Fireworks Safety for Cats

There are a lot of dangers for cats around holidays, and July 4th in the U.S. is one of the worst.

More pets go missing during the 4th of July than any other day of the year. Make sure your cats are microchipped and wearing tags with up-to-date information.

If you let your cats outside, it’s important to keep them inside from the 3rd to the 5th. Even cats who would never usually run away can become scared and disoriented by the fireworks, and they can get lost very easily under these circumstances. They also may try to bolt out the door if given a chance.

If you know your cat is upset by fireworks, make a cozy place (inside a padded box, a closet, or other space where they will feel safe, and can ride out the worst of it in peace.

Not only are the sounds scary, they can be dangerous. As we explained in our previous article, Of Cats and Crinkle Noises, high-pitched noises can cause siezures in cats. We learned this sad truth last year when our precious hero, Kagetora, had a seizure after a rapid-fire succession of fireworks went off. I snapped this photo a few seconds after the seizure.

Kagetora Post-Seizure

Thankfully, he suffered no lasting effects, but we will be playing whale song this year to drown out the noise of fireworks.

littlecatdiaries.com
Fireworks Safety for Pets

Q&A: When Your Cats Don’t Get Along

Q: I have 2 cats that used to get along, but now they fight all the time. Both cats are under 2, and they are related (the older cat sired the younger). The younger cat is not neutered. When the older cat reached puberty, he started being aggressive with the younger cat. I got the older one (21 months) neutered, but it hasn’t helped. What can I do?

A:  Are you sure they’re fighting and not playing? It can be hard to tell the difference if you aren’t used to doing so.

The main way you tell is with one question: is there blood?

If not, they’re likely playing rough, which is common, especially in young males.

Males usually reach sexual maturity between 5 and 8 months (but it can be as early as 4 months and as late as 10 months). Males should be neutered between 4 and 6 months of age.

Make sure that you do the following:

  • You need to get the younger cat neutered as well. Since the younger cat is still intact, he still poses a territorial threat to his elder. This is absolutely crucial, so get it done ASAP.
  • Play with both of them (together if that works, or separately) 15 minutes 2 times a day. This will significantly lower aggression.
  • Make sure your cats are able to climb and explore SmartCat Multi-Level Cat Climber and/or Premier Kitty Pad Cat Tree If you have high spots, like the tops of bookshelves and things, you can get some wide shelves or a tall kitty tree to give them access. I turned a cheap cat tree into a ladder. I bolted the cat tree to the bookshelves and the wall, and anchored the bookshelf to the wall as well. Then I stuck the cat bed to the top with velcro so I can remove it to wash, but it won’t slide around. Like this:

  • Have nice window spots to watch what’s going on outside. Get a window perch or 2 if your windows don’t have a place for the cats to sit. Window Perches

Add a little oasis in one corner somewhere. This has been shown to lower aggression and to fight obesity, as well as other benefits. I read a few studies, and was dubious that it would help, but it really, really has. My cats are calmer, healthier, and generally happier since I created the oasis.

If none of this solves the problem (it will improve the situation, but may not solve the underlying issue), then it’s time to reset the relationship. Basically, turn it off and back on again. That just means re-introducing your cats.

You should read this in its entirety: Aggression Between Cats in Your Household Dealing with aggression can be hard, but you can usually make it work if you’re willing to put in the effort. Specifics on re-introduction:

If the Aggression Is Mild or Between Two Cats Who Used to Get Along

  • Put your cats in different rooms for several days (up to 2 weeks), with separate bedding, litter, and water. This way they can hear and smell each other, but don’t have to interact.
  • Put the cats’ food bowls on opposite sides of a closed door. This will encourage them to be close together while they’re doing something that makes them feel good.
  • Each day, have the cats switch rooms so that they both experience some variation and get access to each other’s scents.
  • After a few days of eating on either side of a closed door, if both of your cats appear relaxed, crack the door open one inch. If they remain calm, open the door a bit more, then a bit more. If the cats remain relaxed, they may be ready to begin eating together without the door, but with supervision. If they react with any signs of aggressive behavior: growling, spitting, hissing, swatting, etc., separate them again and follow the more gradual reintroduction instructions below.
  • Some people have had success with rubbing a bit of tuna juice on their cats’ bodies and heads. Grooming is a very zen exercise for them. If things go really well, the cats may actually groom each other because they can’t reach the juice on their own heads.
  • You can also play the sound of a purring cat to your older cat before, during, and after a meet with the younger cat to help him chill.

