Tag Archives: kittens

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.

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.

 

Q&A How to Pet a Cat

Q: Okay, I know this is a stupid question, but can you tell me the best way to pet a cat?

A: This is not a stupid question at all. It might seem like an absurdly easy question to answer, but I have seen people pet their cats the wrong way for decades. Every cat is different on physical interaction, and each should be treated as an individual.

To learn how to bond with a kitten who isn’t interested in petting and cuddling, see this article: Q&A: How do I get my kitten to like petting?

There are some major factors and minor factors that generally determine how a particular cat likes to be petted. Some of the major ones are:

  • Personality Is it an affectionate kitty, or a little more standoffish? Is it skittish or bold? There are several personality traits that will determine how the cat will prefer to carry out physical contact.
  • Mood Hyper, angry, or otherwise perturbed cats generally don’t like to be touched.
  • Age Kittens don’t generally enjoy it unless they are veeery sleepy, and even then, there’s a limit. As the cat grows older, and your bond grows stronger, cats usually get more and more cuddly and affectionate as they get older.
  • Health Injury Old age, pain, discomfort, or other health issues can determine whether or not a cat wants to be touched.

General rules:

  • When attempting to get to know any cat, you should start with simple offering the back of your hand for it to rub against. Bolder, more mature, more affectionate cats will usually take you up on the offer. Let the cat pet your hand, not the other way around.
  • Most cats do not enjoy full-body strokes, so never pet a cat you don’t know well using large strokes along the back.
  • Even if the cat rolls over, do not go for the belly unless you know the cat well. Unlike dogs, when cats roll on their backs, it does not mean, “Rub my belly!” It generally means, “I like you! I feel good!” People who are more used to dogs are therefore left flabbergasted when a cat becomes peeved when they try to go in for a belly rub. If you think the cat might enjoy a belly rub, start with some gentle chest scratches. Most cats like that.
  • Keep the petting to small strokes and rubbing of the head, chin, and neck. You could also try for a gentle cheek rub. The best way to initiate the first attempt at a cheek rub, try presenting a knuckle in front of the cheek (not to the side, you want the cat to be able to see its proximity to its cheek), and let the cat rub against it at their leisure, so they are the ones in control.

WARNING Signs If you see any of the following behaviors, stop petting immediately and look somewhere other than at your cat:

  • Cat watching your hand
  • Ears flattened to the side or back
  • Love Nips (small bites not meant to hurt, just to say, “Stop doing that!”)
  • Growling or hissing
  • The cat’s skin gets twitchy where you’re petting it
  • Tail twitching or swishing quickly

The good signs are fairly obvious: the cat keeps coming back for more, kitty starts purring, or curls up in your lap, rolls over, or otherwise seems completely blissed out.

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: Why Doesn’t My Cat Want to Play?

Q: My cat is almost 6 years old, she used to love playing with toys like laser pointer and wand toys, but the past few weeks, she shows no interest. She doesn’t look sick. What could be the cause?

A: The drive to hunt doesn’t end in a healthy cat, and thus the drive to play should not end in a healthy cat. Sure, mature cats don’t play as much as kittens, but that’s because kittens have a very short span in which they must learn to hunt and fend for themselves. Seniors and elderly cats slow down a little more, but that is a way off for your fur baby. Adult cats should play for at least 15 minutes twice a day. If your cat isn’t playing, even though you are providing it the opportunity, it should see the vet first.

They can get bored with the same toys and games, which is why it’s important to keep providing new enrichment. You should also rotate toys. And keep in mind that not all cats like the same toys. One of our cats, Kikiyo, has never shown much interest in the wand-type toys. She’s far more interested in mystery. If I put a toy inside her crinkle sack and let it peek out, then retreat back into the bag (I use a string), she’s interested. Sometimes I have to move it around a bit inside the sack so it makes a little more noise, but she’s very fond of that game.

She also likes it when she’s on the other side of a door, and I peek toys out, then have them retreat, then slooowly poke them out again.

You might also consider harness training your cat. Being able to explore all the sights and smells outside may reinvigorate her interest in hunting behavior, which is what playing is.

You can also try keeping some toys in a plastic bag with some catnip (if she likes catnip). Just make sure not to expose her to catnip too often. Once every 4–7 days max. Cats can lose their sensitivity to catnip if they are around it too much.

Q&A: How Do I Get My Kitten to Like Petting?

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.

Stiles
Stiles in my lap, petting me before snuggles.

So let me tell you how we developed this close bond.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Eat after play. With play done, and a full belly, she’ll be sleeeepy.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.

Why Cats vs. Dogs Is a Stupid Debate

Since long before the internet became a thing we all depend on, there has been this debate raging. Every time I think maybe we’ve all gotten over it, it comes up again: Which is better, cats or dogs?

I explained in my last post why this debate isn’t helpful:

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?

And now I would like to address people who hate either dogs or cats because they love the other one. If you are not one of these people, you are excused, and may go on with your day. I’m not talking about personal choice of pet. If you want to say you prefer to have a dog, or you prefer to have a cat, or hamster, or ferret, or skunk…whatever it is, that’s okay. I’m not talking about you.

I am so, so tired of people having these stupid debates about which one is better. If you’re one of these people, let me ask you something: Do you like elephants? Does that make you hate zebras? When you go to the zoo, do you go and look at just one animal? Does seeing meerkats frolic and play somehow diminish your enjoyment of cheetahs? If so, you might have a problem. A problem with logic, surely, but possibly a mental one as well.

I like dogs. I like cats. I understand cats and dogs for the most part. Cats can be harder to understand if you aren’t in the habit of thinking too deeply about pets. I get that. You actually have to try to think like a cat, to empathize with them. Most people can’t even put themselves in another human’s shoes, much less empathize with another species. I get that. But they are very social, highly intelligent creatures that can show just as much (and sometimes more) affection as our canine friends.

So, just understand that when I see you talking about how dogs are better than cats or cats are better than dogs, I see an imbecile talking about how hamsters are THE BEST! THE BEST! AND THAT’S WHY FERRETS SUCK!!!!

Do you have cats and dogs? How do they get along? Tell us your stories! Leave a comment or email us at stories at littlecatdiaries dot com!

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.

How Are Domestic Cats Different From & the Same As Big Cats

Cats of all sizes are remarkably similar. They are all obligate carnivores, they like cardboard boxes, enjoy chasing the evil little red dot, enjoy catnip, and all sorts of other things.

The main thing that makes them different is that domestic cats like hanging out with people. Big cats don’t. But in almost all other ways, cats of all sizes are extremely similar. They like catnip, they like boxes, they sleep a lot, they like unrolling toilet paper, they are obligate carnivores, they have better sight than other carnivores, a great sense of smell, and some big cats even knead (making biscuits), etc.

Domestic cats are social, and (females especially) live in colonies when they are feral. But lions are also very social, and live in groups.

The biggest differences are that domestic cats have more mutations on genes involved in mediating aggressive behavior, forming memories, and controlling the ability to learn from either fear or reward-based stimuli. This means they have longer memories, more capacity to learn, and are far less aggressive than their wild relatives.

Further Reading:

Cat Genome Reveals Genetic Signatures Underlying Feline Biology and Domestication