, none very large, all harmless to humans, and all tasty to cats.

Some cats making a meal of whatever lizard is foolish enough to enter the house or the garage. The received wisdom is that the skin of these lizards is toxic, so cats should not be allowed to eat them. In this situation, the some people is more willing to trust the cat than the supposed human experts.

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Will a cat fish?

Of course it will, as any owner of an aquarium or goldfish pond knows. Yes, cats hate water, but cats just love fish for dinner, so many a cat can forget (for a few seconds) his fear of water and dip his paws and claws into a fishbowl.

At times the willingness to fish is more urgent: a house cat in the wild who is seriously hungry and hasn’t managed to find enough birds or rodents will seek out a stream or pond, hoping for a fish dinner, and will even (if things are truly desperate) wade into the water to do so.

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The bird predator myth

natural predators, and, yes, they do eat birds. But nature lovers have unfairly exaggerated the role that cats play in decimating bird populations. While cats do indeed eat birds, they also eat mice and rats, which themselves are notorious for preying on young birds and eggs.

Cats actually aid birds by keeping down the population of egg predators. (Cats do not eat eggs.) Cats also prey on several other egg eaters—blue jays (the most notorious nest robbers in the world), young raccoons, young opossums, and the like.

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Chattering teeth

natural predator, is in a place where he spots a potential prey, but he can’t get to it, so his teeth chatter.

You may have observed this when your cat was sitting on a windowsill, looking out at a bird, lizard, mouse or other outside creature. The cat’s teeth would not chatter if the cat was outside the window, with the prey within reach.

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Don’t play with your food!

food served to them—or more precisely, try to kill it before eating it.

The predaceous instincts are so strong that even a very young kitten will sometimes pounce on a bowl of food, even though that food is about as “dead” as can be. The kitten seems to think that, since this is food, it has to be “killed” first. As they mature, kittens seem to learn that the food given by humans is not “prey” and doesn’t need to be attacked before being eaten.

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Will they eat bugs?

Indeed they will. The human eye (and mind) draws a distinction between “higher animals” (mammals, birds, reptiles) and “just bugs,” but cats’ eyes don’t. Cats have no conception of biological classes, whether an animal is a vertebrate, invertebrate, warm-blooded, cold-blooded and so on.

Domestic cats retain their predaceous instincts, and their prey can be a mouse or a bird or a lizard ... or a grasshopper. Probably the first prey of kittens is something small and easily caught, such as the nearest bug. All these creatures fall under the very broad category of food. While a well-fed adult house cat is unlikely to go after an insect, feral cats are not so finicky.

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Eating what you kill

hunters: a good hunter eats what he kills—which means that you don’t kill for the sheer pleasure of killing, leaving a dead beast to lie and rot. Well, a cat in the wild definitely follows that rule, devoting its predator skills to finding food, not engaging in sport.

But well-fed house pets don’t follow that rule at all. They gladly kill when they aren’t particularly hungry, and they will even kill nasty-tasting things like shrews, which they have no intention of eating (and which, if the cat was hungry, he wouldn’t bother pursuing).

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Hunting: nature or nurture?

mother cat living in the wild or on a farm will catch rodents or birds and, of course, bring them home to the kittens.

But they won’t eat right away, for the mom cat will release the prey and allow the kittens to capture it again, and even compete with them for it. The killer instinct is already there, but mom is nurturing it with this training. Needless to say, kittens who observe their mothers killing prey become more effective predators than kittens raised in a cat-food-only home.

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natural cover (such as plants) for concealment. The closer to the prey, the slower the cat advances.

When lying in wait, only the tip of the tail moves. Cats are good judges of distance, leaping to attack when they know they can reach the prey in two or three bounds. They rarely miss their target, of course.

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Playing with their food

death for several minutes.

Many humans find this rather sadistic, but words like sadistic hardly apply to an animal that, by nature, catches and kills other animals. One thing that surprises some people is that the cat may continue to play with the prey after it is dead. Here’s something that won’t surprise you: if the cat is really hungry, he will eat his prey without playing with it.