If the Aggression Is Severe or Occurs Between Cats Who Have Never Gotten Along

  • Separate your cats as described above but for a longer period of time, and reintroduce them at a much slower pace, like several days to a few weeks.
  • Instead of simply opening the door to reintroduce the cats, provide daily reintroduction sessions that very gradually move the cats closer and closer together under supervision.
  • During the sessions, you might find it easier to control your cats with harnesses and leashes, or by confining one or both of your cats in crates.
  • During the sessions, keep both cats distracted with food or play. Start out with them far apart. Keep the sessions short. Make it easy for them to succeed.
  • Separate your cats between reintroduction sessions to prevent a relapse.
  • Only when your cats can peacefully eat and play within a couple feet of each other should they be left alone together unsupervised. Trust them only for short periods together at first and increase their times together gradually.
  • Behavioral medication may be helpful in reducing a domineering cat’s aggression and a skittish cat’s fear, making the reintroduction go more smoothly and quickly.

Finally, if none of this works, take the older cat back to the vet for a full check-up. He may be lashing out because he is in pain, or has some other issue.

Further reading:

Environmental Enrichment for Indoor Cats

How Good Is a Cat’s Memory?

Cats have excellent memories. A lot of research has been done on cats’ memory. This body of research shows that there is little difference between reference material stored in the cats’ brains and humans’ brains. When compared to dogs, research has proven that cats have close to 200 times more retention.

Neurons are important in memory and learning, and cats have nearly twice the number of neurons that dogs have. The way that memories are encoded means that each neuron stores a part of a memory, and when the right combination of neurons is activated, the cat will recall a memory.

In the short-term, cats can remember things for about 16 hours. If it’s important enough for the cat to remember it later, the memory can last the rest of its life. Cats do a great deal of learning and remembering from 2–7 years of age, much like children and teenagers are learning machines. Cats must be socialized before they are 2. Just like humans, these early stages of life determine a great deal about what the cat will be like when they’re older.

For instance, if a cat isn’t around humans a lot when it is young, even if it is friendly and likes humans, it will not meow or vocalize to humans the way that kittens who are raised with humans will. I have a super cuddly cat who was a stray for his formative years, and he is just like our other cats except that he doesn’t meow.

Our 11-year-old female has lived with her littermate on and off over the years (he belongs to my sister, and we have shared houses on and off). Even when it’s been several years since they’ve seen each other, she and her brother always act like they were never apart. Cats seem to be able to remember their friends, whether it is another cat, a human, a dog, etc. for many years.

They also remember paths they have walked a lot in the past. They remember where to find food in a place where they have not been in 10 years. If it’s important to a cat, whether emotionally or a necessity, they will remember it.

Unfortunately, with a similar brain structure to humans comes the pitfalls. Elderly cats can be prone to dementia, as well as other neurodegenerative diseases. So it’s important to keep a cat active, and keep its mind engaged to guard against such ailments.

Side note: Although we sometimes compare qualities and physiology of cats to that of dogs, they are completely different animals, and it’s a lot like comparing an elephant to a giraffe. We here at LCD love dogs as well, and nothing we say should be used to try to prove that one is better or worse than the other. We are only using these comparisons to demonstrate that you can’t view cats and dogs the same way. They are very different.

The Tale of the Tail

Have you ever stepped on a cat’s tail? Even when you barely touch it (like when you realize, right before you put your weight on the foot, that the cat is there), they will scream like it is the worst agony imaginable. They also scream if their tail gets caught in a door, and any other situation that they perceive as RED ALERT! TAIL THREAT DETECTED! DEFCON 1! DEFCON 1!!!!

Why do they react this way?

A cat’s tail has 19 to 23 vertebrae (about 10% of all the bones in a cat’s body are in the tail), a vast network of nerves, several groups of muscles, ligaments, and tendons that give it the ability to move and sway. It can help them balance (acting as a rudder), and it is an integral and important aspect of their body language. Some cats have far more sensitivity in their tails than others.

It’s an important instinct to protect their tails that causes the reaction that might seem a little overly dramatic to us. There really isn’t a human body part to compare it to. So it’s important to take the cat’s reaction to touching its tail very seriously. If they don’t want you to touch it, hands off.

Most cats don’t mind if you touch their tail briefly while you’re petting them, but any grabbing of the tail, or touching it when they aren’t expecting it can be upsetting to the cat because their tails are important, sensitive, and they are vulnerable.

Stiles has quite a long tail (30 cm, or 12 inches, which is roughly 2/3 of his body length), and he’s very sensitive about it when he’s walking around, the tip curled to make a question mark as it slowly sways. Yet he’s fine with us touching it as we pet him when he’s in our laps in cuddle mode. Kagome is very protective of her tail, and will bop you with a large furry paw if you get too close to it. Kiki and Kagetora don’t seem to mind at all.

Stiles’s fabulously long tail is evident in most photos. This one is my favorite:

Stiles

Q&A: Can Cats Recognize Their Owners in Photos or Videos?

Cats rely a great deal on smell to identify individuals. That’s not the only factor, but it’s a main one. Many photos are also too small, and the idea of having a small, flat piece of paper being a representation of the real 3D world is not a natural assumption.

Cats do recognize faces. In a study published in Journal of Vision, it was shown that cats, but not dogs, can recognize the faces of their owners. They are better at recognizing the faces of other cats, but they can pick out their owner’s face from a line-up of life-sized head shots 54% of the time. That’s pretty good.

Cats also rely on body language, the way a person moves, and other things to recognize individuals. But most of them do recognize their owner’s voice.

A 2013 study published in Animal Cognition showed that cats also recognize their owners’ voices, and can tell them apart from stranger’s voices. Their hearing is much much better than a dogs’ or humans’ hearing (PDF), so they aren’t usually fooled into thinking the sounds from TV, computers, radios, etc. are real when they are adults. But they can still recognize the sound of their owner’s voice, or things like their mother cat’s call.

I had a video of a cat we fostered. Her name was Freya, but we called her Bunny. She was 6 months old when we began fostering her, and it turned out that she was already pregnant. (More on that later.) She was Stiles’s mother. The video had audio of Bunny calling her babies, and also a bit of Stiles’s sister, Cleo. When Stiles heard the video, he ran in, and started pawing at the speakers, and was in great distress because he couldn’t find them. I put him on my desk, and he watched that video 3 times, but I decided it might be doing more harm than good, so I took him in the other room and played with him until he was sleepy.

The video: https://youtu.be/5NwINsxG13c

Our oldest cat, who is 18, is strongly bonded with my daughter. She spends most of her time in my daughter’s room. My daughter went out of town with my sister a few weeks ago, and Kagome wasn’t doing well. So my daughter recorded some videos, and I put on one of her unlaundered shirts, then played the video. Kagome listened very carefully. I played it again, and she started purring immediately.

And finally, two of my cats, Kikiyo and Stiles, will come running every time they hear elephants, whales, or David Attenborough.
kiki-stiles-tv

Of Cats and Crinkle Noises

Cats love soft rustling sounds, and the sound of paper and plastic bags crinkling. They have ultrasonic hearing (there is actually pretty good evidence that even deaf cats can hear in the ultrasonic range). This helps them hunt, especially small rodents like mice or rats who make noises in that range. It’s a sort of soft rustling, crinkly sound that they like.

So they like noises in that range when playing, but they also like it when they’re looking for a nice place to nap. The sound can mimic that of a bed of dry grass and brush, which make a nice place for a cat to sleep. 3 of my 4 cats love the sound.

However, you should be cautious, especially with older cats. The higher pitched sound of tinfoil (AKA aluminum foil) crinkling can cause seizures in cats. Colloquially referred to as Tom and Jerry Syndrome, its official name is Feline Audiogenic Reflex Seizures (FARS).

Other sounds that can cause seizures are clanging spoons, clanging pots, metals on ceramics, and clinking coins, among a long list of noises in that range.

The lead author of the study that uncovered this problem, Dr Mark Lowrie of Davies Veterinary Specialists, said in an interview:

“The sounds responsible are high-pitched sounds, often relatively quiet sounds, with increasing loudness and persistence of a sound only serving to enhance the severity of the epileptic seizures.

“Avoiding these sounds eliminated the seizures in 72 out of 96 cats.

“The reason for cats being so sensitive to these seemingly benign high-pitched sounds may have its origin in the ultrasonic hearing range of the species.

“Mice and rats communicate in the ultrasonic frequency range and it is believe that cats developed a secondary ultrasonic sensitive hearing range presumably as an evolutionary advantage in catching rats and mice, their natural prey.”

Further reading:

Feline Audiogenic Reflex Seizures in Cats

‘Tom and Jerry syndrome’ causes seizures in old cats

Audiogenic reflex seizures in cats

Do Cats Dream?

Even though cats are in more than a third of households in the U.S., there is a great deal that many people don’t know about them. One of the most interesting is how cats helped usher in the Golden Age of sleep research.

Cats of all sizes are obligate carnivores, so they must hunt to survive in the wild. Like most predators, they save their energy for their peak hunting times, which are around dusk and dawn. The fact that domestic cats are still so closely related to their wild cousins, and therefore retain those behaviors even when humans supply the food, makes them good subjects to study if we want to learn more about sleep.

Cats, just like humans, dream in stages. We can study animals’ dreaming states just like we do with people in the sleep lab: attach a bunch of electrodes and monitor the brain activity through EEG, visual monitoring, as well as pulse and bp. We can also switch off the paralysis during REM sleep to see what they do when acting out dreams.

Further reading:

Do dogs and cats really dream?

What do animals dream about?

REM Sleep in Cats

Behavioural and EEG Effects of Paradoxical Sleep Deprivation in the Cat

Mechanisms underlying oneiric behaviour released in REM sleep by pontine lesions in cats

A Brief History of Sleep Research

Welcome to the World of Cats

The internet is full of cats: videos, pictures, memes, entire constellations of web sites dedicated to our adorable fluffy companions. So why start a blog dedicated to cats? There is a lot of misinformation out there, along with a lot of poorly constructed studies and completely wrong-headed theories about cats that need to be addressed.

I’ve spent most of my life studying and pondering all things cat, and I hope to delve into all the aspects of these amazing creatures who have chosen to share their lives with us.

Introductions

Since I’m going to be talking about cats, I’m definitely going to be talking about my own cats. We currently have 4. I’ll be posting more details about them soon, so these are just brief introductions. From oldest to youngest:

Kagome is 18 years old. She’s a Norwegian Forest Cat, and she is definitely top cat in my house. She showed up on our porch one day, demanding to be let in, and she followed my daughter around for weeks until I finally caved and allowed her inside.

Kagome_6-7-2015

 

Kikiyo is 11 years old. My little sister’s cat had kittens, and my older sister and I each took one. Half Abyssinian, with a dash of Ragdoll and a heaping tablespoon of Burmese, she’s a cuddly beauty with firm opinions on many things. She’s happy being the princess.

Kiki_2-11-2016

 

Up next is Kagetora, who is 8 years old. He’s a retired superhero (more on that later).

Kagetora_9-29-2015

And finally, we have Stiles. He’s 16 months old now. He’s astonishingly smart, incredibly empathetic, and has given me back that sense of wonder that I had when I was a kid learning about cats for the first time. His story is a great one, which you’ll hear all about soon. He also has a fabulously long tail.

Stiles_6-8-2016

That does it for the intros. I’ll be back with all sorts of information and discussions about cats soon. In the meantime, feel free to ask me any of your cat related questions, and I’ll be doing a Q&A soon!

The world of cats at your fingertips.