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2018-01-23T17:30:20.164Z
0
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I find it amazing that my cats and I can communicate so well. We are, after all, very different species.

Every day, I do something that my cats can’t completely understand.

un-cat behavior

I start my day with such puzzlers as changing my fur and standing in a stream of water. I spend much of my evenings writing, which means I stare at a computer screen that might as well be blank for all the cat-recognizable objects that appear on it. For everything we understandably share, like bacon and wand toys, there are many more things our cats don’t get, yet simply accept, about us.

I think they deserve some credit for that.

My cat Bubby used to scramble to get onto the sink vanity twice a day, just to watch me wash my face. He never got tired of studying all the different procedures, all while his face was clearly communicating, Why don’t you use your paw? It’s so much easier!

But even as I do thing they don’t understand, they accept such things as “what humans do.” In turn, I recognize what can seem like inexplicable desires in my cats, like asking to go into closets they have been in many times before, or going out into the hall and asking to come back in several times in succession.

Cats see doors differently than humans do....

Why do many people not understand what cats are saying with their facial expressions?

I believe it is because cats don’t have eyebrows.

Eyebrows help dog faces convey expressions. But cats do not have this advantage, nor do their mouths tend to fall into helpful, human-style, patterns the way dogs do. But one little trick makes a huge difference:

View a cat’s ears as though they are eyebrows.

With a little knowledge and practice, we can face-read our cats like picture books.

Of course, cats do turn their highly directional ears towards the source of sounds. Just as our binocular vision lets us do perspective and depth perception with our two mobile and distanced eyes, our cat uses their ears to pinpoint sounds.

It would be a mistake to think that is all a cat’s ears do. I have come to see that a cat’s ears are also a reflection of their thoughts.

click on a photo for a larger version

when they swivel

This is a cat pondering.A puzzled cat will...

A reader writes:

[We] have two cats – a female alpha and a female beta (both spayed). They tolerate each other, but aren’t friends. We are thinking of getting a third cat. Based on what we’ve found, we think an older male (neutered) beta or gamma would fit in best. What do you think?

Dear Readers,

The most important element of this equation has not yet been provided to me, and it illustrates an important question to ask ourselves in such situations:

Who is asking for friendship?

Because the cat who most wants company will be the one who welcomes it most.

Here’s more questions we should ask ourselves as we build a Cat Civilization.

social longing

I am firmly convinced all cats start out socially inclined. After all, they usually begin as littermates and happily play together. When presented with a kitten most cats understand the concept; it’s the execution (the constant wrestling and pouncing that gets on their nerves) they might object to.

In nature, there would always be other kittens and younger cats around to absorb the constant attacks; and they would actually enjoy it. In our homes, we have fewer cats, who then need to take on multiple roles.

My four cats...

I don’t know which I enjoy most; the ways cats are like me, or the ways they are not.

We can have a similar love of comfort, while expressing different ways of achieving it.

It can give us an interesting, alternative, perspective when we try to understand our cat’s point of view.

appearances

One of the most striking places where we and our cats diverge is about “how things look.” We don’t want shreds dangling from our upholstered furniture. Cats only notice when such a state interferes with what they see as furniture’s sole purpose: as a scratching post.

Cats don’t seem to have any aesthetic reaction on a visual level the way humans do. Cats study visual phenomena, but it doesn’t seem to trigger any pleasurable feedback beyond the practical aspects. RJ and I love watching the chipmunks at our feeder, but in his case, I believe it all boils down to “tasty tasty chipmunks!” and not about their cute antics.

Likewise, my cats watch videos to satisfy their instinct to study their prey, while I watch videos to get information from documentaries or enjoy a story being told.

This explains why our conveyed distress will remain the only motivator for...

Do cats understand leverage?

I think they do. From Smokepuff’s “I am starving!” pantomime drama to Tristan’s special, sad, toy-cow mooing, they know how to work our levers.

And why not? Don’t we work their levers, too?

capable of reciprocation

It’s a healthy thing to be aware of manipulation; that is when someone is simply out to get what they want, and have no regard for our needs. It’s a false promise of caring.

It is entirely different when our exchanges are mutual and beneficial. While it is a widespread misconception that cats manipulate us with selfish disregard, the truth is that cats want to be our friends, and exchange favors from that viewpoint.

Mr WayofCats surprised me with some movies he knew I liked as a gift for the holidays. Is he doing this because he loves me? Yes. Does he expect to get something from it? Yes. Does that make him manipulative? No.

Mr WayofCats wants me to be happy, so he bought me a gift he knew I would like. What he gets is the satisfaction of pleasing someone he loves. He also knows I will want to do something nice for him, and I got him something I knew he would...

