Tag Archives: empathy

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!

Why You Should Never Punish a Cat

I’ve seen so many people talk about punishing their cats, and I am shocked every time. Even yelling at a cat is detrimental—they will think you are insane, and they will lose some trust in you—they don’t understand it, it means nothing to them, so you’re making your cat feel less safe without doing anything to change the behavior.

Every time you yell at or punish a cat, you are putting your relationship with the cat in jeopardy. They do not perceive their own activities as “bad” or destructive. That’s a human concept. When you punish your cat, your cat will associate the punishment with YOU—not with his/her own behavior. Often this leads to him/her avoiding you or being more confrontational. The people the kitties originally loved and trusted are now perceived as scary and hurtful. They are not friends anymore, they are now antagonists.

Punishing a cat does not tell the cat what to do. It does not aid in correcting the problem. And most often, the side effects will be extremely negative, both for you and the cat. Punishing and yelling at a cat often leads to an increase in “bad” behaviors because they feel threatened (you were a trusted ally, and now you have turned on the cat, and it may start to see you as an adversary).

Cats will also often avoid places where they were punished. This can be catastrophic, especially if the issue is related to the litter box. They won’t want to go anywhere near the litter box after being punished there.

And studies show that people who yell at others (people and pets) start getting a sense of satisfaction, and thus reward for this behavior. It can quickly become a very bad habit, and one that the person escalates as time goes on. No one wants to hang out with a person who gets high off their own rage. It can only lead to trouble.

Cats don’t do things for no reason. There is always a reason. Sometimes it’s a natural behavior for the cat, and thus you must offer alternatives. If the cat is climbing on the counter, and that’s a no-no, simply pick up the cat (gently) and move it to a cat tree, or another place it can climb. Then praise the kitty like it was his/her idea all along. Always praise and treat when they use those alternatives.

Cats like to have a good vantage point to watch what’s going on. This is especially true in the kitchen. If the counters are off limits, put a cat tree in the kitchen (counter height is fine) so that they can observe at a safe distance.

Make sure you’re playing with your cat enough: 2 sessions of at least 15 minutes of play for adults over 3, 3-4 15-minute sessions a day for 18 months to 3 years, at least 5 sessions of 10-15 minutes of play for 6 months to 18 months. For kittens who are just starting to play up to 6 months, they really need to be playing or being mentally stimulated any time they aren’t sleeping or eating. They have this very short window where they must learn to hunt through play. They are evolution’s finest predator, and this means that play is absolutely essential to kittens and young cats in particular. Cats should never lose their drive to play. If they do, it could be a sign of illness, depression, or they might just need a new toy to get them excited again.

Redirect, guide, offer alternatives, and use positive reinforcement to show your cat that s/he is doing a great job. Praise, praise, treats, affection, play, praise. You will both be happier in the long run, as well as healthier because you avoided all that stress caused by yelling and punishment.

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)!

RCRS: Stiles, Part 2

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!

Here he is petting me:

That’s all for this week!

RCRS: Stiles, Part 1

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):

Bunny's Babies: Birthday

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.

Kikiyo, Kagetora, and Stiles

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: Shhhhh

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.

Read Part 2!

Part 3 (Coming soon)

RCRS: Freya the Amazing

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.

Freya (Bunny)
She had the power of Sad Eyes, which is irresistible.

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.

Bunny's Babies: Birthday

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.