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The radiator bed

source of moist heat. Cats willingly sleep on top of any heat source that won’t actually burn them.

This does not harm them, but it does tend to dry out their fur, especially on the belly, making them shed more. If the cat is a radiator sleeper, a thick towel or small blanket atop the radiator is a good idea to prevent belly dryness.

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The fan blade syndrome

good chance he will seek out the hood of the car, taking advantage of the warmth, especially in cold weather. Cat owners have come to expect kitty footprints on their cars as an inevitable part of having a pet.

Unfortunately, there is a downside to cats seeking out the warmth of a car: on occasion they will crawl up inside the hood (warmer there than on top of it, obviously) and, sadly, some cats have met their death by falling asleep on the engine and being cut by the fan blades when the vehicle is started again. On a happier note, though, some cats have survived after traveling several miles under the hood of a car.

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The need (?) for a bed

grass, a tree branch, even on top of radiators. Unlike humans, cats do not require a soft (or flat) surface for sleep. In fact, part of the joy in owning a cat is observing all the varied places he chooses to sleep.

Given that obvious fact, why do owners buy special beds for their pets? Go with the obvious answer: cat beds, like numerous other pet products, are made to appeal to the owner, not to any real need of the cat. If you buy your cat a bed, he will probably sleep in it—there, and everywhere else in your home.

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The hiding instinct

domestic, and some of their wild instincts will always remain. You see this in their choice of sleeping places: make a box, bag, open drawer, closet, even a suitcase available, and they will probably sleep in it.

Why so, especially if you’ve seen them week after week sleeping openly on the floor or the bed with no fear of attack? The old instinct is still there: find a safe and enclosed place to sleep. A variation on this is an elevated spot, such as a windowsill or the branch of a tree—high up and, above all, safe.

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Stretching or curling?

temperature happens to be. The basic rule: they stretch out when it is warm, curl up when it is cool.

So you’ll see a cat stretched out in the sun, but never curled up in the sun. If the room is cool, the cat will curl up into a ball, keeping his body heat turned in on himself. Even better, he will curl up into a human lap—or sidle up to an unaggressive dog, or even another cat.

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Dead to the world—not!

deep the sleep, cats are never totally “out of it.” Every cat owner knows that even a cat who appears “dead to the world” is very easily awakened, as evidenced by the cat’s response to touch, a loud noise or even a smell (such as the odor that wafts from the opening of a can of sardines). No matter how domesticated the cat may seem, he still retains this aspect of the wild animal, ever alert to the presence of a threat.

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Cat EEGs

brain and the brains of some animals as well. By using the EEG, we’ve learned a lot about cats’ sleep habits, as shown by the wavy line displayed on the EEG.

We have learned that a cat typically sleeps lightly for about thirty minutes, and then goes into a deeper sleep, called REM sleep. Most often, though, cats aren’t sleeping deeply. Of their daily dose of about sixteen hours of sleep, probably 70 percent of it is light sleep—the “catnap” that is their trademark.

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To sleep, perchance to dream

Dog owners know that dogs dream, as evidenced by their occasional twitching and whimpering while asleep. Do cats dream? Most definitely. During deep sleep, a cat’s eyes move rapidly at times, even though the eyelids are shut.

The scientists refer to this as “rapid eye movement,” or REM, and deep sleep is often called REM sleep. While in REM sleep, cats may move their paws and claws, twitch their whiskers, change their posture and make sounds—in short, show that they are responding to something going on inside their heads, not outside.

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Say “crepuscular”

eyes make them suited for night activity. But the fact is, although your cat might be active at night, he is not active all night, and in the middle of the night he is as likely to be asleep as you are.

No matter how domesticated your cat is, he retains hunter genes, which tell the cat that the best hunting time is around dusk and dawn. Cats are crepuscular—most active at twilight—and least active in the middle of either day or night.

