Tag Archives: feline

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.

WW Q&A: Cat Farts

Q: My cat farts really loudly. Is this normal?

A: You need to take your cat to the vet. Cats rarely pass gas in a way that is audible because of their diet (low carb, a lot of proteins), they are relaxed when they pass gas because it it not embarrassing for them, and their muscles aren’t as tight as humans’ muscles in that area.

They should produce a small, but extremely odorous, gas that comes out steadily, thus producing no noise.

If your cat is producing too much gas, or has an issue with its GI tract, this could explain the noise. Check the ingredients on your cat’s food to make sure there aren’t a lot of grains and fillers in there. And don’t feed your cat human food.

While that may be part of the problem, there are so many cats on poor quality cat food who don’t do this, so you still need to get the cat into the vet. Not just because this is abnormal, but that amount of gas can cause a lot of pain. And since cats rarely show signs of being in pain, this may be your only clue.

Good luck to you both!

Q&A: Kneading

Q: Do cats understand that kneading people hurts them? Why do they do it?

A: Kneading, also colloquially referred to as making biscuits, is first done when they are tiny kittens, kneading their mother’s tummy to stimulate milk flow. Like the meow, this is a neotenic behavior, which is a behavior that begins in kittenhood, and spills over to adulthood.  We often see these neotenic behaviors in domesticated animals like cats and dogs. There are some other reasons for this behavior, which I’ll get into at the end.

It sounds like you need to clip your cat’s claws regularly. That’s always been enough for me, and I’ve always had at least 2 cats. I have 4 right now.

If that isn’t enough, use Soft Claws on kitty’s claws so that it doesn’t hurt. If you need help, a vet tech at your local vet’s office should be able to show you how to do both, as can a cat groomer, if there’s one in your area. Having a blanket handy is also a good strategy. Cats learn quickly that a blanket in the lap is an invitation to cuddle.

Cats have very thick skin and fur, so this doesn’t hurt when they do it to each other. Mom never complained about it, so it makes sense that they think this is a great way to bond and show affection.

Like many humans, cats can sometimes have difficulty understanding something that is out of their realm of experience, especially when they’re young, or if you aren’t closely bonded with them.

You might say, “My cat does this to blankets as well, so does it love that blanket too?” Well, no. Wild cats (both big and small) also tamp down a nice bed of leaves and/or grasses to make a comfy bed and double check that there are no pokey objects or critters that will disturb them. This is likely what kitty is doing when she kneads her blanket or her bed.

This also declares ownership. Cats (domesticated, wild, big, and small) have scent glands in their paws, so they are also claiming ownership of that comfy spot they made.

 

Wacky Wednesday! If My Cat Were Bigger, Would He Kill Me?

Q: If my cat, who is a gentle house cat, suddenly became as big as a lion, would he kill me?

A: That depends on a lot of factors like age, activity level, if he’s neutered, how he plays with you, his personality, and your bond.

If he’s young, and very exuberant about play, and is serious about his aggression toward toys, then it’s a possibility. If he was taught (or not corrected—gently and positively—when he has attacked your leg or something) when young that human hands or other body parts are toys, then the answer is almost certainly yes.

I actually use this example as a thought experiment a lot when I’m talking about why big cats do not make good pets. Think about a young cat, maybe a year old. At that age, you can see how intent the kitty is about attacking and “killing” a toy, which is a thing it just perceives as being something fun to maul, not even real prey. Then imagine that he was the size of a medium-sized dog, and ask yourself what kinds of things he might think look like fun things to attack. A little kid would be fun sized then. Then imagine the kitty is the size of a tiger, and you should get it right away. It would be a disaster for everyone.

Make no mistake, there are fundamental differences (at the genetic level) between domestic cats and wild cats (big and smallish). Domestic cats have changes on genes dealing with aggression and learning. They are less aggressive and are able to learn more and learn faster than their wild cousins.

However, older cats, especially neutered cats over the age of 7 or 8, wouldn’t necessarily pose a deadly risk if you magically scaled them up. By that time, they don’t see you as a plaything (again, unless you have encouraged them to play with your hand or not corrected them—gently and positively—when they have attacked you), and are usually more interested in naps, food, watching Cat TV (AKA the window), and other things.

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!

Q&A Does Catnip Have Health Benefits?

QDoes catnip do anything for a cats’ health or is it just a recreational drug for them?

A: It depends on the kitty. If your cat has the gene that makes it sensitive to catnip, it can have some health effects.

If your cat consumes it rather than just smelling and rolling in it, it can have a calming effect. Our little guy, Stiles, has feline insomnia. He gets enough REM sleep, but not enough NREM sleep. Kitties usually grow out of it by the age of 3, but he’s just about to turn 2. He licks it instead of rolling in it. It mellows him out, and it helps him catch up on sleep. So that’s a definite benefit.

Our 2 older kitties who have the gene, Kiki and Kagetora, tend to roll in it and sniff it, and it makes them playful, which is good, especially in the winter months when they nap a little more than usual. This helps them get some much needed exercise. Our oldest, Kagome (19 years old), doesn’t have the gene.

But we can’t give it to the 2 older cats and Stiles at the same time because they get a little aggressive, and he gets really chill, and will just let them bite him if we don’t direct that aggression toward play.

It can also be a powerful training aid. If your cat is scratching the furniture, carpet, or walls, then using catnip on scratching posts (try to get ones made of the materials they like to scratch). If you want them to use the new kitty bed you got them instead of your laundry basket, catnip can also help with that.

If you don’t have a plant, then try to buy it as fresh as possible, and store excess in the freezer. Also, don’t give it to them too often because they can lose their sensitivity to it.

Q&A: Screaming Cats?

Q: Why do cats scream at night?

A: There are only 3 common reasons you might hear cats scream at any time.

  1. Mating Females will yowl and make a lot of crazy-sounding noises when they are in heat. This is so that all the intact males in the area will know that this is their chance.
  2. Fighting Whether it’s a fight over territory, access to a mate, a female or male guarding kittens (yes, males do this too), food, or anything else, they are making those noises to announce that they are big, bad, and mean, and you better not mess with them. More than half the time, this works at avoiding an actual fight. So it’s a behavior that is worth keeping. Cats that don’t display this behavior (like Ragdolls) should never be allowed outside without supervision.
  3. Tail Guarding As I outlined in The Tale of the Tail, cats are very protective of their tails. 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!!!! This isn’t about pain (remember, they do this even when you don’t actually step on the tail). It’s about keeping their tail safe.

Paradoxically, at least in the view of humans, cats rarely make noise when they are in pain. They are notorious pain-maskers, so it’s very hard to tell when Fluffy is in pain or is sick. They also don’t make noise when they are really afraid, which makes sense. If you’re in the wild, you aren’t going to make a lot of noise when you know a coyote is hunting you.

Q&A How do cats see themselves and us?

Q: Do Cats Think They’re Humans?

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.

Where Do Domestic Cats Come From?

SciShow delved into some very interesting cat topics in the past few weeks, and I thought they were worth sharing.

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: