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Cat TV!

There has been a drama unfolding over the past few days on Cat TV at our house, and I thought it would be funny to film a bit of it.

In the video below, watch a tiny chipmunk (Chip) outsmart a grey squirrel who thinks he’s a tough guy, while Dean the Malfunctioning Red Squirrel makes outraged noises in the background! Stiles (center, grey and white), Kikiyo (right, Burmese-Abyssinian), and Kagetora (left, orange tabby) were fascinated! At the very end, if you’re observant, you’ll see Chip come back for another round. We’re not sure what to name the grey squirrel. Let us know if you have suggestions!

Update 20 October 2017: There’s another squirrel who has been showing up lately. She’s partially grey and partially brown. She looks like she’s been adventuring, so we named her Sandy (after the squirrel in Spongebob).

We still don’t have a name for this grey squirrel, but he gets outsmarted by Chip almost daily!

RCRS: The World’s Only Feline Astronaut

Real Cats, Real Stories is back with a blast from the past. Did you know that a cat went to space? Félicette, a beautiful black and white stray, underwent training along with 13 other cats in France.

In the late 50s and early 60s, the space race was starting to heat up. And although we often think of this as a competition between the United States and the Soviet Union, there were other players in the race.

After the Soviets sent Laika, a dog, into space on November 3, 1957 aboard Sputnik 2 (poor Laika did not survive), NASA sent Enos, a chimpanzee, into space on November 29, 1961. Enos landed safely after orbiting the Earth for one hour and 28 minutes. Many other animals were sent to space during this time, but showing that you could send an animal to space and safely retrieve it was the first big step toward human spaceflight.

Following on the heels of NASA’s success, France’s  Centre d’Enseignement et de Recherches de Médecine Aéronautique (CERMA) was training 14 cats for similar missions. As you might remember from this article on cat’s brains, they are similar to ours in structure and function. They also have a highly sensitive vestibular system.

They finally narrowed down the pool to one cat, Félicette, to be the first cat in space. On the 18th of October, 1963, the cat, safely secured inside a special capsule on top of a French Véronique AG1 rocket, and launched from the Colomb Bacar rocket base at Hammaguir in the Algerian Sahara desert.

She didn’t go into orbit, but in a flight lasting altogether less than 15 minutes travelled some 100 miles (160 km) into space, where the capsule separated from the rocket and descended by parachute.

Throughout the flight the electrodes implanted in her brain transmitted neurological impulses back to Earth, and the French CERMA, which directed these flights, stated afterwards that the cat had made a valuable contribution to research. The capsule and cat were safely recovered and she was photographed with the team afterwards.

The British press of the time called her the ‘Astrocat’; but at some point and from an unknown source — possibly journalists — she gained the name Félicette.

QQ: Night Vision and Kitty Winks

This week we have a few questions about cats’ eyes and vision!

Q: How can cats see so well without much light?

A: Cats can see in 6x less light than we can. Cats have a wider field of view of 200 degrees, and they have a greater range of peripheral vision, which helps with hunting and avoiding threats.

Cats are crepuscular, meaning they are active at dawn and dusk. There are many creatures, not all benign, that are also active at that time. Their eyes have 6–8x more rod cells than we do, which are more sensitive to light and motion. So, if something is slithering toward them in the gloaming, they will be able to jump out of the way before it strikes.

In addition, cats’ elliptical eye shape, larger corneas, and tapetum, a layer of tissue that may reflect light back to the retina, help gather more light as well. The tapetum may also shift the wavelengths of light that cats see, making prey or other objects silhouetted against a night sky more prominent.

 Anatomy of the Eye

Here’s an image of what a nighttime landscape might look to us (top) vs. how it looks to a cat (bottom).

Night Vision

Image Credit: Nickolay Lamm and Space.com Feline Vision: How Cats See the World Click to see the original, larger image.

More images showing how cats see the world: This Is How Cats See the World

Q: Did my cat just wink at me?

A: Cats have a third eyelid, called a nictitating membrane (AKA haw or, more formally called the palpebra tertia). It is translucent, and moves diagonally from the inner corner of the eye up across the eye to keep it moist and this membrane can also cover the eye and allow them to still see since it is semi-transparent.

Nictitating Membrane

The membrane moves so fast that we rarely catch them blinking with the third eyelid. However, one eye may become drier than the other, or may get a strand of fur or something in it, and that is when they will blink with their regular eyelids. Since this usually only happens in one eye, it appears as if they are winking at us.

So, yes, it’s normal for a cat to blink one eye at a time, but it is not the same as what we think of as winking.

Want to know more? This article at Scientific American has all the details you’d ever want to know about the nictitating membrane.

Q&A: Low Maintenance Cats?

Q: I’m finally able to get my own cat! What should I look out for when I want a low maintenance cat? 

A: Congrats!

These are the most important ones: adopt, avoid long-haired breeds if you don’t want to brush them, avoid cats like Persians with shorter muzzles, get either a mixed cat or a natural breed (they have fewer health problems), and get one that is over 4 years.

Whenever the time comes for me to adopt another cat, I will go for a senior cat (over age 7). They are so chill and cuddly, and what you see is what you get. They know what they like, they aren’t aloof like younger cats who are generally more interested in play and adventure. And, if well-cared-for, cats are living into their 20s these days. I have a Norwegian Forest Cat (a natural breed, whom we adopted), whose name is Kagome, who just turned 20, and she’s very healthy. In fact, if we didn’t have vet records to prove it, our vet would not have believed us about her age because she’s in such good health.

When you go to the shelter: If you can, spend as much time with different cats when you’re there. If there is a free-roam room for the cats (where cats interact with each other and just hang out), and they allow people in there, just go hang out. You should ask if you can come back several times (they should be perfectly fine with this), and—even if you think you found the perfect cat in the first 5 minutes—make at least 3 visits where you spend at least 15 minutes (I would spend an hour) hanging out with the kitties each time.

Pay special attention to those who seem shy. A lot of cats don’t do well at shelters because they are so used to being in a home with people all their lives. Make sure to ask if they have cats there who seem to not be doing as well in the shelter environment. And go see if the kitty wants some pets or treats. If you think you get along, but want to see how they are at home, ask if you could foster the cat for a little while to see how things go. This way, you’re helping the cat no matter if you keep it or not. And you can provide a report about how the kitty does indeed do so much better in a home, and that could help kitty get adopted faster.

I’m so happy for you! May you and your new furry buddy have many happy years together! And send us a pic with a follow-up when you find your cat.

WW Q&A: Cat Farts

Q: My cat farts really loudly. Is this normal?

A: You need to take your cat to the vet. Cats rarely pass gas in a way that is audible because of their diet (low carb, a lot of proteins), they are relaxed when they pass gas because it it not embarrassing for them, and their muscles aren’t as tight as humans’ muscles in that area.

They should produce a small, but extremely odorous, gas that comes out steadily, thus producing no noise.

If your cat is producing too much gas, or has an issue with its GI tract, this could explain the noise. Check the ingredients on your cat’s food to make sure there aren’t a lot of grains and fillers in there. And don’t feed your cat human food.

While that may be part of the problem, there are so many cats on poor quality cat food who don’t do this, so you still need to get the cat into the vet. Not just because this is abnormal, but that amount of gas can cause a lot of pain. And since cats rarely show signs of being in pain, this may be your only clue.

Good luck to you both!

Q&A: The Silent Meow

Q: Why does my cat look like he’s meowing, but no sound comes out?

A: When I first started researching cats, I was surprised that no one had checked to see if those silent meows were actually silent, or just too high for us to hear. It’s only recently that we’ve been able to show that most cats do, in fact, make a noise while “silent” meowing, we’re just unable to hear it.

Those “silent” meows, often used when the cat is hungry, have been recorded at as high as 22 kilohertz, and since very few researchers have recorded these silent meows, it’s quite possible that they go much higher.

The higher end of their hearing range helps them hunt. They can hear all those squeaky little animal noises that we humans, and even dogs, cannot hear. For more on cats’ hearing, and how even deaf cats can hear in the ultrasonic range, see this article: Of Cats and Crinkle Noises)

It’s pretty well established at this point that cats can in fact hear up into the 65 kilohertz range.

We can’t know the entire vocal range of cats, mostly because different cats have different voices, and some are more prone to make high pitched sounds, and some have a lower pitch. We have only officially differentiated 16 different types of vocalizations (caterwauling, yowling, purring, chattering, growling, hissing, chirping, trilling, meowing, etc.), despite a lot of data that says there are many more. Cats can make over 100 distinct sounds.

There isn’t really a great deal of research on the topic of feline vocalization ranges either. But, yes, when he looks up at you with those big eyes and it seems like he’s silent meowing, he is making a noise. He doesn’t know you can’t hear it.

Q&A: Why Do Cats Leave a Hole in the Middle of the Bowl?

Q: Why do cats leave a hole in the middle of the food in the bowl and act like it’s empty?

A: Ah, the age old question. And look at Marmalade’s sweet kitty face as he wonders why the humans just don’t understand. (See more of that sweet kitty face in the video Cat Logic, which I feel like we can all relate to.)

Speculation has, for decades, been spiraling around a few things: Maybe it’s because cats prefer to eat several small meals rather than 1 or 2 larger ones. Cats can’t see that well really close-up, so maybe that has something to do with it. They could be saving it for later. Maybe it’s because the dry food at the edge is stale or somehow unpalatable due to contact with the bowl. Perhaps it is an ancient ritual, passed down through generations. Maybe they do it to mess with us. (That is the internet’s favorite, and therefore we can safely assume it is the most wrong.) In truth, none of these is the answer.

The real reason is so much simpler: whiskers (AKA vibrissae).

The reason that they often don’t eat the food around the edge of the bowl is because their whiskers are VERY sensitive. They have so many nerves at the root of each whisker that this is a real problem with deep bowls. While it’s not that bad to eat from the middle of the bowl, getting at the food on the side puts too much pressure on their whiskers, which is uncomfortable for them.

You might hear this referred to as “whisker fatigue” or “whisker stress.” That leads to them asking you to please fix the situation, or (Stiles’s solution) to start trying to knock over the bowl to get at those bits on the side.

Their whiskers are so sensitive that they can feel the slightest of breezes. They are important tools for cats that help them hunt, steer clear of predators, and navigate in the dark. Whiskers help the cat figure out if they can fit somewhere. If the whiskers fit, they will fit, but pressure on those whiskers means they are in danger of getting stuck. Only a foolish cat would ignore that kind of warning.

So, for once, this problem has an easy solution! You should switch out their deep bowls for shallow ones. We recommend using a wide, shallow bowl or a small plate with edges just high enough to keep the food from sliding off. If your cat tends to chase the bits around, cut out a bit of rubber shelf liner and place it on the bottom of the bowl or plate to keep the kibble from getting away. (Make sure to wash it and the plate regularly!)

Q&A: Kneading

Q: Do cats understand that kneading people hurts them? Why do they do it?

A: Kneading, also colloquially referred to as making biscuits, is first done when they are tiny kittens, kneading their mother’s tummy to stimulate milk flow. Like the meow, this is a neotenic behavior, which is a behavior that begins in kittenhood, and spills over to adulthood.  We often see these neotenic behaviors in domesticated animals like cats and dogs. There are some other reasons for this behavior, which I’ll get into at the end.

It sounds like you need to clip your cat’s claws regularly. That’s always been enough for me, and I’ve always had at least 2 cats. I have 4 right now.

If that isn’t enough, use Soft Claws on kitty’s claws so that it doesn’t hurt. If you need help, a vet tech at your local vet’s office should be able to show you how to do both, as can a cat groomer, if there’s one in your area. Having a blanket handy is also a good strategy. Cats learn quickly that a blanket in the lap is an invitation to cuddle.

Cats have very thick skin and fur, so this doesn’t hurt when they do it to each other. Mom never complained about it, so it makes sense that they think this is a great way to bond and show affection.

Like many humans, cats can sometimes have difficulty understanding something that is out of their realm of experience, especially when they’re young, or if you aren’t closely bonded with them.

You might say, “My cat does this to blankets as well, so does it love that blanket too?” Well, no. Wild cats (both big and small) also tamp down a nice bed of leaves and/or grasses to make a comfy bed and double check that there are no pokey objects or critters that will disturb them. This is likely what kitty is doing when she kneads her blanket or her bed.

This also declares ownership. Cats (domesticated, wild, big, and small) have scent glands in their paws, so they are also claiming ownership of that comfy spot they made.

 

Q&A: Can Cats Become Affectionate?

Q: I adopted a stray cat a couple months ago. The only thing is that he doesn’t seem to like me at all: he doesn’t like it when I pet him (he attacks me most of the time), he completely ignores me (except when he’s hungry, then he will rub against my legs), and he won’t sit on my lap. Will he ever change?

A: First of all, thank you for adopting him! And whatever you do, do not take his rebuffs of your attempts at affection personally.

Cats generally get more affectionate as they build a bond with you over time. The best way to bond with a cat, especially a young cat, is through play. If you find games he likes to play, that’s gold. Make sure to let him get the toy often, and praise him when he does.

Cats can also have a number of reasons they don’t want to be touched: if they’re in the mood for play or are agitated, in pain, have been hurt by humans before, or they just don’t know you that well. Strays are often mistreated, and it can take awhile for them to realize that not all humans are bad.

If he’s learning house rules, never yell at him. Offer alternatives. If he’s climbing somewhere he isn’t supposed to be, gently move him to a cat tree or something he can climb, and then praise him like it was all his idea. Give him praise and a treat (even if it’s just some kibble) when he uses those alternatives.

Always reward success. Never yell. Never punish. Cats don’t understand punishment. It only erodes trust, and makes them think you’re emotionally unstable, and that’s a massive setback. It makes everything worse. See my previous post for more information about why you should never yell at or punish a cat.

Also just spend time near him. Just in the same room, doing a quiet activity. Read a book, play a game on your tablet or phone, even watching TV (lower the volume, turn on captions if you need to), and just let him get comfortable with your presence, and observe you at a safe distance.

He’ll warm up with patience, play, and time. Once he figures out that he can trust you, that you care about him, he’ll start to warm up. Some cats take years to get to the cuddle phase, some only take weeks. It depends on personality, as well as their history. If he has been abused in the past, he may take awhile. But if you put in the time, it will pay off.

Thank you for adopting him. Good luck to you both!

Why You Should Never Punish a Cat

I’ve seen so many people talk about punishing their cats, and I am shocked every time. Even yelling at a cat is detrimental—they will think you are insane, and they will lose some trust in you—they don’t understand it, it means nothing to them, so you’re making your cat feel less safe without doing anything to change the behavior.

Every time you yell at or punish a cat, you are putting your relationship with the cat in jeopardy. They do not perceive their own activities as “bad” or destructive. That’s a human concept. When you punish your cat, your cat will associate the punishment with YOU—not with his/her own behavior. Often this leads to him/her avoiding you or being more confrontational. The people the kitties originally loved and trusted are now perceived as scary and hurtful. They are not friends anymore, they are now antagonists.

Punishing a cat does not tell the cat what to do. It does not aid in correcting the problem. And most often, the side effects will be extremely negative, both for you and the cat. Punishing and yelling at a cat often leads to an increase in “bad” behaviors because they feel threatened (you were a trusted ally, and now you have turned on the cat, and it may start to see you as an adversary).

Cats will also often avoid places where they were punished. This can be catastrophic, especially if the issue is related to the litter box. They won’t want to go anywhere near the litter box after being punished there.

And studies show that people who yell at others (people and pets) start getting a sense of satisfaction, and thus reward for this behavior. It can quickly become a very bad habit, and one that the person escalates as time goes on. No one wants to hang out with a person who gets high off their own rage. It can only lead to trouble.

Cats don’t do things for no reason. There is always a reason. Sometimes it’s a natural behavior for the cat, and thus you must offer alternatives. If the cat is climbing on the counter, and that’s a no-no, simply pick up the cat (gently) and move it to a cat tree, or another place it can climb. Then praise the kitty like it was his/her idea all along. Always praise and treat when they use those alternatives.

Cats like to have a good vantage point to watch what’s going on. This is especially true in the kitchen. If the counters are off limits, put a cat tree in the kitchen (counter height is fine) so that they can observe at a safe distance.

Make sure you’re playing with your cat enough: 2 sessions of at least 15 minutes of play for adults over 3, 3-4 15-minute sessions a day for 18 months to 3 years, at least 5 sessions of 10-15 minutes of play for 6 months to 18 months. For kittens who are just starting to play up to 6 months, they really need to be playing or being mentally stimulated any time they aren’t sleeping or eating. They have this very short window where they must learn to hunt through play. They are evolution’s finest predator, and this means that play is absolutely essential to kittens and young cats in particular. Cats should never lose their drive to play. If they do, it could be a sign of illness, depression, or they might just need a new toy to get them excited again.

Redirect, guide, offer alternatives, and use positive reinforcement to show your cat that s/he is doing a great job. Praise, praise, treats, affection, play, praise. You will both be happier in the long run, as well as healthier because you avoided all that stress caused by yelling and punishment.