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City vs. country

Felis catus, but aside from the many differences among the breeds, there are also behavioral differences based on location. Curiously, some of these location-based differences correspond to differences among humans.

For example, it’s an old stereotype (and a true one) that country folk are more likely to “live by the sun,” being active during the day and sleeping at night, while urban dwellers are more likely to stay up late and, at times, “party till dawn.” This seems also to be true of cats. Farm cats do most of their sleeping at night and most of their hunting, feeding and grooming during the day, whereas city cats are most active from dusk until dawn.

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Air raid predictors

England, and London in particular, had to endure a lot of German bombs during World War II, so Londoners grew accustomed to the sirens that warned of an imminent bombing. Some Londoners still recall that their cats would become frantic and seek out a hiding place—before the sirens even sounded. How did they know? Vibrations in the air that humans—and human radar—could not sense?

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Tornado predictors?

phenomenon, and professional meteorologists would agree. Unlike hurricanes, tornadoes are “sneak attacks,” appearing suddenly, lifting and touching down with no rhyme or reason.

So how is it possible that cats sometimes seem to know a topan is coming? There are several stories about mother cats moving their kittens out of a house or barn hours or even days before a topan destroyed the site. Sheer coincidence, or do cats have a “storm sensor” that we humans do not possess?

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Napoleon the weathercat

Let’s face it: in spite of all the technological advances in weather forecasting, your local weather person isn’t always right. That was even more true a generation ago, pre-Doppler. In the 1930s, a woman in Baltimore found that her cat, Napoleon, was a better predictor than the local forecasters.

The woman noted that the cat would lie on the floor with his head tucked between his extended front legs as a sign that rain was coming. He did so in 1930 at a time when the local forecasters were sure of an extended drought. Napoleon proved to be correct, and he so dazzled the locals that his “forecasts” were made public until his death in 1936.

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Cat seismologists

Seismologists are scientists who use many sophisticated instruments to study and try to predict earthquakes. It appears that their instruments are not quite as sophisticated as cats, for there are numerous stories of cats acting frantically and agitatedly shortly before an earthquake occurred.

As the story goes, in China in 1975 seismologists ordered the evacuation of the city of Haicheng based on their observations of cats. The city was evacuated, and the quake hit within a day.

The damage was enormous, of course, but because of the evacuation, many lives were saved. How did the cats “know” a quake was coming? We can only assume they are more sensitive to earth vibrations than are humans—or human technology.

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You may have seen one of the movie versions of The Incredible Journey, about the cat and two dogs who somehow manage to track down their owners hundreds of miles away.

Truth is as amazing as fiction, and there are numerous stories of cats locating their owners far away—or, conversely, finding their way back home after being displaced. The stories are legion: a man who moved from New York to California gave his cat to friends in New York before moving—and, five months later, the cat showed up at his home in California.

Scientists refer to the ability as psi-trailing, and they are as amazed as we laymen are at cats’ ability to find their way around, since apparently they do not rely on sights and sounds as humans would. (Let’s also admit that many humans seem to possess an uncanny sense of direction.)

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ESP looks suspicious


The fact is, a cat is not responding to “nothing,” but to something he can see, hear or smell, something that our human senses are not attuned to. No extrasensory perception (ESP) is involved, merely more-sensitive-than-human perception, which also figures into cats’ mysterious sensing of earthquakes coming.

In a prescientific age, a lot of people tended to assume that an animal with such mysterious behavior and powers was in cahoots with Satan and the powers of evil.

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Enough play already

energy holds out. Not so the cat. The cat’s energy seems to come in short bursts, and after a few minutes of tearing around the house, chasing a toy or whatever, something inside the cat whispers, “Playtime’s over, let’s nap!”

The cat who has reached his “play limit” may start moving his tail in agitation, signaling to his owner, “Give me some space, OK?” A cat simply is not a “party animal,” for his inner batteries have a short life and need to be recharged often with withdrawal and sleep.

