Category: cat behavior

Got A Rat Problem? Get A Cat To…Befriend It And Groom It?

Cats and humans began their grand partnership some 10,000 years ago, when kitties handled humans’ pesky rodent problem and people repaid the felines with food, shelter and companionship.

Now the deal’s off, apparently.

Yesterday a Reddit user shared a video titled “When you get a cat hoping it will help you get rid of the big rat in your yard.”

The video shows the user’s new cat, a tortoiseshell/calico, “solving” the rat problem by befriending the rodent, playing with it and even grooming it.

The video has amassed almost 86,000 upvotes in 24 hours.

The odd friendship between feline and rodent is not without precedent. Studies have shown that cats are not effective rodent hunters in urban settings where rats have gone unchallenged for so long that they rival or exceed the size of most members of Felis catus.

In certain neighborhoods of New York City, for example, researchers observed cats essentially ignoring massive rats and in some cases eating trash side by side with them. The largest rats, apparently aware of the truce, are equally unconcerned by the presence of the cats. Other rats were more cautious around kitties.

The scene reminded me of the time my brother wanted me to bring Bud over to handle his rat problem. At the time he was living on 88th St. in Manhattan, less than a block from Gracie Mansion. His apartment had an unusual perk for Manhattan living — it was a spacious ground floor flat that opened up into a private, fenced-in backyard with grass and a few trees.

Mighty Bud
Tremble before him! Buddy the Mighty Slayer of Rodents!

In fact, it was one of the first places I took Buddy after adopting him. He was just a kitten, maybe 14 weeks old, and I brought him with me on a warm summer day when my brother had a few friends over for a barbecue.

Buddy made fast friends with my brother’s Chihuahua-terrier mix, Cosmo, and spent the day playing with his doggie cousin, frolicking in the grass and chasing bugs around the yard. Then he got a treat: Steak from the grill, chopped into tiny Buddy-size pieces.

Having a backyard in Manhattan was awesome, but there was a downside. At night the yard was like a stretch of highway for marauding rats who ran across it in numbers with impunity, probably en route to raiding the garbage bins of a bodega on the corner of 88th. The rats were so emboldened and so numerous, you could hear them scurrying across the yard at night.

My brother proposed bringing Buddy over and letting him loose in the yard after dark, letting his claws and predatorial instincts thin the rodential herd.

I declined, using the excuse that Bud could pick up diseases from going to war with the rats. That was true, but I’m sure it wouldn’t have come to that: At the first sign of those rats, Buddy would have run screaming!

(We don’t acknowledge that around him, of course. Officially, Buddy was not set loose upon the Manhattan rats because it would be grossly unfair to unleash such a meowscular, brave and battle-hardened feline warrior upon them.)

It’s one thing if Buddy won’t kill rats. He’s a wimp. But as the Reddit video illustrates, we are apparently closing the chapter on 10,000 glorious years of human-feline partnership, and officially entering the Era of Zero Reciprocity.

We do everything for our cats, and in return they nap, eat and allow us to serve them. From their point of view, it’s a fine deal.

Meowscular Buddy!
Just look at those meowscular guns and vicious claws!

Survey: 7 In 10 Americans Say They Sleep Better With Pets In Bed, Obviously Haven’t Met Buddy

Do you sleep better with your cat or dog in bed?

A significant majority of respondents in a recent survey said yes. British polling and survey firm OnePoll asked 2,000 Americans that question, with about 70 percent saying they get better rest with their furry friend next to them.

Most said having their cat or dog snoozing with them made them feel safer and more comfortable, while 58 percent admitted they sleep better with their pet in the bed than their significant other. While most people like having their animals sleep in their beds, some said pets could disrupt their sleep.

Of course if you’re like me, you never really had a choice. There was no adjustment period when I brought Buddy home for the first time. He didn’t hide under the bed and refuse to come out, or dash for the nearest small space.

That’s pedestrian behavior for a cat of his stature. Instead, the little guy came striding out of his carrier like a feline Genghis Khan and immediately started conquering territory.

PXL_20211212_072907627.NIGHT~4

“So this is my new bedroom, huh?” Buddy the Kitten seemed to say as he mewed excitedly. “Oh, look at this bed. Mine! Hey, that’s a sweet chair. Mine! I’m just gonna climb up onto your desk and survey my new territory if you don’t mind. The desk, by the way? Mine!”

