Category: cat behavior

Seven Thousand And One!

The streak continues!

Buddy's House
“I make the rules, human!”

Buddy had to wait an extra day for my return from the Outer Banks due to the snowstorm, which made a mess of the roads, led to canceled flights and would have been miserable — and impossible — to drive through. My SiL’s brother tried to drive through it and gave up after 13 hours, getting as far as just north of Washington, D.C., before booking a hotel room and driving the rest of the way to New York the next day.

As expected, little dude tried to play it cool at first. He couldn’t stop himself from getting up and going to the door, but he played it off like “Hey, you’re home. That’s cool, I guess.” Then he nonchalantly padded away.

The indifferent act lasted for about 15 minutes, as usual, before Bud forgot he was supposed to be mad at me. He hopped up to the couch and started nuzzling and scent-rubbing on me, happily purring.

However, it took him longer than usual to act like his normal self, and he’s been particularly clingy since then. At one point I put on my coat and shoes to get a bag I’d left in the car, and Bud started nervously pacing, loudly vocalizing and sat down in front of the door as if to say “No! Big Buddy stays here!”

I think he does okay if someone’s here with him, but having a cat sitter stop by once a day probably doesn’t cut it anymore. Partly that’s Bud’s fault for attacking her last time, because she won’t play with him anymore, but I’ll have to think about alternatives next time I’m away for more than two days or so.

I took some photos of OBX and will post them this week after I’ve had time to sort them. We were very fortunate, with 65-degree days for the entire stretch, and even in winter there’s lots of interesting history to see on the islands where two Americans first achieved powered flight, colonies disappeared and notorious pirates stashed their treasure.

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Do You Use ‘Baby Talk’ With Your Cat?

A few years ago when Bud was a bit more of a daredevil than he is now, I was sitting on my balcony on a warm summer night when the little dumbass squeezed through the railing bars and did a circuit of the balcony outside the rail — with only three or four inches of ledge between him and a potentially brutal fall onto the concrete below.

“Bud!” I said, feeling my own fear of heights bubble up as I watched him take his precarious stroll.

He ignored me.

“Bud!” I said again, loud enough to make sure he heard me but not so loud as to startle him and cause him to fall. “Bud! I’m talking to you! Get back over here right now!”

He paid me no mind. I stood up, put my hands on the railing and looked down at him.

“Buddy, get back here now! I’m not gonna say it again!”

At that point I realized there was a couple about my age, probably returning from the bars, drunk-walking toward the back door of the building and watching me have a furious one-sided discussion with my cat. They seemed to think it was hilarious, not only because I was speaking to my cat, but also because I was talking to the little stinker like he was a person.

I don’t baby talk with Buddy, and I’ve noticed my brother doesn’t baby talk his dog, Cosmo.

Sure I’ll speak to Bud warmly and encourage him when he’s clearly frightened of something. (Which is very rare, of course, because he’s such a fearless and brave tiger!) But it isn’t baby talk, and 95 percent of the time I speak to little man as if he’s, well, a little man.

It turns out I may be “doing it wrong,” at least according to some veterinarians and animal behaviorists who say baby talk is a good way to communicate with pets. Animal behaviorists call it “pet-directed speech,” and although the studies so far have been limited, they seem to suggest cats (and dogs) are more likely to respond to it than typical speech in normal registers and cadences. (A study published in the journal Animal Cognition earlier this year found horses respond well to “baby talk” too.)

Despite that, I just can’t bring myself to do it. There are certain standards we must uphold in this home, and besides, I’m pretty sure Bud would paw-smack me if one day I scratched his head and started saying “Who’s a good widdle boy? Is that you? Are you the good widdle boy? Yes you are! Yes you — OUCH! What the hell, dude? Why’d you do that?”

Do you “baby talk” to your pets?

person wearing apron holding orange tabby cat
“Who’s a cute widdle fluffy wuffy?” Credit: Tima Miroshnichenko/Pexels

TikTokers Are Intentionally Traumatizing Their Cats With Christmas Trees

Proving once again that social media has little or no redeeming value, TikTokers have latched onto a trend that has them using Christmas trees to terrify their cats.

The trend was started by a user who shared a “hack” she’d invented: Chase your chat around your home while wielding your new Christmas tree like a weapon, she said, and the cat won’t mess with the tree or its ornaments the rest of the holiday season.

“If you chase your cat around with the Christmas tree, it’ll be too scared to f**k with it,” said the “hack” originator, @alexisjj_.

User “@becs.richards” racked up more than 25 million views with a video that shows her holding her Christmas tree and thrusting it like a lance toward her confused and scared cat. She wore a big smile as she did so, and set the video to upbeat Christmas music.

Terrorizing your cat is a bad idea, author Anita Kelsey told Newsweek.

“A cat will not have any idea why you are causing them stress or fear and, more than likely, frightening a cat with a Christmas tree can lead to the cat being fearful of the room the tree is in, fearful of the tree, urinating around the home or on the tree and urinating on anything around the tree—like presents,” said Kelsey, author of Let’s Talk About Cats. “It also can cause a breakdown of trust between the cat and the person trying to frighten them.”

Daniel Cummings of the UK’s Cat Protection nonprofit said the method may seem successful, but it “doesn’t take into account how cats learn” and could cause long term problems.

“No cat owner would want to intentionally stress out their cat,” he said, “and part of cat ownership is accepting their natural behaviors.”