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The W. C. Fields syndrome

about as true as the statement “W. C. Fields hated kids.” He didn’t—but he despised obnoxious ones. Cats don’t like noise or unpredictability, and both seem to accompany children.

But cats will happily allow themselves to be stroked and handled by quieter kids, and will gladly play with a person dangling a string, whatever the person’s age. If you have children in the home and there is a lot of noise and confusion, owning a cat isn’t impossible, but the poor cat may wish he were somewhere else.

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Too dumb, or just indifferent?

short (only one or two syllables) and you repeat it often. What frustrates many people is that a cat will not come to you just because you call his name.

He might, or he might remain totally indifferent to you, coming out only when he chooses. Unpredictability and stupidity are not the same thing. The fact is, if you want an animal that will come to you every time you call, you would do better with a dog than a cat.

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Harness, not collars

together, but not cats, collars, and leashes. Unlike dogs, cats simply can’t accept the notion of being led on a leash, and tugging on a leash attached to a collar is (in the cat’s view) like hanging him in a noose.

If you have any hope of ever getting a cat to walk on a leash (and many cats never will), the only hope is the use of a harness, not a collar. A good flexible harness fits around the cat’s front legs and torso and, when snapped to a leash, is much less threatening than a leash fastened to a collar.

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Call the fire department!

It’s an old cliché, but like most clichés, it’s based on truth: cats easily climb up a tree but often can’t climb down. Hence we have all the old jokes about calling the fire department to get the pitifully meowing cat down from the tree. Why can’t they climb down by themselves? After all, squirrels do it with ease.

The persoalan with climbing down is that cats, like squirrels, want to do it headfirst, in order to see what’s ahead of it. But while a squirrel’s claws are perfect for moving headfirst down a tree trunk, a cat’s aren’t. The cat wants to go down headfirst, senses he can’t, so stays where he is, and makes a lot of noise until rescued.

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Bite, scratch—then lick

instinct kicking in: you are stroking your cat with your hand, he seems to be enjoying it thoroughly, then suddenly he bites or scratches that hand—then stops and licks the same hand he just bit. Is your cat confused? In a way, yes. A cat has to learn to let a human being stroke him, for the natural instinct would be to regard stroking as threatening.

Nature programs the cat to bite or scratch the hand, then run. So instinct goes head to head with the learned behavior of relaxing under a human touch. When a cat bites or scratches and then licks your hand, he is very suddenly doing a switch from instinct-led wildcat to taught-to-be-relaxed-while-touched house cat.

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The belly problem

belly, and he begins clawing you vigorously with his back feet. (And yes, sometimes it hurts—and bleeds.) Don’t blame the cat.

Nature (meaning instinct) has taken hold, and the cat is protecting his most vulnerable spot, his belly. A cat has to learn to relax enough to let his belly be rubbed, and even in the most trusting of lap cats, the old instinct still tends to kick in (literally). Consider yourself lucky if your pet is so secure with you that you can stroke his belly with impunity.

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Surefooted as a goat—or cat

“Surefooted as a goat” is an old cliché, but “surefooted as a cat” would be just as accurate, for cats have an extraordinary sense of balance, enabling them to walk on narrow ledges, tree branches, and so on. (They have an obvious advantage over goats: claws to help steady themselves.)

As it is in humans, balance is connected to the inner ear. The cat’s inner ear has an organ called the vestibular apparatus, which, working in conjunction with the eyes, gives the cat a perfect sense of his location in space. With the smallest movement, he will act reflexively to balance himself once again.

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... and the other side of de-


Owning a declawed cat does require some extra care and caution, but most people who choose declawing claim it is more than compensated for by the absence of shredded furniture.

Incidentally, many vets refuse to perform declawing on the back paws. Cats use their back claws to scratch themselves, and those back claws can help the cat climb a tree if he is being pursued by another animal.

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To declaw, or not to declaw?

people who love their cats but who want to preserve their upholstery, drapes, and the like, declawing seems like the ideal solution to the age-old masalah of clawing.

