Category: cat behavior

Viral FB Post Claims Cats Have One Emotion: Contempt

You have to feel sorry for the people still stuck in the Zuckerbergian cesspit that is Facebook, spending their days wading through tedious political arguments and “SHARE IF U AGREE” shitposts written for the paste-eating crowd.

Unfortunately, the platform’s rampant misinformation is not limited to politics. Here’s one of the latest viral posts:

Facebook Derp
Derp derp derp! A derp a derp derp derp!

And this is what it looks like now, to protect people like your aunt who keeps sending you email forwards about Pizzagate:

Facebook: Derp!
Despite the flagged warning, people are still sharing the post. “Big Tech doesn’t want us to know the truth ’bout cats!”

Whenever I encounter stuff like this, my first instinct is to dismiss it as nonsense no one would actually believe. Then I remember our dubious track record when it comes to critical thinking: a third of millennials are flat-Earthers, one in four Americans thinks the sun orbits the Earth, and more than 16 million Americans believe chocolate milk comes from brown cows.

Some futurists and ethicists thought the world wide web would bring an end to conspiracy theories and outlandish beliefs, with the sum of human knowledge at our fingertips and the disinfectant power of the truth. But falsehoods have remarkable staying power, and the internet is happy to oblige any conspiracy theory no matter how far removed from reality, with sites like this one that says it offers “no-bullshit truth”:

Screenshot_2021-02-25 Why do cats purr

Screenshot_2021-02-25 Why do cats only feel contempt

So at the risk of stating the obvious, purring has nothing to do with a cat’s heartbeat, and cats experience all the same primary emotions we do (happiness, sadness, fear, excitement, nervousness) as well as quite a few secondary emotions, like jealousy, disappointment, contentment and confidence.

The idea that animals like cats and dogs are emotionless automatons went out of favor more than half a century ago, and modern technology has made it possible for scientists to peer into the minds of our domesticated friends and witness brain activity that mirrors our own when we process emotions. There is no debate: Cats have very real emotions, which is another compelling reason to treat them well.

The Very Reverend Buddy: ‘Let Us Pray’

I managed to film a brief clip of Buddy enthusiastically “praying.”

This gesture is also called cat pleading or begging in various corners of the interwebs, but as far as I can tell it really doesn’t have anything to do with asking or pleading. I’ve seen my cat do the same motion while he doesn’t think anyone else is around, while he’s at the window looking at birds, and at other random times.

The gesture is so random that this is the first time I’ve managed to get a decent clip of it. Usually by the time I’ve got my phone pointed at His Grace and begun recording, he’s finished his “prayers.”

I have no clue what it means or why some cats do it. All I know is that it’s a fairly rare thing. Perhaps a cat behaviorist somewhere could offer some insight.

Reverend Bud
“Dear Lord, provide me with turkey.”

Also: Happy Adoptaversary to Holly B, Retro Dee’s cute furball. Holly is named after Buddy Holly, so she’s a little buddy too, and she’s been with Dee for two years now. We wish Holly good health and many more years with her loving human, Dee.

sleepsweird3-1
Holly getting some Z’s in a uniquely feline way. Credit: RetroDee

Study: Cats Will Happily Accept Food From Jerks

Taking studies designed for children and dogs and applying them to cats has been all the rage lately after a series of studies yielded new insights about the way cats bond with their humans.

Earlier studies showed cats, like kids and dogs, look to their humans for reassurance in strange situations and derive comfort from the latter’s presence. Likewise, they’re less confident if they’re forced to face unknown situations without the “security blanket” of their big buddies nearby.

Now a research team in Kyoto has taken another study designed for dogs — known as the “helpful stranger” study — and placed cats in the same situation to find out how they react.

Sure, I'll Take A Treat!
A new study shows cats don’t discriminate when it comes to who’s giving them food.

Both humans and dogs show a preference for what researchers call “prosocial individuals.” In plain language, it means they pay attention to the way strangers treat the people they care about. A dog who sees a stranger respond negatively to its caretaker will avoid the stranger, even if the latter is waving a delicious treat.

In the study, cats watch their owners try to open a box while two strangers are present:

“[C]ats watched as their owner first tried unsuccessfully to open a transparent container to take out an object, and then requested help from a person sitting nearby. In the Helper condition, this second person (helper) helped the owner to open the container, whereas in the Non-Helper condition the actor refused to help, turning away instead. A third, passive (neutral) person sat on the other side of the owner in both conditions.

After the interaction, the actor and the neutral person each offered a piece of food to the cat, and we recorded which person the cat took food from. Cats completed four trials and showed neither a preference for the helper nor avoidance of the non-helper.”

At first glance it looks like cats really don’t care if a person is helpful or friendly toward their “owners.” If a person is offering them yums, why shouldn’t they take them?

That sounds like exactly the sort of thing cats would do, but the research team says we should hold off on judging our food-loving feline friends. It may be that cats simply don’t understand that the stranger(s) aren’t being helpful. After all, if your cat sees you struggling with a package, does she offer to help?

If it is true, it’s not necessarily cats’ fault: We’ve long known they aren’t as well-attuned to human social cues as dogs are, a fact that can be attributed to their route to domestication. There simply wasn’t any reason to carefully breed cats to pick up on those cues, as we did historically with dogs, because cats were already wildly successful at their primary job, which was rodent extermination. Taking on cuddle and companionship duties didn’t happen until later when people began to value the little ones for more than their sharp claws and teeth.

“We consider that cats might not possess the same social evaluation abilities as dogs, at least in this situation, because unlike the latter, they have not been selected to cooperate with humans,” the scientists wrote.

