Category Archives: Q&A

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!

Wacky Wednesday! If My Cat Were Bigger, Would He Kill Me?

Q: If my cat, who is a gentle house cat, suddenly became as big as a lion, would he kill me?

A: That depends on a lot of factors like age, activity level, if he’s neutered, how he plays with you, his personality, and your bond.

If he’s young, and very exuberant about play, and is serious about his aggression toward toys, then it’s a possibility. If he was taught (or not corrected—gently and positively—when he has attacked your leg or something) when young that human hands or other body parts are toys, then the answer is almost certainly yes.

I actually use this example as a thought experiment a lot when I’m talking about why big cats do not make good pets. Think about a young cat, maybe a year old. At that age, you can see how intent the kitty is about attacking and “killing” a toy, which is a thing it just perceives as being something fun to maul, not even real prey. Then imagine that he was the size of a medium-sized dog, and ask yourself what kinds of things he might think look like fun things to attack. A little kid would be fun sized then. Then imagine the kitty is the size of a tiger, and you should get it right away. It would be a disaster for everyone.

Make no mistake, there are fundamental differences (at the genetic level) between domestic cats and wild cats (big and smallish). Domestic cats have changes on genes dealing with aggression and learning. They are less aggressive and are able to learn more and learn faster than their wild cousins.

However, older cats, especially neutered cats over the age of 7 or 8, wouldn’t necessarily pose a deadly risk if you magically scaled them up. By that time, they don’t see you as a plaything (again, unless you have encouraged them to play with your hand or not corrected them—gently and positively—when they have attacked you), and are usually more interested in naps, food, watching Cat TV (AKA the window), and other things.

Q&A: Are Cats Underrated or Misunderstood?

Q: Are cats the most underrated pet?

A: I don’t think they are underrated per se, but they are the most misunderstood pets. When you regularly hear veterinarians and other animal experts repeating myths about cats, it is a sign that those of us who have dedicated our lives studying the little floofy predators have our work cut out for us.

I’ve had to correct my cats’ veterinarians on several points. Most don’t take kindly to being corrected, and that’s how you know it’s time to find a new vet. (Pro tip: that’s also how you know you need to find a new anything. Those who are not curious and eager to learn more about their area of expertise, and are comfortable in their ignorance, should never be trusted with matters of any importance.) Thankfully, the vets we have now are always interested in new findings, and we share information we come across and discuss it.

Common misunderstandings

  • Many people think cats are solitary by nature. This isn’t true. They are solitary hunters (they hunt small prey, usually only enough of a meal for one, although some males do bring larger or excess kills to the colony for the kittens and lactating females), but they form matriarchal colonies, and have very complex social hierarchies and territorial rules. Cats have best friends, and it can be another cat, a human, a dog, or another animal.
  • Some people think cats are aloof, when in fact they are merely wary of people they don’t know. Kittens and young cats are much more focused on play, and are not generally into cuddling. As the cat ages, and its bond with you grows stronger, it will begin to seek out more physical contact and become more cuddly.
  • People are always wanting to compare cats with dogs. I’ve explained before why this is fallacious reasoning at best, I still see people beating this horse that isn’t even dead, it’s mythical. It makes no more sense than comparing a shark to an octopus.

I could write a book on the subject. But if you read this blog, hopefully we can dispel most of the myths about cats.

Is there a myth about cats that you’d like us to cover? Leave a comment below, or email us at stories(at)littlecatdiaries(dotcom)!

Q&A: Itchy Ears

Q: My cat is scratching her ears raw? What do I do?

A: You really do need to take her to the vet. If she’s scratching that much, this isn’t going to clear up on its own. However, the solution is likely going to be fairly cheap (at least it is in the U.S. for most things that cause itchy ears in cats). And your poor kitty will get relief from what is clearly a very uncomfortable situation.

I don’t know about you, but I would rather have moderate pain (like scratches) than a maddening itch, especially if the itch is somewhere I can’t get to (like your kitty’s inner ear). Itching is #2 on my list of most aggravating physical sensations (#1 is restless legs, arms, hips, shoulders, etc.).

Make sure to ask your vet about proper ear care for your cat.

Common causes of itchy ears in cats:

  • Parasites Ear mites are nasty critters that live off of dead skin cells and ear wax. They can spread to other kitties in the home, so it’s important to treat them as soon as possible. You’ll see a black buildup that looks like ground coffee in the cat’s ears. Other types of mites, fleas, and ticks are also common parasites that cause itchy ears.
  • Hematoma If there is a swollen, red bump in the cat’s ear, it may be a hematoma. A hematoma occurs when a blood vessel in the ear ruptures. This can not only be itchy, but it’s also painful. So, if your cat doesn’t want you touching his/her ear, this could be the cause. This can be caused by a number of things, but repeated infections and ear mites can make this more likely. This is a fairly easy thing for a vet to take care of, and if it’s treated soon enough, your cat may avoid having scar tissue.
  • Ear Infection If you notice that your cat’s ear canal looks red, swollen, and has discharge, then this is a likely culprit. Ear infections are as uncomfortable and painful for cats as they are for humans. Your vet will check to see if your cat’s infection is from bacteria or yeast, and will be able to prescribe medication to clear it up.
  • Allergies Whether your cat is allergic to you (yes, that can happen), your laundry detergent, or something else, this can cause the ears to get itchy. Allergy meds should help clear that up, as well as eliminating things one by one in your cat’s environment to try to pinpoint the issue.
  • Foreign Bodies Whether it’s a bit of feather or fluff, or something harder, foreign bodies in the ears can cause pain and irritation that will make your cat scratch its ear.
  • Aural Masses Polyps, tumors, and other things can give cats the same sensation as a foreign body lodged in the ear. It’s very important to get these checked out.

It’s very important that, no matter the cause, you should get your cat’s itchy ears checked out. Leaving it to see if it will clear up on its own could cause permanent damage to your cat’s hearing and health, and in some cases, it can lead to death. Don’t take chances. See your vet ASAP!

Good luck! I hope you can get her in soon.