This common tactic to try and keep the cat away from things is not the magic wand it seems. If we think about the difference between what we are trying to say, and what the cat “hears,” the problem becomes clearer.

The main problem is that the spray bottle does not work.

but everyone says…

A spray bottle was something many people told me to use to keep the cats off the kitchen counters and otherwise keep them away from things they shouldn’t play with. True, the cat did not like it. Then I noticed the desired reaction (cat vacates the premises) was short-term, and often had unexpected consequences.

The day I picked up my spray bottle from the floor, where someone with pointy teeth had torn off the nozzle, I decided this way of fixing problems had too many problems of its own. I stopped using it except for dispersing cats for whom introductions were going poorly, and even then I found better ways.

What is known as Aversion Therapy has been tried with humans, and does not work well. And for the same reason it does not work with cats. When the unpleasant stimulus stops being associated with the...

I am often asked how to get a cat who is a talker, a play machine, a love bug. (Or all three, as in the case of Tristan.) To answer these questions, for myself and others, I have become a student of cat breeds.

Genetics may not be everything, but they are the start of everything.

I worked out my system of Cat Types so people know what they are looking for, understand what they are getting, and realize the full range of cat possibilities. By letting our minds see breed traits as genetics any cat can express, we more readily recognize what we are looking at. Then, it’s possible to choose any cat breed we want.

My Cat Types were inspired by three foundational breeds.

the Original

In the beginning was the Alpha.

My cat Tristan closely resembles a breed known as the Egyptian Mau. He also has the vocal qualities, crooked tail tip, and (as a kitten,) the slightly crossed eyes, that are associated with Siamese.

Seen...

A commenter asks:

I very recently adopted two ragdoll cats one male and one female. And i was wondering what to do as they are not adjusting very well..does it take a long time or is there something i can do..they are a year old and i don’t think they have had very much human interaction

Dear Readers,

Sadly, this is a common problem among purebred cat acquisition. Especially if they are “marked down” purebreds.

There are people who are in love with a breed, find an ethical breeder, and are able to pay the price tag. These are the people keeping beloved breeds alive, and I can’t say anything bad about them. These are the people to support, in my opinion.

Purebred kittens, who were thoughtfully raised with love and have all their checkups and shots, are unavoidably expensive. Many people with a desire for a particular breed seek some alternative routes. Whether we are motivated by rescue impulses, or the desire to save money, or both; this path comes with challenges.

bad genes

I run across a lot of people who fondly remember a breed from their childhood and are shocked to learn what that breed has turned into. Siamese who look like something out...

Cat wants are cat needs.

Their instincts tell them what to do to survive. This is why they are so very stubborn about what they want.

People find this aspect of cats confusing, because we are taught from childhood that wanting something is different from needing something. We might want a particular piece of clothing but all we need is something that will keep us warm or protect our feet. This is an important part of separating function from social signaling. It is a major part of human adolescence, where we are torn between social joining and individuation.

But none of this is applicable to cats.

recognizing true need

If we regard the cat asking for something the same way we do our toddlers asking for something, trouble will follow. Our small children sometimes ask for fanciful things, or transient things, so we are used to weighing their requests for treats or toys or trips to Disney against available resources and what is actually good for our children.

When our children say they are hungry or thirsty, we don’t negotiate except for details. Part of caring for children is making sure they do get what they need; whether they know it, or not.

Likewise, we take care of our cats,...

In a previous post, I mentioned that Tristan had been caught wrestling with our Father Christmas, but got a pass because Mr WayofCats had absent-mindedly left it on his cat tree upstairs.

Cat Rules. If it is on Tristan’s cat tree, it is for him.

Father Christmas has fully recovered from his wrestling incident. He doesn’t really need that bag of gifts glued to his back, it hangs there by itself. He is now resting comfortably on the mantel downstairs.

But Tristan is mentally debating the fine points of this legal issue. How do we tell Tristan the original “permission” was a mistake? That the mantel is still off limits, as are the contents of the mantel?

I did it by letting him get on the mantel.

satisfy the curiosity

The next morning after taking this picture, I was enjoying the holiday lights with Tristan. He got onto the cat tree and scratching post next to the mantel. This gives a three foot boost to any cat who wishes to explore the mantel, only no one does. It is Mithy’s favorite spot, and he doesn’t want to get on the mantel.

Tristan has no interest in this short cat tree,...

Create a space, and a cat will fill it.

Getting our new living room ready for the holidays included cleaning out all the stuff we temporarily had stored in this inset shelf situation, and putting in the stuff we wanted there all along.

In between, Tristan appeared.

Likewise, when we cleared off the mantel preparatory to putting our evergreen swag with decorations and lights there instead, Tristan appeared on the empty mantel.