You take your cat to the vet, and when you bring him home in a couple of days, no more shredded furniture. The cat never understands that he is missing his claws, and owners get a kick out of seeing the pet go through the motions of clawing a chair or drape when in fact no damage is being done.

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The itch to scratch

attention (definitely!), and scratching may just be a way of releasing built-up energy.

Whatever the reason for it, scratching is one of the least attractive cat habits, and the best solution (other than declawing) is to make a scratching post available to the cat. Some cats use them, others never do, but the best way to ensure that the post gets used is to introduce it while a cat is still a kitten.

Also, a kitten that has seen his mother use a scratching post is likely to use one, too. It’s worth noting that a scratching post needs to be in the center of things, not tucked away in a corner, since cats definitely prefer that their “graffiti” be easily seen.

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The ketone “No”

The Hartz Mountain Corporation is a major marketer of pet products, and one of their products has the catchy brand name No. It is essentially an aerosol spray containing chemical compounds known as ketones.

The human nose can barely smell ketones, and we find the smell to be slightly sweet. But to the extremely sensitive snoots of both cats and dogs, ketones are highly offensive. No can be sprayed on furniture, rugs or anything else that an owner wants the pet to avoid.

Incidentally, ketones are present in the breath of people who are in the advanced stages of diabetes, which explains why it was observed long ago that cats seem to avoid people who are seriously sick from diabetes.

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The squirt gun technique

water in a convenient place in your home, and when you catch the cat doing something he shouldn’t be doing, give him a squirt of water.

It seems more effective than physically hitting the cat with your hand, since the cat doesn’t seem to associate the squirt of water with you. He only knows that when he does a certain thing—urinate on the rug, bite your heels, claw the drapes—he gets spritzed with water, which he doesn’t like. It doesn’t work with all cats in every situation, but it is worth a try.

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Blow equals hiss

good way to get him to back off. Why, since a puff of air is harmless? Apparently cats associate blowing with hissing—their own sign to the world that a serious threat is near.

If you are close to a hissing cat, you will experience not only the distinctive sound, but also a jet of air being expelled from the cat. So, when you blow air at your cat, you are (so the cat believes) hissing at him, and he will respond accordingly.

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“Shut up!” just doesn’t work

sound. By telling a meowing cat, “Stop!” or “Shut up!” you are making sure that the “conversation” continues.

The only way to silence him is give him what he wants—food, water, attention or an open door. (On the other hand, if it’s a female cat caterwauling because she is in heat, you won’t be able to give her what she wants.)

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Sampling the vegetation

vegetable food, and yet they will occasionally chew on plants. People watched his cat roam in the yard, which contains several poisonous plants, including dieffenbachia and allamanda. Happily, his cat has sniffed at these but never bitten into them.

In fact, outdoor cats very rarely chew on poisonous plants, but sometimes bored indoor cats do bite into houseplants, and some of the common ones—dieffenbachia and philodendron, for example—are poisonous. While few cats are ever poisoned this way, it might give you peace of mind to ask your vet for a list of poisonous shrubs and houseplants, plus information on emergency treatment.

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The three marking methods

methods, one related to sight, the others related to smell. To provide visual evidence of “This is mine!” cats scratch. (And you thought they were just sharpening their claws.)

To provide olfactory evidence, they rub objects with their muzzles, leaving glandular secretions that humans can’t smell but that are picked up by other cats. And even more noticeable olfactory evidence results from spraying urine—unneutered toms are the worst (and most malodorous) perpetrators.

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Love that wool

Burmese and Siamese cats: the cat will chew on cloth, sometimes creating large holes. They seem to prefer wool, which is why vets refer to “wool chewing” and “wool sucking,” but some cats will chew on other fabrics as well.

No one knows exactly why they do it, though it might be related to a craving for fiber in the diet. It isn’t easily solved, though some people work around it by giving the cat an old wool sock or glove to chew on.

