Tag Archives: cats

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.

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Cat vs. Gravity

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.

Cat Safety Tips

We here at Little Cat Diaries want you and your pets to have a great holiday season. There are special hazards that the holidays bring, and some that are always present. It’s important to know them all. This video from Cole & Marmalade’s human, Chris, is a great one that touches most of the bases.

Remember that some darn fools insist on shooting off fireworks on New Year’s, and just the sound of fireworks poses a risk to cats, particularly older kitties (though Kagetora was only 6 when he had his first seizure due to fireworks).

And make sure to check out the ASPCA’s list of plants, foods, and household products that are toxic to your furry family members. They even have a mobile app that you can download and take with you when you’re out shopping! And if your cat ever consumes something that you aren’t sure about, you can call the ASPCA’s Poison Control line at (888) 426-4435.

Q&A: Are Cats Usually Afraid of Water?

Q: My sister’s cat takes showers with her. I think this is weird. Aren’t cats afraid of water?

A:  Nope. In fact, a lot of cats are fascinated by water and like to play with water. The number of times people have asked me what to do about their cat’s fascination with toppling water bowls, drinking out of their bedside water glass, playing in the bathtub, etc. is too numerous for me to even put a number on.

Many cats don’t like getting wet unexpectedly, and some are very sensitive about water getting on their fur. They just don’t like the feel of it, but it doesn’t mean they are afraid of it.

Our little guy (Stiles, 21 months old) likes to knock over any container of fluid that he can. We have water fountains in every room so he can’t knock them over. We give him play time in the bath tub where he can perform his experiments in fluid dynamics to his little heart’s content. He used to do it every day. Now he asks to play about every 2 or 3 days, and the play sessions last about 20–30 minutes each.

Our Norwegian Forest Cat (Kagome) likes to dip her huge furry paw in the water and lick it off rather than drinking directly from the bowl. Maine Coons often do this as well.

Some cats love water so much that they enjoy swimming. Breeds that tend to enjoy a dip in the pool, bath, or even hop in the shower with their humans—just like your sister’s cat—include, but are not limited to:

  • Abyssinian
  • Manx
  • Japanese Bobtail
  • Turkish Van
  • Turkish Angora
  • Savannah
  • Bengal
  • American Bobtail

Here are some of my favorite videos of cats enjoying water:

 

Q&A: Why does my cat want me to watch her eat?

Q: My cat won’t eat unless I sit there with her and watch her eat. Why does she do this?

A: Eating is a time when cats are vulnerable. They are focused on eating, so they are less aware of their surroundings. Skittish cats are particularly prone to wanting their human to be near when they are in this vulnerable position. Kitty trusts you to have their back.

This is why those idiotic cucumber videos make me so angry. The cat is eating, totally focused on their food while a human (who is supposed to be a trusted ally) places a large green cucumber behind them. When the cat looks back, it is startled. This may look amusing, but it is among the cruelest things you can do without physically hurting the cat.

Cats don’t get practical jokes. The cat isn’t going to yuck it up with you later. The cat will be terrified in a place that it thought it was safe, and this can cause all kinds of psychological problems, and may lead to things like spraying the house with pee and other territorial issues.

Sorry about my tangent, but it does illustrate just how much trust cats put in us.

Stiles always has to have a person or one of the other cats next to him to eat more than a bite. He’s been this way since he was a tiny little guy, drinking kitten formula out of a saucer. He especially loves eating with Kiki near, partly because she won’t eat his wet food like Kagetora, but I think it’s also because she would often lay in my lap while I was syringe feeding him. I’d set him next to her in my lap, and that always got him to eat, even when he was feeling bad and didn’t want to.

He isn’t skittish at all. I think he just built a connection between eating and being with the people and cats he trusts and loves.

Q&A: Cats vs. Dogs

Q: My husband and I finally bought our first home, so we can get a pet. I want a cat, but he still wants to be open to getting a dog. How can I convince him that cats are better pets?

A: Congrats on buying your home! I recommend doing the bulk of painting and any other work that would cause harmful fumes, dangerous environment, or other pet-unfriendly situations before you adopt.

Now onto your real question…

Which is better: elephants or giraffes? Whales or immortal jellyfish? Hamsters or ferrets? You might find these things in the same sort of habitat, but they are completely different animals.

Asking which one is better does not give us knowledge. It confuses the issue, and the facts get lost in the fog. And because there is no logical, objective answer to this question, it leaves people feeling vulnerable, and thus they are likely to get overly emotional (also because we love our pets a great deal). When has a lack of logic plus overly emotional people ever equaled positive discourse on the internet?

Adopting a pet is a big deal. It’s a great responsibility, and I’m very happy that you and your husband are ready to take this step. Instead of looking at this situation as cat vs. dog, you should look at it as trying to find the best companion for both of you. And if you plan on adopting a young cat or dog, this is a responsibility that will span more than a decade (likely even a few if you don’t allow that pet outside on its own, feed it the best diet for that animal, get regular vet care, provide enrichment, etc.).