It is what he does.

the sensory map

While Tristan is probably our best cat for “feeling disturbances in the Force,” any cat will have a tendency to be drawn to a space they will potentially fit into. If they fit into it as a kitten, they will still attempt to fit, leading to the comical Muffin Top Cat phenomenon.

Another teaching moment in the holiday season comes when I get the cats their traditional Holiday Rug. This festive area rug, with winter holiday themes, becomes a cat fort for playtime.

For cats, like us, boundaries are not just physical ones. They are virtual, and can be constructed from purely mental elements. Living in, and playing with, boundaries is a major part of being a cat.

They sense boundaries in physical space, suggested space like a rug, and the...

We want our cats to learn how to get us to do things for them.

We need to know what each of us need from the other.

When we advance our ability to communicate, it means we can accomplish a lot of our training and care by letting the cat train us.

Which is so much easier.

allows for individuality

Each cat has different preferences. Instead of guessing, let the cat indicate which way they prefer their dinner presented, their sleeping spot arranged, and which might be their favorite window.

Some care is independent of cat preferences, but there’s always exceptions. All of our cats adore their cat fountains, which is a great way of keeping our cats in fresh drinking water. But not all cats are so enthused.

Likewise, a raw food diet is probably best for cats, but we humans will vary in our ability to make it, and our cats will vary in their ability to eat it. Olwyn is particular about what food she would like to see served, while RJ has found the challenge of his digestive issue makes him fussy, too.

By understanding what each cat is asking for, we can meet each cat’s needs.

enhances our communication

Practice makes perfect, as the saying...

Not all of Reverend Jim needs fixing, of course; most of him works great.

But his digestive system needs some reprogramming.

We tried steroids, but it made things worse. We had some luck with Flagyl (metronidazole,) which is an antibiotic used to stop uncontrollable diarrhea. But it is toxic long-term. We recently intervened when RJ had an aggressive incident with Tristan.

This can be a sign he is having focal seizures, which is a known side effect of this medication. It can trigger aggression even in a cat as mild-mannered and mellow as our big Pudding. So we have stopped the antibiotic (reserving it for emergencies) and are trying these three strategies:

probiotics

We’ve tried different kinds of probiotics for a couple of years now. We are trying a new one recommended by Friend of the Blog sea.language, from a company called Nusentia.

This is a high quality item, I am hoping, since it recommends refrigeration after opening. This has implications beyond good food digestion, since more and more research indicates our intestines are actually our “second brain” when it comes to overall health, especially the immune system.

We have varied RJ’s food as much as we can, but the illness is working against us. He will associate a formerly liked food with his tummyaches, and then will not touch it. We are constantly juggling new...

When we got Mithy at five weeks, he was more feral than tame. Now, the proportions have shifted.

He’s more tame than feral.

It was a tremendous help that he wanted to be the cuddly boy he is deep down inside. He understood enough about love from humans that he wanted more. Both Mr WayofCats and I felt that connection with him, and set about encouraging that spark into a flame.

If we are looking at a feral taming situation, here’s clues to how far they might come. Sometimes, we will have to settle for whatever they can bring.

And that’s okay.

eye contact

Can they make some?

Cat Kisses are the first thing I do with any cat I encounter. It’s like smiling when we meet people.

There’s a whole range of responses, from baffled surprise to (in one very overcranked and aggressive cat) actual anger. The least promising response is nothing. If this cat cannot see us as other beings, they are going to have a hard time connecting to us as fellow beings.

It is often this fleeting glance that lets us feel this cat can be salvaged as a pet. Mithy was crouched in a cage looking miserable at the adoption event, but he gave me a fleeting blink back.

Mr WayofCats had already fallen in love, but this encouraging sign helped...

Yes, it’s true: dogs have more cortical neurons, significantly more than cats.

The first study to actually count the number of cortical neurons in the brains of a number of carnivores, including cats and dogs, has found that dogs possess significantly more neurons than cats, raccoons have as many neurons as a primate packed into a brain the size of a cat’s, and bears have the same number of neurons as a cat packed into a much larger brain.
Credit: Jeremy Teaford, Vanderbilt University

Sorry, Grumpy Cat: Study finds dogs are brainier than cats

So, are dogs smarter?

As always, it depends on definitions.

No question that cortical neurons are important. I like having a lot of them. Humans have 16 billion, while dogs have 530 million, and cats have 250 million. On the numbers, that would make dogs twice as smart as cats.

If this were a game of numbers.

meanings

We have the ability to count cortical neurons. But we don’t know what the numbers mean. Here is some more science.

A study by researchers at the University of California, San Diego Autism Center of Excellence shows that brain overgrowth in boys with autism involves an abnormal, excess number of neurons in areas of the brain associated with social, communication and cognitive development.

