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: 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.
Continuing from Part 1, where I explained how we came to keep Stiles, and his relationships with our other cats…
Kiki loves elephants and whales, and especially loves watching them if David Attenborough is narrating. She taught Stiles this love of whales, elephants, and David Attenborough from an early age.
He’s particularly fond of baby elephants. He hops up on my desk to watch the You Tube videos (I made a playlist for him), and he has one favorite that is a minute long, and he makes this urgent fussy noise when it ends, and makes me start it over, and over, and over…
He plays fetch and catch, and has since he was big enough to fit a toy in his mouth. And he’s also learning to fly.
He loves all sorts of games, and his intelligence never fails to impress. But even more astounding is his capacity for empathy. Just like his mother seemed to know how to get along with each one of our cats, as well as how to win over humans, Stiles has shown those abilities and more.
If anyone in the house is upset, Stiles must investigate. Whether it’s a human-cat interaction, a cat-cat interaction, or someone is just upset, he wants to make it better.
Kagetora is terrified of men. If my brother is coming over, I try to remember to put Kagetora in my room so that he doesn’t get upset. It doesn’t matter that my brother is a cat lover, and wouldn’t even raise his voice to a cat. Kagetora’s fear was learned during those years he spent as a stray.
Once, I didn’t put Kagetora in my room before my bro stopped by. I went into the kitchen to get something and heard a hiss. I looked over, and Stiles was already there. Stiles saw that Kagetora was upset, but also understands that my brother is a good human, so he simply put himself between Kagetora and my brother so that Kagetora wouldn’t feel so threatened. It worked.
But he doesn’t just understand cat behavior and emotions, he has shown an amazing understanding of human emotion as well.
If I cry, he comes running, jumps in my lap, licks my face, and then, depending on if they are happy tears, sad tears, in pain tears, angry tears, frustrated tears, or fake tears, he will respond in different ways.
He’s the most amazing cat I’ve ever known. Here’s how he reacts depending on my mood:
Pain: He’ll start purring really loudly and lay on my abdomen (I have chronic pain due to abdominal adhesions, and the warmth and vibration of his purring is better at relieving my pain than any drug).
Sad: He’ll make these little consoling noises, and then he’ll cuddle up on my chest, purring. He’ll watch me very closely. As soon as I calm down, he’ll tuck his head under my chin and stay there for as long as I need him.
Frustrated: After licking my face, he’ll lean back and look at me, then he’ll hop down and go get one of his toys, then drag it into the room and place it at my feet so I will play with him. It really does make me forget about my frustrations.
Angry: He does the lean back, then he starts chattering at me, hops down, and starts acting like a total goofball, doing flips, jumping, and just being hilarious. It always works.
Fake: I have tried doing fake crying to see what he’ll do. Once he licks my face, he sighs, hops down, and goes back to whatever he was doing before.
All that had been going on since he was about 6 months old. When he was about 15 months old, I was binge watching one of my shows, and I got all emotional during a particularly poignant scene. Next thing I know, Stiles had jumped in my lap, did the tear sniff, the face lick, but then he did something new.
Sitting in my lap, he tilted his head, raised a paw, pressed it against me just above my clavicle (collar bone) and slowly let it rub against me as it lowered about 3 inches, then he lifted his paw and pressed it against me just above the clavicle again, let it slide down, then he did it again. And again. He watched me very carefully as he did this. At first, I just smiled.
It took me a minute to figure out that he was petting me.
It was so amazing! I started laughing and telling him what a good boy he is. He has since worked the petting into his routine for when I’m sad or in pain. Every time he does it, I feel like I’ve just seen a dancing unicorn or had a conversation with a dragon.
He is so insanely smart and empathetic. He isn’t just highly empathetic with me. He’s like this with my daughter and our other cats as well. We’ll get into more specifics about feline empathy later. For now, just enjoy the AWW!
As I mentioned last week, I decided that I would start using Wednesdays as the day I answer questions that are a little more off the wall, or stories that seem a little nutty, and to discuss studies that come out that are weird.
For our first installment of wackiness, I thought this would be fun::
Q: How can it be safe to kiss a cat if they use their mouths to carry mice and other animals?
