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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