A wonderful investment for our cat this year might a good scratching post.

Because if we don’t pick one, our cat will.

I once had someone ask, in highly skeptical tones, “Do your cats really not scratch on your furniture?” Once I assured her that this was so, it lead to a discussion which revealed that this person was missing all of the essential elements.

The ones that keep our furniture, safe, and our cats, happy.

appealing alternatives

It’s vitally important that we give our cats some place and thing to scratch that has the same qualities of the things they are already scratching. They are telling us what they want to scratch. Yet people continue to buy cheap, unstable, and unsuitable scratching posts, and complain that the cat won’t use them.

This is like buying me a scratchy and unflattering garment, in my least favorite color, and complaining that I won’t wear it. When it is the complainer’s fault they didn’t get me something I would want to wear.

If we want to keep our furniture in good condition, we must invest in a solid piece of cat furniture with the qualities our cat finds inviting to scratch.

Think tree.

Cats in nature seek out trees, whether upright or fallen. This has...

There are some games we should not play unless we can manage to not be sore losers.

These are games our cats will always win. Such as the who-blinks-first game.

Cats will always win, because their corneas require less moisture than ours. So, cats blink less, and can go without blinking, for far longer than we can.

Of course, it’s all fun and games until someone gets into a power struggle. We must remember our cat’s strengths, and plan accordingly. Here’s how to reconsider some strategies which are known for not working:

“make” the cat

We can’t make the cat do anything. Stubbornness in a cat is when they are trying to fulfill their needs, and they are not being properly provided with the tools to make that happen.

So they are going to keep trying, over and over, because this is survival instincts and they can’t go against their survival instincts, any more than we can.

To us, we are telling the kitty not to climb the drapes and why won’t they listen? When they are responding to their brain’s demands to get up high and survey territory. If we realize they are asking for a cat tree, get them one, and explain why it is better than drapes. So we both win.

If we find ourselves in situations where we keep doing the same thing and the cat keeps...

I get a lot of the same kinds of questions that boil down to:

My relative/romantic partner/roommate treats my cat in a way that makes my cat unhappy. I tell them what to do to make friends with my cat. Over and over. Why won’t they listen to me?

Now my cat doesn’t want to be around them, and since we all live together, I don’t get to see my cat as much! What can I do?

Dear Readers,

This is a tough one. This is a problem the cat is attempting to solve, using cat tools.

But it is our problem to solve, and we have to use human tools.

boundaries

I get a certain amount of online comments I may or may not approve, though sometimes they become posts, like Dear Pammy, I’m right because shut up that’s why.

Sometimes I approve them because the commenter is making my point for me, and I wish to go on record with my rebuttal, and sometimes a commenter will do the same thing. I think it’s important to hear from people who might have criticism, and for my readers and commenters to discuss it. Knowing a Cat Skeptic’s logical fallacies, and knowing...

Cats and ourselves use the same emotional language. “Oh, we’re very close,” we say when we love and trust another being.

Closeness is trust, both metaphorically, and in physical space.

To understand how our cats speak the Language of Boundaries, we need to understand just how “big” a space they occupy.

area of influence

As I explain in The giant sensory map, cats inhabit a personal space much larger than their physical bodies. Their brains take in more sensory input than ours, but it is also processed differently.

For instance, their whiskers feed information into their visual system, providing a form of “sight” for places their eyes cannot see. They can catch the gleam of sunlight off a single dust mote. Their hearing is better in both the high and low ranges.

All of this adds up to an expanded awareness of their environment, which acts as an extension of their bodies in some ways. This is how cats have an ability I call Presence: they speak volumes by simply appearing in a room.

Cats don’t have to be in physical contact to feel that they are in contact.

gift of presence

I can take adjusting our expectations to realize that merely seeing the cat...

How much can our cat take when it comes to sensory input? How big can we make their world?

That seems to depend on the intersection of their Cat Type and their stress level.

We not only need to know how our different cat types react under normal circumstances, we need to be alert to how stress changes their tolerances, according to their cat type.

stress multiplier

Any cat under stress is already coping with too much. Even if they are a lively Alpha cat type who craves a lot of sensory input, a Beta cat type who tends to ride out the storm if they have enough social support, or a Gamma cat type who takes things in with the volume turned up, even in the best of times.

Like humans, cats under stress respond by using up their brain chemicals at a faster than normal rate, shutting down functions not needed for immediate survival like their immune function and digestive system, and start pouring out adrenal hormones for that all important Fight, Flight, or Freeze response. They also crank up their super-senses to take in even more vital information.

As I explain in Cats and their volume control, too much...