A: Who is kissing stray cats on the mouth? That’s weird. Even kissing a house cat on the mouth seems odd to me, and I kiss my kitties.
We usually kiss them on the tops of their little heads. They’re clean, and we don’t have an issue with rodents and other pests. And if we did, we certainly wouldn’t allow the cats to catch and eat them. There are too many diseases and parasites to worry about.
We keep up with our cats’ dental hygiene, but even so, they lick places I wouldn’t want to kiss, so I don’t kiss them anywhere near the mouth.
Now, if a cat licks me, that’s fine. Skin is easily cleaned, so I’m not going to cringe away and squeal like an idiot. I know it’s just one of their ways of bonding, not unlike primates grooming each other.
Today is Stiles’s 2nd birthday. I’ve tried so many different times to figure out how to tell Stiles’s story, and how much he has come to mean to me. I touched on his story a bit when I wrote about his mother, Freya, and also when I wrote about Kagetora. But those mentions barely scratch the surface. I’m going to break this up into several parts since it would make a blog post that is way too long, and there is so much that I think is important to tell you about Stiles because he has taught me more in the 2 years he’s been alive than I learned in the decade before he came along.
I suppose I should begin at the beginning.
On January 27th, 2015, Bunny (AKA Freya, Bun Bun, Baby Bunny) kindly waited for me to wake up until she let me know that it was BABY TIME! Only she didn’t want to have her babies in the box in my closet, nor did she want them in the backup den I’d created. She insisted on having them under the vanity sink in my bedroom. I quickly grabbed a box, swept all the junk under there into it, grabbed a clean blanket (which was my daughter’s Elmo baby blanket), put it down, and Bun Bun got in there without a moment to spare. The babies were coming. I had hoped that, since she had only been 6 months old when she got preggers, that it would be a small litter. 3 or fewer would be ideal, but I thought I could handle 4.
I snapped this picture after kitten number 5 was born (and I was sure, as I had been after number 4, that it was over):
But, of course, it wasn’t over. Stiles was kitten #6. Such a huge litter for such a young mama. She handled it like a champ. Although I wanted to name him Spock (since he did a great little Spock impression), my daughter named him. Stiles was the only kitten that I didn’t have a say in the name. I didn’t plan on keeping any of them, so I didn’t think it really mattered.
When the kittens were 3-4 weeks old, Stiles got sick. My daughter and I had to feed him, and Kikiyo (our 11-year-old, who had been a young mother once herself) was happy to help cuddle and bathe him, as was Kagetora. My daughter and I slept opposite each other so that someone was always awake with him to keep him warm, fed, and to keep an eye out for any worsening symptoms. He pulled through, but we had all bonded with him so strongly, especially Kiki and Kagetora, and I couldn’t take him away from them. And, truth be told, I was very attached to him as well.
A side note on his name: Although he didn’t get the name I wanted for him, I began calling him Mister on those long nights we spent cuddled up together when he was sick, watching Doctor Who. It’s a nod to Mister Spock, and I still call him Mister to this day (so does my daughter most of the time). All our cats have nicknames, so it’s normal for each cat to have several names in our house. Kagetora thinks his name is Baby. Kikiyo (whom we’ve had the longest) responds to Kiki, Kiku, and Baby Squeadle, as well as Squeable and Screeble (these things morph over time, and they tend to be situational as well). Kagome knows her name and she also knows Squeaker (and, of course, Baby Squeaker, even though she was an adult with very firm opinions when we adopted her).
Back to Baby Stiles. We knew early on (before he was 4 weeks old) that he had insomnia. That may sound ridiculous to you, but it isn’t. In fact, that wasn’t even the first time I’d seen a kitten with insomnia. Kiki had it pretty bad when she was young. She grew out of it around 3 years of age, and I hope that happens with Stiles. He gets enough REM sleep, but the light doze NREM sleep is what he misses out on. It’s linked with a fear of missing out (FOMO), and since he is hyper-social like his mama, it’s worse for him than it was for Kiki. He’ll sleep on me while I watch TV, so I now watch TV for a few hours every day just so he gets an extra nap.