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Shedding, molting, whatever

molting, but owners usually just speak of shedding, and it’s one of the less pleasant aspects of cat ownership. Cats living in the wild molt hair in the spring, leaving them with a shorter (and cooler) coat for the summer.

But most house cats live in an environment that is artificially lit, heated, and cooled, so your cat is most likely to shed to some extent year round. (An analogy: a cat in the wild is like a deciduous tree, dropping old leaves at one time in the fall, but your house pet is like an evergreen, dropping leaves or needles a few at a time no matter the season.)

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Drinking from the toilet

dogs, but cats love to do it, too. Why, especially if the cat has a perfectly good water dish available? No one knows for sure, except that we can assume these very independent creatures like to seek out their own watering places, just as they would in the wild.

A cat will drink not only from your toilet but from a birdbath, a fish bowl, a gutter or anything else with water in it, and cats aren’t fussy about whether the water is fresh or stagnant. The toilet-drinking habit seems disgusting, but remind yourself that your cat would not drink from the toilet if it contained anything besides water.

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Yes, cats do it too

fact they are, though less showy about it than dogs are.

Two cats new to each other will, assuming they don’t fight, at some point get around to sniffing each other around the anal region, probably cautiously circling a few times before the actual sniffing takes place. (We can be thankful that some of these behaviors are not practiced by their human owners.)

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Ah, the taste of urine

tomcats. The flip side of this habit is that cats habitually sniff about to determine if another cat has urinated in the vicinity.

When another cat’s urine has been detected by smell, the cat will then lick up the urine, then move the tip of the tongue against the upper palate. Yes, it does sound disgusting, but the reason he does this is that above the hard palate is the vomeronasal organ, a sense organ that (probably) can tell the cat the sex of the cat who produced the urine. Some scientists consider this organ to be the source of a cat’s sixth sense.

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Snow as prey

prey to play with before “killing.”

Most cats seem to like snow (or at least a few minutes of it), and as long as it isn’t too terribly cold an outdoor cat will go about its normal business with snow on the ground. Some find their usual outdoor “latrines” covered with snow, forcing them to go elsewhere temporarily, but some cats will forge right on through snow, insisting on using the same old spot even if it does have an inch of snow over it.

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The sound of the sack

Almost all cats are fascinated by the sound of a paper bag, and every cat owner has probably witnessed the familiar scene of bringing home something from the store and watching the cat turn the bag into a toy.

The featherweight plastic sacks that have now largely replaced paper bags don’t seem to be quite as much fun for cats, but, whether paper or plastic, bags that make some kind of rustling or crackling noise do hold some fascination. (Aside from the sound, bags are fun places to hide in.) For owners who want to keep their pet supplied with a noisy sack at all times, there is the Krinkle Sack, a machine-washable item that provides the right sound and lasts much longer than the usual throwaway store sack.

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All-natural extermination

business of pest control companies, plus the huge sales of traps and poisons.

Rodents were around before humans were, and though we live in a high-tech world, low-tech rodents are still a serious problem. Homes and businesses too might be wise to “go natural” and fall back on the original pest-control system, cats. In fact, factories and other businesses find that traps and poisons aren’t always the best solutions, since rodents can learn to avoid them.

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Mice aren’t stupid

It has been estimated that a young healthy cat could easily kill a thousand mice in a year. Most homeowners will be happy to know that their own houses are unlikely to have a thousand mice in a year, or in ten years.

So in short, if you do own a cat, you probably won’t have mice around, or not for long. Rodents are not stupid, and they will tend to avoid a house where a cat lives. Unlike the cartoons, where the wily mice always get the better of the cat, in real life rodents either get eaten or move on to a catless home.

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The “leave no traces” phenomenon

Dogs are lovable but klutzy, and a dog doesn’t give a thought to what he might be knocking over with a wagging tail. Not so the cat. Your cat may occasionally knock over a vase or other household item, but such events are rare because cats are fastidious about not disturbing their environments. (This doesn’t apply to prey or potential prey, obviously.)