He decided from the very beginning that my bed was his bed, and while I was to be his butler, waiter, masseur and personal groomer, I would also make a fine human mattress.

Thus our nightly routine: Buddy watches me impatiently as I get settled in bed, then makes himself comfortable either by draping himself over me, or wedging himself between my legs.

Readjusting and changing sleeping positions are severely frowned upon. I swear I can hear the annoyance in Bud’s voice, and his impatience as he waits for me to turn over so he can attend to what’s really important — his comfort.

buddy_bed
“You should be deeply honored that I have deemed you acceptable to sleep upon. Now stop moving and don’t toss and turn during the night. I need my beauty sleep!”

Do I sleep better with him there? Mentally, yes. Physically, no.

Recently I wrote about his new habit of getting “sleep scritches,” which came about after he realized he could get me to raise my hand while I sleep. It took me a while to realize it was happening: At most I was dimly aware until I had a dream I was petting him, woke up and realized I was holding my hand up while Buddy was rubbing his face against my palm and purring happily.

He doesn’t wake me up for food, since I set aside a bowl of dry kibble and a bowl of fresh water for him before bed every night. If he gets hungry, he slides lazily off the bed, pads over to his little dining nook and quietly munches a snack before going back to sleep.

The little stinker’s proximity, and his tendency to meow in his sleep, also means he gate crashes my subconscious while I’m sleeping and appears in my dreams.

I can’t get away from him, but that’s okay with me.

The OnePoll survey was commissioned by Sealy, the mattress company.

Do your cats sleep in your bed? Does their presence make your quality of sleep better or worse?

Buddy Thinks This Treat Is A Toy

Cats love ’em, they said. It’ll be a great bonding experience, they said. You’ll have to stop your cat from eating too much, they said.

I had high hopes for the “squeeze” treats and was looking forward to getting home and giving Buddy a snack he hadn’t had before.

The problem? The Budster cannot get it through his stubborn little head that the squeeze treats are food.

He thinks they’re some sort of toy and every time I try to give him some, he head bunts the lickable chicken paste like it’s something he’s claiming with his scent, along with his plushies and wands.

After wiping the stuff off the top of his head for the umpteenth time, I squeezed a little bit of it on a paper towel and set it down for him, reasoning that he must finally understand it’s food.

Nope. Bud approached it, sniffed it, then dipped his face in it!

Bud praying
“Please grant me turkey, so that I might eat more delicious yums!”

I’m not sure if this result means the stuff is so processed it doesn’t register as food, or if Bud’s just dense. After all, other cats love it, and we’re talking about a cat who whose idiosyncratic behaviors range from folding both front paws together and raising them as if in prayer, to spending months in late kittenhood engaging in boxing matches with the Bizarro Buddy in the mirror.

(I always knew when Bud was participating in a boxing match because I’d hear “Mmmmrrrrppp!” followed by THWAP THWAP THWAP! as his little paws hammered the glass. Then I’d gently pick him up off the table and set him down on the floor, praising him for his pugilistic skills while redirecting him to a less potentially destructive activity.)

Maybe I’ll try mixing some of the paste in with Bud’s wet food. Will he understand if it’s served with his beloved turkey? Or will be smoosh his entire face into the bowl and leave me with another mess to clean up?

Stay tuned until the next installment, same Buddy time, same Buddy channel!

It’s Actually Really Easy To Teach Your Cat To High Five

My cousin thought I was joking when I told him my cat would come when called, sit when told and give me some love with a high five.

“Get outta here,” he said as we watched an NBA playoff game.

“Okay then,” I said. “Hey Bud!”

Buddy popped up from wherever he’d been lounging with a “Mrrrrrrrrppp!” He regarded me quizzically with his parakeet green eyes, knowing there was probably a treat in it for him as he padded toward me.

“Sit,” I said, gesturing for him to park his behind about two feet away from me. He sat.

“High five!” I said as Buddy leaned forward and slapped his paw against my palm.

I tossed him a treat for a job well done. If it were up to Bud, we’d high-five another 10 times.

There are a lot of misconceptions about cats, and one of them is the idea that felines aren’t amenable to training. It’s why people use the phrase “trying to herd cats” to describe an impossible task.

People don’t expect to see a cat complying, and they definitely don’t expect to see our feline friends pulling off tricks, which makes it more fun to defy expectations.

It’s easy to train your cat to pull off simple tricks — so easy that I almost couldn’t believe it when Bud was reliably high fiving me within a week.

Cat High Five
It makes for a good party trick and a way to bond with your feline friend.

Teaching a cat to sit is a prerequisite for high fives. It’s a straightforward and easy process.

After that, it’s really just a matter of building trust with your cat so she’ll allow you first to touch her paw, then to gently take it in your hand and raise it. The first few sessions, all you need to do is touch or hold your cat’s paw. On the second day, start to raise it slightly.

Cats don’t do well with long training sessions anyway, so the time commitment is minimal. One or two sessions a day, 10 to 15 minutes each.

Every time you touch kitty’s paw, bring it a little bit higher than the last time, rewarding your cat with encouragement and a treat. After a few sessions, your cat will anticipate this new ritual you’ve got going and will raise her paw as soon as you start.

The last step is holding kitty’s paw against your outstretched palm for just a second or two, then rewarding her with a treat.

That’s it. You’re done.

Run through the trick a few times a day after your cat’s got it down, to reinforce good high fiving form and whichever affirmations you choose. (I chose to say “Good boy!” each time Bud pulled it off rather than use a clicker.) Either method works, since the important things are consistency and positive reinforcement immediately after your cat does well. You want to make sure you click or say “Good boy!” right away so your cat knows the praise is triggered by a successful high five. (Or an intermediary paw raise if you’re still working on the trick.)

For a more detailed breakdown of how to do it, check out this video from CatManToo, a professional dog trainer who adjusted his methods for cats. This is the method I used to train Bud. Again, you don’t actually need a clicker, just a consistent method of feedback to signal that your cat is doing well:

Does Your Cat Know Your Name? Study Says Maybe

I’m pretty sure Buddy does not know my name, and why should he?

He doesn’t hear my name spoken often, and in his mind I’m probably “Big Dumb Benevolent Human And Butler,” or BDBHAB. That’s a mouthful, even in meow, thus the much easier-to-say “Big Buddy.”

But a new study from Japan claims cats “possibly” know the names of their humans.

First, the parameters of the study would have eliminated the Buddies from the start: the research team from Kyoto University enlisted only cats who lived with at least two other felines. This is because they also wanted to find out if cats knew the names of their furry roommates as well.

The 48 cats who participated in the study lived in regular homes or cat cafes. The team played a recording of their human calling the name of one of their buddies, while a monitor showed an image of a cat. Sometimes the names and the images matched, and sometimes they didn’t.

The cats took longer looks at the images when the feline image shown didn’t match the name they heard, which the researchers said was indicative of surprise.

Separately, 26 cats were run through a similar experiment. In that scenario, the researchers played an audio clip of the cat’s human’s name and showed an image of either the human caretaker, or a cat. Like they did with the first experiment, cats looked longer when the images didn’t match the names, expressing apparent puzzlement.

What's your name, dude?
“I’m a Buddy, you’re a Buddy. We’re all Buddies.”

In case you’re wondering, it does seem to matter if a cat grows up in a home rather than a cat cafe. When the name and face matched, researchers called that a “congruent condition.”

“Half of the trials were in a congruent condition where the name and face matched, and half were in an incongruent (mismatch) condition,” they wrote. “Results of Exp.1 showed that household cats paid attention to the monitor for longer in the incongruent condition, suggesting an expectancy violation effect; however, café cats did not.”

The reasons are fairly straightforward. In a home setting, cats almost always interact with their human family members, while felines in cafes interact with different employees on different shifts, and with customers, who might be regulars or strangers. Either way, the cats living in homes are much more likely to hear their own names and the names of their feline roommates.

“The latter probably have more opportunities to observe interactions between the owner and each of the other cohabitating cats, which might facilitate learning of the face–name relationship,” the team wrote.

The Kyoto team pointed out that many wild animals, particularly mammals and birds, make sounds that correspond to animals, objects or abstract ideas. Monkeys and birds, for example, use a range of different calls to communicate to each other when they’ve found food or spotted a predator heading their way.

The stakes are much lower in a home setting, but evolutionary traits can still serve cats and dogs well. One reason pets may be keen to recognize the names of their furry roommates, the research team speculated, is competition. After all, Socks would want to know if Oreo is getting more treats or head scritches.