The research team says the results are suggestive, but more studies should be done before drawing any real conclusions about our furry friends. Knowing cats often get a bad rep due to stereotypes and misunderstandings, we agree.

MeowTalk: Little Buddy’s Rage!

The MeowTalk experiment continues!

Here’s a log of translations from last night:

Buddy's Rage
“It’s on now! Bring it!”

“I’m angry! … It’s on now, bring it! … I am going to fight!”

Thankfully I believe my readers know me well enough at this point to be certain of the truth, which is that I dote on my cat, give him loads of attention when he wants it, leave him alone when he doesn’t, and generally do my best to consider his feelings.

Out of context, though, that screen looks like we were brawling. MeowTalk deserves credit: The app knew Bud was upset. But our “argument” was one we’ve been having nightly the last week or two: An ongoing disagreement over Buddy climbing up to the one of the few places he’s not allowed, for fear of toppling over a 55″ flatscreen.

He’s a swiper (as in one of those cats who swipes everything off of flat surfaces) and he has a long and demonstrable history of destroying items large and small by swiping, knocking or pulling them onto the floor. In fact, you can often tell where he’s been just by looking at all the stuff he’s knocked over.

“Bud, you were on the table again, weren’t you?”

“Nope. I swear!”

“So how did a salt shaker, yesterday’s mail and a pair of keys end up on the floor.”

“Uh, poltergeists?”

catswiper

Maybe I should call him Newton after his obsession with gravity experiments:

“Professor Budsaac Newton here.

Gravity experiment #4,256: In my 4,255 previous experiments, an item swiped from this table fell immediately to the floor.

Conclusion: More data needed.
Test objects: An iPhone SE and a Google Pixel 4a.
Method: Standard swiping motion.

And we’re going to begin in 3…2…

** Sound of two smartphones smacking the hardwood floor. **

As expected, both devices immediately fell to the floor. We’re going to take a break now until a human places them back on the table. I’d like to repeat my experiment and see the gravitational forces in action from a different angle.”

Otherwise he can go where he wants, lounge where he wants, play wand games with me, watch Outside TV from his perch, play with his toys, nudge me for a snack, smack some bottle caps around. He’s got options.

But since he can’t claim the spot right next to the new 55″ TV, now he has to have it.

catswiper2

 

MeowTalk Says Buddy Is A Very Loving Cat!

A while back I wrote a post about MeowTalk, a new app that uses AI — and input from thousands of users sampling their cats’ vocalizations — to translate meows, trills and chirps for the benefit of those of us who don’t fluently speak cat or might need some clarity on what our furry friends are trying to say.

Now that I’ve finally had the opportunity to give MeowTalk a spin, it turns out Bud is a much more polite cat than I thought he was!

What I thought was an unenthusiastic “I acknowledge your presence, human” turned out to be “Nice to see you!” according to MeowTalk.

Buddy’s next meows were “Love me!” and “I love you!”, the app informed me. Weird. I thought he was complaining that I was only half-heartedly simulating prey with his wand toy while watching Jeopardy.

After Jeopardy I headed to the bathroom, which was the real test.

I intentionally closed the door before the little stinker could sneak in the bathroom with me, then held up the phone to capture his muted vocalization. I was sure Bud was saying “Open the door!” but the app told me Buddy was saying “I’m in love!”

Awww. What a good boy. How could I not let him in?

Once inside, Buddy began talking again as I knew he would. He’s a vocal cat.

“I’m looking for love!” the app translated as Bud pawed at the door, demanding to be let back out again. “My love, come find me!”

MeowTalk Screenshot

What was going on here?

Was Bud really professing his undying love for me, his human, or was he workshopping cheesy dialogue for a feline romance novel he’s been secretly working on?

Thankfully, MeowTalk allows you to correct translations if you think the app’s gotten them wrong. This looks more like it:

The Translated Buddy
Translation from the original Buddinese language.

MeowTalk is in beta, and it can only get better as more users download the app, make profiles for their cats and make an effort to tag vocalizations with their correct meaning.

The app was authored by a software engineer who was part of the team that brought Amazon’s Alexa to life, and the algorithms that power it already show promise: When the app is listening (which it does only actively, after you have explicitly given it permission to do so), it does a great job of distinguishing cat vocalizations from background noise, human chatter, televisions and other incidental sounds. Even my fake meows were unable to fool it.

Each vocalization is sampled and saved to the history tab of your cat’s profile, so you can review and adjust the translations later. If you’ve got more than one cat you can make profiles for each one, and the app says it can tell which cat is talking. I wasn’t able to test this since the King does not allow interlopers in his kingdom, but given MeowTalk’s accuracy in distinguishing meows from every other sound — even with lots of background chatter — I have no reason to doubt it can sort vocalizations by cat.

In some respects it reminds me of Waze, the irreplaceable map and real-time route app famous for saving time and eliminating frustration. I was one of the first to download the app when it launched and found it useless, but when I tried it again a few months later, it steered me past traffic jams and got me to my destination with no fuss.

What was the difference? Few people were using it in those first few days, but as the user base expanded, so did its usefulness.

Like Waze, MeowTalk’s value is in its users, and the data it collects from us. The more cats it hears, the better it’ll become at translating them. If enough of us give it an honest shot, it just may turn out to be the feline equivalent of a universal translator.

And if it’s successful, its creator wants to make a standalone version as a collar, which would translate our cats’ vocalizations in real time. As far as I’m concerned, anything that can help us better understand our cats is a good thing.

Check out the free-to-use MeowTalk on Google Play and Apple’s app store.

Buddy the Cat
“Okay, fine. I love you human. But that doesn’t mean you can slack off with the snacks.”