There are differences between cats and dogs, some minor, some major. It also depends on the breed. For example, our last dog, Alaska, acted much more like a giant cat than a dog, and there are cats that are more dog-like (like Ragdolls). So you need to consider a lot of factors before selecting an animal to adopt.

The main difference comes down to this: Cats consider us to be equals. Dogs consider us to be superior.

Write down all the things that you want in a pet.  Have your husband do the same thing. Make sure these are qualities that are real and not just stereotypes. Don’t attach these things to either cats or dogs. Just list the qualities.

There is a great deal to consider, so take time to really think about this, and try not to let your biases or preconceptions color your true thoughts, wants, and needs.

Answer the following questions in your notes:

  • Will you be able to live with pet hair, a litter box, scooping poop from the yard or on a walk (cats can go on walks too), and the occasional wear-and-tear caused by pets?
  • You say cats are better. Why? What qualities do they bring to the home that you would like to have in a pet? Remember, avoid using the words “dog” or “cat.”
  • How much space do you have inside and outside your home? Do you have a fenced yard? Will you want an outdoor enclosure (a catio or better fencing) so your pet can spend time safely outdoors?
  • How much time do you have to spend with a pet? No matter what pet you choose, you need to make sure you have the time. It isn’t true that cats are okay spending most of their day alone. They need at least 15 minutes of play twice a day (more for a kitten or young cat), and they need snuggle time or relaxing time just to be with you (at least 3 hours, but ideally more).
  • What is your activity level? Are you sedentary or physically active?
  • Do you have the financial resources if your pet has a medical crisis and has high veterinary bills?
  • Do you have someone who can be a secondary caregiver if you are away from home? If not, how will you provide care for your pet when you travel? This is another huge difference between cats and dogs. You can have your dog stay with friends or family, but a cat is strongly bonded to its territory (your home), so you will have to find someone to come to your home to feed the cat, play with the cat, and just hang out for an hour or so every day.
  • Make a list of things you don’t want in a pet. Remember to write down your reasoning.

Then compare notes, have a discussion about whose responsibility it will be to do certain tasks (or if you will alternate) like walking the animal, cleaning up the poop, feeding, playing, etc. When you have an idea of what kind of pet you want, go to the animal shelter and meet dogs and cats. Ask lots of questions about anything that comes to mind.

If you aren’t seeing eye-to-eye about which pet you would prefer, then try fostering a cat or dog for a few months, then fostering the other kind for a few months. This can be a great way to figure out if an animal will really fit into your family.

Also, why rule out the possibility of adopting one of each? There are plenty of cats who like dogs and dogs who like cats waiting for a loving home. Closing your mind to possibilities before you’ve even met prospective pets seems like a bad idea to me.

Each cat and dog has its own personality, just like people. Some of those personalities will not mesh well with you and/or your husband. So also keep in mind that just because one specific animal isn’t a good fit for your family, that doesn’t mean that all members of its species will be the same.

Good Luck! Let us know how it goes.

What do cats think about?

Q: What do cats think about? They don’t have to hunt for food, and humans take care of all of their needs, so what’s left?

A: Just because there is no need to hunt doesn’t mean that the drive to hunt is gone. Cats retain their drive to hunt, which is why it’s not necessary to starve a cat for it to be a good mouser. In fact, cats hunt better when well fed.

Cats sleep (usually a light doze) most of the day, and are active at dusk and dawn, which makes them crepuscular (not nocturnal as some believe). Most people who have a very adorable kitty alarm clock are being awoken by their kitty because it craves stimulation. Sure, the cat will eat if you want to feed it and go back to bed, but what it really needs is play.

Even if it’s an indoor kitty, it will dream of the birds and squirrels it watches from the window. If there is more than 1 cat, kitty will probably spend quite a bit of time thinking about the other kitty (or kitties). It also thinks about its human friends, as well as any other animal friends. Cats have best friends, and that can be another cat, a human, a dog, or any other creature it has strongly bonded with.

If it’s a very lucky kitty, who has a thoughtful owner who takes it on daily walks, it has a whole lot more to dream of. So many scents with so many meanings. So much flora and fauna to ponder.

Cats are very intelligent, and have much longer memories than dogs do, so there is a great deal going on in kitty’s head.

Caturday Cat Tips: Removing Pet Hair

The battle over cat fur is a constant one in our 4 kitty household, and it isn’t often that we buy black clothing. However, there are ways to keep the levels manageable.

Let’s start with grooming. Daily brushing will help keep the shedding down all over the house, and it is absolutely necessary as your cat gets older. Start early. Kittens don’t generally shed much, but you should start brushing them daily so that they get used to it (also start nail clipping, even if you just barely take off a sliver of each nail, so they get comfortable with the process).

Kagome, our 18-year-old Norwegian Forest Cat, is unable to groom herself anymore. So if we skip a brushing session, or if we simply aren’t thorough enough, her long fur will stick to anything (since the oils from her skin aren’t being distributed), and she gets mats incredibly easily, so it’s a constant battle. Thankfully, she doesn’t mind us using the clippers when needed. I think the soft buzz may sort of mimic purring for her.

There are many ways to remove fur from your carpets, furniture, bedding, and clothes. This video from Clean My Space covers most of the bases: