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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Attack!

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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Psi-trailing

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

phenomenon.

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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