A cat walking across a desk, for example, plants his feet carefully, so as to leave things much the way he found them. This is unnecessary behavior for house pets, of course, but it’s the instinct of their wild ancestors, always trying to keep themselves hidden from both potential prey and potential aggressors.

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Love your smell

love in the human sense has been endlessly debated. Those of us who truly love cats look at it this way: they probably love as much as they are capable, which is all we can expect of any being.

At any rate, they do seem fond of the smell of those they know well, which explains why a cat can be found sleeping on something that has your smell on it—not only the bed, but a sock, shirt, sweater, etc. Some, in fact, like sleeping on a pile of the owner’s dirty laundry. You might not be aware of your distinctive scent on the object, but your pet certainly is.

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Privacy, please

people observing. Cats are more reserved, and while they don’t object to being watched, they do object to having their litter box placed in a high-traffic area.

One way they show their displeasure with this situation is that they cease to use the box and find their own spot somewhere else in the home. A litter box, to satisfy both the cat and the owner, ought to be in a quiet, low-traffic zone in the home.

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The urine-catnip common bond

catnip has only a faint smell, but obviously cats respond to it in a flamboyant way. Curiously, cats can also get a high by sniffing a concentrated extract of tomcat urine, which humans respond to in quite a different way.

It appears that the chemical compound nepetalactone, which is the pleasure-inducing ingredient in catnip, is similar to something found in tomcat urine. (Here’s a hint: If you want to please your cat—and yourself—stick with catnip and avoid the urine extract.)

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High as a cat

general gives the impression of being in extreme ecstasy. If you’ve ever seen a female cat in heat, you know that a “catnip high” appears very similar to a “heat high.”

However, these two highs aren’t quite the same; plus, male cats respond to catnip exactly as females do. Catnip is available in stores everywhere, and lots of people grow their own. As with drugs and alcohol for humans, catnip can lose its zip if given too often to your cat.

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Allogrooming and autogrooming

Yes, we all know that cats are fanatical groomers (that is, lickers) of themselves, but every cat owner also knows that a cat will also groom his owner, and other cats as well.

Naturally there are technical terms to employ here: autogrooming refers (of course) to the cat’s grooming of himself, while allogrooming refers to licking other cats or humans. The cat spends less time and attention on you than on himself for the obvious reason: he assumes (correctly or not) that you are responsible for keeping yourself clean.

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The “I see you” call

people with whom they are familiar. This is a very short, soft “meow” uttered when, for example, you walk through a room where the cat is sitting.

The acknowledgment call isn’t urgent or pleading, and you won’t hear it if you’ve just walked into the house after being gone for two weeks. Cat owners find it to be a pleasant part of owning a cat, for it seems to be the cat’s way of communicating, “Yes, I see you,” rather than ignoring the person.

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Mad dashes

litter box, perhaps to express a sense of relief and release. Conversely, some do it right after eating.

But often the cat’s mad dash is connected to no other event. Experts in animal behavior suggest that running fits might relieve tension, but tension doesn’t seem to be much of a dilema for many cats. Perhaps the best and most satisfying explanation is that it just feels really good to run and frolic, even if it’s just for a few seconds.

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There’s a name for it: “bunting”

There’s a fabric called “bunting,” and you can “bunt” a baseball. Likewise, your cat will “bunt” you and your furniture as part of a familiar habit: rubbing the side of his head against a person or an object.

This isn’t just affection; the cat is actually leaving behind some glandular secretions from his face as a kind of “I was here” signal to himself and other cats. We can be thankful that this form of scent marking is practiced on us instead of the much more obnoxious spraying of urine.

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They knead you

kittens are clearly in cat heaven while kneading.

Some cat owners love this evidence that cats can pet their owners as well as be petted. On the other hand, kneading can be downright painful to people, because a cat’s claws are definitely out while kneading. Owners of declawed cats (including the author) find kneading to be a perfectly painless and delightful aspect of cat ownership.

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