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!
Q: I’m finally able to get my own cat! What should I look out for when I want a low maintenance cat?
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.
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.
A: What time are you wanting the cat to sleep? Is it waking you up in the early hours, not sleeping when you go to bed, or something else? How old is the cat? How long has this been going on? The details really matter here. Without them, I can only cover generalities.
Cats sleep (usually a light doze) most of the day and night, and are active at dusk and dawn, which makes them crepuscular, not nocturnal.
If your cat is spending most of the day or night awake, then it is likely suffering from feline insomnia, and you need to get the cat to the vet. There are many issues that cause insomnia, especially in young cats (<3 years), but it can happen at any age. The older the cat, the more urgent it is to seek vet care for feline insomnia. It carries several health risks, both short and long-term.
Adult cats sleep 14–16 hours on average. Seniors and kittens sleep a little more than that. The average adult cat is only lightly dozing for 75% of that time, with the remaining 25% in deeper stages of sleep. Seniors and kittens spend much more time, 40–60% of sleeping time, in deeper sleep.
In nature, predators sleep more than prey. They don’t have to spend all day eating plants in order to get the energy they need, so they reserve their energy for hunting.
Since cats are crepuscular, they are most active during dusk and dawn, but many house cats will change their sleep schedule to work around their human’s sleep schedule. You should not encourage this behavior, though. It can lead to obesity, cardiac issues, stroke, and over a period of years, can increase your cat’s chance of dementia later in life.
If this issue is just a matter of the cat making noise as you’re trying to get to sleep, then here’s what you should do:
Play with the cat until it is exhausted. We’re talking panting heavily, completely worn out kitty. Like this (it should be noted that this was the second time in half an hour that Stiles did this. We only filmed the second one):
Then feed the cat. After all that play and food, kitty will be primed for a loooong nap.
Establish a routine, and stick with it every night. Have a schedule to do everything at the same time. Your bedtime routine will help the cat prepare itself for sleep as well, even if most of your routine (brushing teeth, locking the doors, putting on your pajamas, etc.) doesn’t include the cat. They are very observant, and they will pick up on it very quickly.
Similarly, have a routine in the morning. If you have time to play with the cat before you go about your day, you should do so. At least 15 minutes 2x a day is the minimum exercise requirement for an adult cat. Younger kitties will need much more. When they aren’t sleeping or eating, they should be playing. That’s how their brains are wired.
A: I’m not exactly sure where you got this idea, but it’s a rather simple answer: No.
So why bring it up? Because there’s this ridiculous related notion that cats think that we are strange-looking cats. By that logic, they would have to think that their dog friends, bunny friends, and other animal friends are also strange-looking cats, but we know they don’t.
Cats are best at reading the body language and faces of other cats, so they recognize cats as being like themselves. They communicate using the same methods (scent and body language mostly) with other cats, but not with animals, including humans, that are not cats.
Cats generally only meow at humans, not at other cats. Meowing doesn’t mean anything to other cats, but we talk to them, so they are trying to communicate with us on our level, which is vocal. They soon learn what types of meows get them what they want. And some cats, like Burmese, “talk” more than others.
Kikiyo has several words for different things, and has names for the other cats, me, and my daughter. She loves to talk with us, and she has about 10 different words for different kinds of water (water in the fountain, water in a cup, water from the sink, cold water, water on the floor, etc.). She does not converse with the other cats.
Cats mostly see us as equals. They are small, and don’t have the ability to get their own treats, water, or food most of the time, so they let us know when they’re hungry, thirsty, bored (and want to play), they want petting or cuddles, or anything else.
And they thank us in so many ways. Whether it’s bringing gifts, comforting us when we are upset, hurt, or down, and so many other ways. Each cat is an individual, just like people. Some are smarter, some are more empathetic than others, some have issues with anxiety, and on and on. They know we are individuals as well.
Stiles is almost 2 years old now, and he still has so much energy. Living with 4 cats in a tiny house has its struggles, and one of them is how to get out all that kitty energy when it’s too cold to go on a walk. Here we demonstrate one of the fastest ways we get our little guy the exercise he needs with a fun game that he loves.
I’m still trying to work on my post about him, although it’s difficult to keep under novella length. He’s just such an amazing little guy.
Q: Why are single women with cats stigmatized while single women with dogs aren’t?