Unfortunately this newest trend isn’t surprising, especially coming from a user base of people who happily hand over their user data to the Chinese government, which controls TikTok and makes use of its data just as it does with any other ostensibly “private” company operating in China. There have been more than enough investigative stories illustrating how the Chinese government weaponizes data for any reasonable person to avoid platforms like TikTok.

I’m fortunate that Buddy is a good boy and mostly doesn’t mess with Christmas trees. He’s swiped a handful of ornaments off branches in the past, but so what? He’s a living being with feelings, and ornaments are just things.

Besides, as Cummings notes, curiosity and playfulness are part of the deal when we adopt cats. If people aren’t up for that, they shouldn’t adopt.

Top photo credit Jessica Lynn Lewis/Pexels.

Reason #94 To Keep Your Cat Indoors: He’s A Bully

Most of the time when we talk about reasons to keep your cat(s) inside, it’s because the great outdoors pose innumerable risks to the lives of cats.

People make a big deal of cats retaining many of their wild instincts, but the truth is they’ve been domestic animals for 10,000 years, and the only “natural habitat” for them is under the care of kind people in a safe home or a managed colony where they’re protected, fed and given veterinary care.

But cats are predators, technically an invasive species in most places, and they have a jerk streak, so there are plenty of valid reasons to protect others from them.

A cat in Pleasant Hill, California — about 20 miles east of Oakland — illustrates that last point perfectly. Apparently he’s been inviting himself into the neighbor’s house via the cat flap, where he bullies the neighbor’s cat, helps himself to its food and adds a final insouciant insult to injury by taking a nap in the neighbor’s house. Then he strolls back into his own home in the morning, enjoys breakfast and has another nap.

Lisa, the offending cat’s human, said she found out about her cat’s jerktastic behavior via social media, and wrote to The San Jose Mercury News’ pet advice columnist for counsel on how to handle the situation. The neighbors have begun hiding their cat’s food in a closet, but understandably they want Lisa’s aggressively napping cat burglar to stay away.

“Not sure how to curtail his activities. Neighbor is not happy with our cat’s behavior,” Lisa wrote. “Locking our cat inside at night is not a good option; he is very vocal when locked up.”

Columnist Joan Morris offered blunt but perfect advice: Stop letting your cat out.

“I think both of you should keep your cats indoors, and the neighbors should lock the cat door, but as it’s your cat burglar that’s causing the issue, it’s up to you to curtail him,” Morris wrote. “Keeping your cat indoors at night is the simplest solution. The adjustment might be difficult — probably more for you than for him — but in time he’ll get used to it.”

I understand it can be very difficult to curtain feline behavior. If there were an Olympics for being annoying, Buddy would take gold many times over for his relentless meowing when he wants something and isn’t getting it. But the one thing you can never do is give in, or the little stinkers will learn that they get what they want when they yowl incessantly.

Do you agree with Morris, or should the bullying moggie get his way?

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“I’m up in your house, eatin’ ur foodz, bro.” Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Cats Know Where We Are Even If It Seems Like They’re Not Paying Attention

A new study from Japan found cats keep track of their humans even when they’re not looking at them.

A research team from the University of Kyoto conducted the experiments in a cat cafe and in individual cats’ homes. Each cat was placed in a room without their humans. Then the researchers tested the way felines reacted to hearing their people calling their names from outside the room, followed by their reactions to hearing them inside via speakers.

When the cats heard their humans calling them from inside the room the furballs were surprised, expressing their confusion with ear twitches, whisker movement and uncertain body language.

On the other hand, when cats heard “non-social stimuli” — scientist-speak for sounds other than familiar people calling to them — they didn’t react to changes in the location and direction.

Some people might shrug and wonder what the fuss is about, but the experiment actually confirms a great deal about feline intelligence. It’s a test of what scientists call “socio-spatial cognition,” meaning cats form a mental map of things that are important to them, and nothing’s more important to a house cat than the person who provides food, security and affection.

That’s significant because it’s confirmation that cats understand object permanence, and that they are more than capable of abstract thought. Abstract thought — the ability to picture and think about something mentally, without having to see it — is hugely important in intelligence, allowing everything from creativity to understanding that other animals and people have their own points of view. For context, it takes about two years for human children to develop rudimentary abstract thinking skills.

Cats “may be thinking about many things,” Saho Takagi, the study’s lead author, told CNN.

“This study shows that cats can mentally map their location based on their owner’s voice,” Takagi said, per The Guardian. “[It suggests] that cats have the ability to picture the invisible in their minds. Cats have a more profound mind than is thought.”

Things like object permanence and spatial awareness were necessary for cats to thrive as hunters for the millions of years they’ve existed on Earth.

The results aren’t surprising from an evolutionary perspective, biologist Roger Tabor said.

“That awareness of movement – tracking things they cannot see – is critical to a cat’s survival,” Tabor told The Guardian.

“A lot of what a cat has to interpret in its territory is an awareness of where other cats are. It is also important for hunting: how could a cat catch a field vole moving around beneath the grass if it couldn’t use clues, such as the occasional rustle, to see in its mind’s eye, where they are? A cat’s owner is extremely significant in its life as a source of food and security, so where we are is very important.”

The study is also another piece of evidence showing cats are just as aware of — and concerned about — their people as dogs are, even though the conventional wisdom says they don’t care most of the time. That has implications for the way people bond with their cats, and the decisions we make about caring for them — like, for instance, how long we’re willing to leave them on their own while planning a trip.

“This is a great example of elevating our expectation of the cat a little bit,” cat behavior consultant Ingrid Johnson told CNN, “and realizing that they do have the capability of having that bond in that relationship where they actually will take comfort in their people.”