Here he is, wide awake while his siblings sleep:
Stiles has always been a special little guy. I knew he was smart early on (Bunny and all of her babies were smart, but Stiles was particularly intelligent, as was Cleo).
After he started recovering from being sick, he had gone from second largest kitten (Bucky was always the biggest) to the smallest kitten. Even smaller than the 3 of his siblings (Steve, Cleo, and Kiri) that were estimated to be 2 full weeks younger than the other 3 (Stiles, Bucky, Juno). When he started feeling good enough to play again, he would hide in my daughter’s lap as she sat cross-legged on the floor, and pop up to ambush his siblings during play time. And if things got too rough, he’d pop back down to safety.
We moved to Michigan when he was just old enough to be away from his mother, but with a strong enough bond with Kiki and Kagetora that I felt that he would be okay learning his manners with them. He was also used to formula by then, and was eating mostly solid food, so it all worked out well.
He did better than expected during the journey from Oklahoma to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. In fact, he did much better than the adult cats. He was curious about everything. But he also got a lot of sleep during those 2 traveling days. He curled up mostly with Kiki, but cuddled with Kagetora as well.
Next time, I’ll fill you in on the games he has made up, how he shows incredible empathy and intelligence, and how we bonded with him so strongly.
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: My kitten is 4 months old. She bites me every time I try to pet her. How do I get her to like petting?
A: This is absolutely normal. Kittens do 3 things: eat, sleep, and play. They cannot control any of those things. They need food and sleep to survive kittenhood. Play includes the use of claws and mouths because 1) they need those to hunt and 2) other cats have fur and thick skin that can withstand it. That’s why you don’t use your hand as a toy when playing with a kitten. They must learn to hunt very quickly because, for many cats, soon they will be on their own, and if they don’t learn to hunt, they will die.
So, from an evolutionary perspective, she’s learning to hunt by play. Most kittens this age are learning their independence as well. Depending on the kitten, it is possible to get them to be cuddly, but this is usually when they are too tired to play. And even if you can’t cuddle with your kitty right now, if you bond with her through play, she will repay you later.
My little guy is now 19 months. He’s super empathetic, very smart, and he will cuddle with me when he knows I’m not feeling well (which is often, since I have MS and chronic pain that is unrelated to the MS). He and I have such a close bond that he pets me when he wants to soothe me. It’s adorable! But at 4 months, he only cuddled while sleeping.
So let me tell you how we developed this close bond.
Play is THE key. Play with her several times a day until she starts panting. This fills her need and it gets out all that baby energy. With a kitten this young, I recommend at least 3 play sessions a day. My baby needed 5.If you use a string (elastic string is the most fun, with feathers or other toys at the end) toy and use it to make them do a lot of running and climbing to get it, this wears them out fast. If she’ll chase a toy that you throw, that’s a good way to do it as well. My little guy started playing fetch when he was about 5 months.
Praise, praise, treats. Make sure you praise her when she does things that she’s supposed to, when she gets the toy during play (you should allow her to get the toy frequently, this triggers the reward center in her brain, and that is also key because she will later relate that reward to being with you even without play.) Try to get her to eat a treat or two out of your hand. This is also creating a good association with you, and building that bond.
Eat after play. With play done, and a full belly, she’ll be sleeeepy.
Gently handle her several times a day. Pick her up to carry her to her food (even if it isn’t necessary), to a different room to play with her, etc. They’re wiggly, but if they know you will put them down quickly when they protest, they will start being more comfortable with it.
If you have a plush blanket, put it on your lap, and encourage her to sleep on your lap. Don’t force her. But if she’s wiped out, she’s more likely to snuggle into your warm, inviting lap.
You can pet her head, rub her cheekbones, rub under the chin, but don’t do it too much. You’ll interrupt her sleep, which will make your lap less inviting. Right now you’re just creating the bond.
Never raise your voice to her. Cats don’t understand the concept of punishment. If she’s somewhere she shouldn’t be, just move her (gently) to someplace where she can be. If she’s climbing shelves that are off limits, you need to provide a cat tree or something else for her to climb on. Always give alternatives. Praise her when she uses the alternatives.