A: I could talk about how cats and women have been tied together throughout history through myths like those of Bastet and Freyja. I could talk about how those associations led to literal witch hunts and mass slaughters of cats, but I don’t believe that has a lot to do with the idea of the Crazy Cat Lady myth.
I believe this happens because of several stereotypes and misconceptions. Any one of these things might be responsible for saying a single woman is a crazy cat lady, but when you start combining them, that’s when an idea pervades our discourse and rhetoric. It becomes this iconic phrase that most everyone in places where there are cats and single women can look at and identify someone they know, even when the criteria they use to label her as a crazy cat lady may be completely different from someone else’s.
The major contributing factors are:
First, people wrongly assume that cats are not as loving and affectionate as dogs are. This then contributes to one of the most idiotic, misogynistic concepts ever: that these single women must therefore be frigid (ugh I hate that word), just as incapable as those cats to show affection. So, on the flip side of that, where people see dogs as openly loving everyone, dog owners get a pass on the frigidity debate (at least for choice of pet).
The second factor is that single women over a certain age are either seen as pathetic (because she hasn’t managed to bag a spouse, as if a woman cannot possibly be content without a mate) or as bitchy, frigid, cold, or any other such qualities that would explain her being single. Evidence of this tendency to cast unmarried women as failures to marry can be seen in the way the terms spinster and bachelor are interpreted and used.
A third factor is that there’s also a long history of using cat-like words as pejoratives to describe women. Words like catty, kitten, cougar, and catfight are just a few examples. Both cats and women are often characterized as being sneaky, manipulative, and difficult to please. All of which is your average stereotypical nonsense.
Fourth, many women also regularly talk to the cat(s), and pour a great deal of time, money, and affection into taking care of their feline friends. And when you add these things up, it may look to an outsider as if this woman is a bonkers crazy cat lady, who presumably thinks her cats understand what she’s saying (not true, many people—including myself—just enjoy having a chat with the cat). Cats can be ASTONISHINGLY empathetic, and they are often great listeners.
In some cases, there may be actual mental health, dementia, and declining cognition issues, just like their married counterparts, but they may not realize just how bad things are on their own (or they may fear seeking help, thinking they will lose their freedom). Those are the cases where the term Crazy Cat Lady is truly offensive. We should be working to help those women get the care they need while maintaining their freedom for as long as possible, which should include help with caring for pets. Those pets may be the only thing keeping a woman who simply needs some help from turning into a woman in crisis.
There are some great organizations out there helping seniors and pets stay together. Look for one in your area to volunteer. If there isn’t one in your area, you could consider starting one. This is an issue we should all think more about.
Q: I’ve moved, and my new church has got a church cat. I’ve met him a few times, had some nice interactions. But I wonder. He must see a lot of humans at the church. How many of us can he actually fit into his tiny little kitty brain? Does he remember me meeting to meeting?
A: Cats have fantastic memories. Their brain structure is much more similar to ours than a dog’s brain. If you have a cat that spent its formative years (2–7 years) in a particular place, then you move, then you take the cat back to that place a decade later, it will remember all the paths it used to walk, where to get food, whom to avoid, and whom it can sweet talk (or meow) into giving it last night’s chicken leftovers.
To learn more about cats’ memory, read my post on the topic here.
Cats have an advantage that we don’t: they rely on smell (which is closely tied to memory, even in our minds, though we don’t use it when we meet people), as well as body language, the sound of that person’s voice, facial recognition, and other distinguishing characteristics to remember individuals. It doesn’t matter if it’s another cat, a dog, a possum, a human, or a goat. They use all those things to remember each individual. Every time. We rely heavily on sight coupled with a short word (the person’s name) to try to remember the people we meet.
A cat is much better equipped to remember you as an individual than any other person in that church.
Of all the myths spread about cats, one of the most tragic is that most people believe that all male cats will kill kittens if given an opportunity. This is absolutely untrue.
Cats are very social, empathetic creatures. Males often help with the kittens in feral populations, as well as when the male lives in the same house with the female and kittens. The reason we don’t see it a lot when our own cats have kittens is because the male isn’t able to get near them if he is a feral, stray, or lives in another home.
In fact, the male doesn’t even need to be related to the kitten(s) in order to want to protect and nurture it.
This isn’t conjecture or wishful thinking or anthropomorphism. The literature is full of studies and observational data that back this up. I have seen it many times.
In fact, I have seen many males, both feral and house cats, help to take care of kittens. I’m not saying all male cats are completely safe, and that there’s no need to worry. What I’m saying is that it’s not set in stone, and you also need to be aware that mother cats sometimes kill their own kittens, and at a higher rate than males. This remains true even when you factor in access.
Several years ago, there was a cat I saw quite a bit while I was in a rural town in Oklahoma. He was very friendly, so we were able to get him neutered, and then released him. We called him Kagetora (shadow tiger; because he followed my daughter around all the time).
He was about 7 months old when he first started following my daughter around. Back then, in 2008, we had a Samoyed-Chow Chow mix named Alaska, and Kagetora loved her. When my daughter took her outside, Kagetora would rub against her, trotting between her legs as she walked, and he would cuddle up close to her when she would nap on the lawn.
When he wasn’t following my daughter and Alaska around, his favorite napping spot was the place where the feral females would have their litters, and he loved helping with the kittens. He’d protect them while mom was away, groom them, play with them, and even share his food.
This is altruism in action. For a very long time, we didn’t believe that animals could behave altruistically. But anyone who studies animals will see it. The smarter the species, the more often we see altruism. I’ll discuss the topic of altruism—both within a species and interspecies altruism—more in the future.
Kagetora got attacked by a coyote one night while protecting the kittens. He managed to scare off the coyote, but he was in bad shape. We nursed him back to health, got the kittens to the Humane Society, and trapped the females and got them spayed. I decided it was time for him to retire, and we adopted him.
Fast-forward to November of 2014. We were fostering a young cat, Freya (AKA Bunny), who was pregnant. (See her story here.) She was only 6 months old when she got pregnant (before we took her in), and she had 6 kittens, so it was a bit much. Kagetora and our then 10-year-old female cat, Kiki (who had kittens before), loved taking care of the kittens. Our older female, who was 17, had never had kittens, and wanted nothing to do with them.
The wonderful thing about Bunny was that she established close and trusting relationships with our 3 cats while she was pregnant, so she not only had help with the kittens, but she had a lot of moral support for herself as well.
One of the kittens, Stiles, got really sick, and we had to bottle feed him and carry him around with us to keep him warm. My daughter and I slept opposite each other so someone was always awake with him. During this time, Kagetora and Kiki bonded with Stiles very strongly. By the time he was old enough to be adopted, they were convinced he was theirs, and I couldn’t take him away from them.
Here’s Kagetora with his baby (he was SO happy to have his own kitten):
And here are Kagetora and Kiki with their baby, Stiles:
Q: There is a room that my cat isn’t allowed to go into. I keep the door closed, but when I do leave it open she goes in there. When I catch her, she looks ashamed. Does she understand that what she’s doing is wrong?
A: First, some semantics:
Guilt: a feeling of responsibility or remorse for some offense, crime, wrong, etc., whether real or imagined.
Shame: the painful feeling arising from the consciousness of something dishonorable, improper, ridiculous, etc., done by oneself or another.
She isn’t displaying shame, that’s a purely human construct, but let’s explore if she should.
It depends on what your definition of right and wrong are. Do you truly believe that going into a room, that is usually inaccessible to you, in the house that you live in is wrong? Even if you never agreed not to do it? Even if it makes no sense to you? It isn’t a broken social contract, so it isn’t wrong.
Doesn’t sound wrong from the cat’s point of view, so let’s look at your actions. It’s only wrong if you believe yourself to be superior to the cat. In that case, it’s just a misunderstanding, so you aren’t that wrong.
To understand your cat, you must first understand this: Your cat is smarter and has a much longer memory than a dog. Unlike what many people choose to believe, she also doesn’t consider herself to be better than you are. She considers you to be her friend, her equal, her ally. She doesn’t think you’re her boss or her slave.
All you have to do to remain in the right is to keep the door to the room closed, and don’t ever punish a cat. She will think you’re insane and you will lose more of her trust each time. That includes scolding in this case.
So, in the end, she would have every right to feel shame for your ridiculous behavior in this matter, but she’s above all that. She’ll still think of you as her friend, even if you’re a little odd.