If you keep this up, then once that kitten play stage starts to calm down in a few months, she’ll trust you, she’ll associate you with all things good in her world, and she will be sleeping in your lap and asking for petting in no time.
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:
Real Cats, Real Stories is a little segment we like to do to highlight the felines who have overcome the odds, who have touched our hearts, and who have shown us that they are so much more than internet memes make them out to be. If you have a story about a cat that you’d like to share, send it to us! (stories at littlecatdiaries.com)
Back in November of 2015, a little kitty followed my daughter home (cats love her, always have, and that’s how we got 3 of our 4 cats). This kitty was about 6 months old, and just so pretty. I thought we’d take her in, try to find her owners or a new home after we got her spayed. By the time we had the money to get her spayed and her shots, and all that good stuff, it was obvious she was already pregnant. We hadn’t let her out, so she was pregnant when she followed my daughter home. I had never seen such a young cat get pregnant.
We named her Freya, but soon just called her Bunny, which devolved into Bun-Bun because she was an impressive jumper.
The day we took her in, she made instant friends with our then 6-year-old male. Our two female cats (then 17 and 10) had a truce going, but they weren’t buds. Bunny knew exactly how to act to make friends with them. She would go up to them (not too close), and flop down on her side, purring and friendly, and she soon became better friends with all our cats than they were with each other. It was amazing.
As her due date got closer, she slept with me, so I would be there when she went into labor. On the morning of January 27, 2015, she thoughtfully waited until I woke up to inform me that the babies were on their way. She wanted to have them under my vanity sink instead of the box or the closet where I had set up places, so I grabbed a box, took all the stuff out of the cabinet, and put down a clean towel just in time for her to have kitten #1.
She had 6 kittens in all, which is a HUGE litter, especially for a very young, first time momma. I took this picture after kitten #5, thinking that was the end of it. Nope! Stiles came into the world about 5 minutes later.
There were a lot of amazing things about Bunny and her kittens. The first was how young she was, then there’s the large litter she had, but one of the most stunning things was that 3 of the kittens appeared to be younger than their siblings by about 2 weeks.
I had heard of kittens in a single litter being younger than their littermates, but I had never seen it before Bunny had her babies. Since she had gone into heat at a very early age, and littermates can have different fathers, it sometimes happens that very young cats can go into heat even in the first weeks of pregnancy. It’s not common for the difference in age to be more than a few days, but Bunny was special in a lot of ways.
Each kitten looked different: Bucky (the biggest) is an orange tabby, Stiles is a grey tabby with white splotches, Juno (Bunny Junior) looks a lot like her mother, Steve was an albino, Cleo is a stunning calico, and Kiri has beautiful seal point coloring (like a Siamese). Stiles, Cleo, and Kiri also have the beautiful medium-length fur that Bunny has. Stiles’s fur lays flat, but his little sisters are very fluffy. Like Bunny, they are also amazingly soft.
Bunny was a great mother, especially considering her age. She was attentive, but since she was extremely social, she was fine with us helping out, and she was also happy to have Kiki and Kagetora help her bathe the kittens. It was very much a group effort. I’ll add more details about this in my post about Stiles.
We found homes for all the kittens except Juno, so when she was old enough, she went to the Tulsa SPCA with Freya. For reasons I’m not clear on, the SPCA renamed Freya to Deliah. I know Juno was adopted quickly because she never appeared on their website, but Freya was there for several weeks. We had moved to a different state, so I felt helpless every time I checked and saw that she was still there, but she did eventually find a home.
I miss her like crazy, but I know she’s out there somewhere, being loved and pampered, just as she deserves. I see her in Stiles’s face and eyes all the time. My sister and niece adopted Cleo and Kiri, and I see Freya in them (especially Cleo) when my sister sends pictures.
She changed my life, and many of the ways I think about cats. Her empathy and intelligence, passed on to her babies as well, continues to change and shape not only my life, but the lives of the people and cats that I strive to help. If I believed in fate, I would surely believe that some special magic brought her into our lives to teach us things that I’m still learning.
Wherever you are, my sweet Bun Bun, I love you, and I think of you often. Thank you.
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.
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.
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.
Up next is Kagetora, who is 8 years old. He’s a retired superhero (more on that later).
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.
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!