Tag: cat research

Ever Wondered How Many Surfaces Your Cat’s Butt Touches? A Kid Has The Answer

I remember the first time I saw my brother’s dog drag his posterior across the living room carpet.

The friendly little good boy, a terrier-Chihuahua mix, had just returned from a walk with my brother. He hopped up onto the couch, then down, leaning back into an odd-for-a-dog sitting position.

Then, with his little back legs spread, he used his front paws to drag his butt across the carpet with a heavy exhale, the canine equivalent of an “Oh yeah!” sigh of relief.

I know there are many feline behaviors that gross out dog loyalists, but thank God we don’t have to watch our kitties use carpets and area rugs as butt-scratchers.

Cats have more dignity than that. Cats are legendarily fastidious animals.

Or are they?

Kaeden, an enterprising sixth-grader from Florida, set out to “tackle the challenging task of answering the internet’s most burning question, drum roll please,” his mother, Kerry Griffin, wrote on Facebook. “Does your cat’s butthole really touch all the surfaces in your home?”

He would go on to present his findings and methodology at his school’s science fair.

Kerry has a doctorate in animal behavior with a concentration in feline behavior that she says she “never used.” She put it to good use for the project, helping her son come up with a plan: They’d use non-toxic lipstick and apply it to the cats’ “bum-bums.” Then they’d place each cat on a sheet of paper and run through commands.

“Both cats have been trained since kittenhood with a variety of commands. They also know how to high-five, spin around, and speak,” Kerry wrote. “They were compensated with lots of praise, pets and their favorite treats, and the lipstick was removed with a baby wipe once we collected our data in just under 10 minutes.”

They tested each cat on soft surfaces, like carpet and bedding, and on hard surfaces like tiled floors. If the cat left lipstick residue on the sheet of paper, it was counted as positive contact.

The results?

“Long and medium haired cat’s buttholes made NO contact with soft or hard surfaces at all,” Kerry wrote. “Short haired cats made NO contact on hard surfaces. But we did see evidence of a slight smear on the soft bedding surface.”

So there you have it. If your cats are long- or medium-hair, congratulations. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to have a little chat with the short-haired Buddy…catbuttproject

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.

‘Rehomed’ Cat Makes 228-Mile Journey Back Home

Despite the current golden age of feline cognition studies and a growing body of research that shows cats have genuine affection for their humans, people still think of the little fluffballs as aloof, antisocial and ambivalent.

Old stereotypes about cats die hard, but maybe this latest story will finally give people pause: A cat named Gray C. made an epic, 228-mile journey back to a Texas town after she was ‘rehomed’ a week earlier.

Vikki and Eugene Braun told KTBC, a Fox affiliate in Austin, that they brought Gray C. and their other cat, Sissy, to a friend’s ranch in Terrell, about 35 miles east of Dallas. Both were outdoor cats, they said.

“We thought because they weren’t ‘pet’ cats, they wanted to live outside, we thought, well, maybe they’d rather live in the barn,” Eugene told the Fox affiliate.

The next day, their friend from the ranch in Terrell phoned to tell them the cats were gone. A week later, Vikki Braun was shocked when she came home and found Gray C. inside, helping herself to some food.

“I thought one of the neighbor’s cats had got in through the doggie door and that’s never happened, but I picked it up and I was like, this is Gray C.!” Vikki Braun said.

gracy
Gray C. is held by Vikki Braun after her long trek back to Burnet, Texas.

That was about three weeks ago. The Brauns say they don’t know what happened to Sissy. Hopefully she shows up unhurt.

No one is sure how Gray C. managed to cover so much distance in a little more than a weeks’ time. It seems unlikely a cat could cover more than 32 miles in a day.  The little felines are considerably faster than humans but like all felids, they’re built for shorter bursts of intense activity and require lots of rest.

“That’s a lot of miles per day, you know, but I’m sure she probably didn’t stop. She just kept on going,” Eugene Braun said.

garfieldcat
Garfield walked 40 miles back to his owners in London in June 2020.

Gray C’s story mirrors the story of Garfield, an orange tabby who walked 40 miles back home this summer after his owners gave him away. It took Garfield considerably longer to get home as he navigated London and its crowded suburbs, but his determination struck a chord with his people, who reconsidered their decision and kept him after his journey.

Study Confirms What We All Know: Cats Are Remarkably Lazy

My cat has a morning ritual: He’ll meow in front of the treat cabinet, which now contains healthy snacks, then gobble down his first yums of the day before padding over to the carpet or the couch to lay down.

Ya know, because he worked so hard. After a long and tiring night of sleep and the grueling physical exertion of working his jaw muscles to eat, he needs a respite. A cat nap, if you will.

He’s not unique in this respect, and his morning siesta is just the first of many. Cats need their beauty rest after an exhausting day of lounging, sleeping and having their food literally placed before them.

A new study confirms what we already know — that cats are lazy little bastards — and even hints at new levels of laziness unbeknownst to us thus far.

Working hard or hardly working?

“Get a puzzle feeder,” they say. “Make ’em work a little for their food,” they say. “It’ll stimulate their instincts.”

Animal behaviorists have recommended toys like puzzle feeders and treat balls for years, prompted by research that shows animals enjoy “contrafreeloading,” a fancy way of saying when given a choice between free food and food in a puzzle feeder, animals will opt for the latter.

The behavior is consistent across many species of domestic and wild animals, from dogs and rats to chimpanzees and birds. Maybe it stimulates their urge to forage. Maybe it gives them something fun to do. Or maybe food just tastes better to animals when they’ve earned it.

Cats, however, aren’t contrafreeloaders. They want the easy yums.

That’s according to a new study by a University of California at Davis research team. Cats didn’t ignore the food puzzles entirely, but they showed a clear preference for the low-hanging fruit, so to speak.

“It wasn’t that the cats never used the food puzzle, they just used it less, ate less food from it, and typically would eat from the freely available food first,” said UC Davis’ Mikel Delgado, a co-author of the study.

puzzle-feeder
“I’m tellin’ ya, Horace, they do this just to piss us off. How are we supposed to gobble it all down if we have to fish every little kibble out one by one? I hate humans!”

As for why cats aren’t taken with puzzle feeders — besides their inherent laziness, of course — that question will take more studies to answer.

“There are different theories about why animals might contrafreeload, including boredom in captive environments, stimulating natural foraging behaviors, and creating a sense of control over the environment and outcomes,” Delgado said.

When it comes to cats, Delgado’s best guess is that puzzle feeders might just be the wrong game since it doesn’t stimulate their hunting instincts. Maybe the next study should involve small pieces of chicken and turkey tied to the ends of wand toys, so our mighty little hunters can catch their “prey” and dine like proper tigers.

NYT Columnist: ‘If I owned a gun, I swear I would have shot that cat’

What would you do if you encountered a hungry, injured feral cat hiding under a car near your home?

If your first thought is to help the poor little one, enlist the aid of a local rescue and get the cat some much-needed veterinary attention and food in its belly, congratulations: You’re a human being with a conscience.

One New York Times columnist, however, thinks the solution is to indulge in a fantasy about murdering the innocent animal, of using a weapon she doesn’t own and soundly disapproves of to wipe it from existence.

When Margaret Renkl saw the “ragged, battle-scarred tom, thin but not emaciated, with one eye that didn’t open all the way,” her first thought was to kill it, not help it.

“If I owned a gun, I swear I would have shot that cat,” Renkl wrote in her Aug. 3 column, titled “Death of a Cat. “I would have chased that hissing cat out from under the car without a thought and shot it as it fled.”

Imagine: An effete, 60-something, morally self-satisfied woman playing Charles Bronson, standing over the corpse of a cat and slipping a still-smoking pistol into its holster before heading back inside to tweet-lecture the unwashed masses on civil rights, COVID etiquette and respect for wildlife.

feralcats
A feral cat. (Credit)

The staff of the New York Times really seems to be working overtime to prove it’s tone-deaf and hypocritical: It wasn’t so long ago that a Times columnist tut-tutted those who disapprove of breeding and selling $20,000 designer cats while millions of homeless animals are euthanized annually.

Times columnist Alexandra Marvar even went so far as to praise people who use their wealth and connections to flout laws against poaching illegal wildlife, reminiscing about the days when “wild cat companions were were associated glamour, class and creativity.”

“Salvador Dalí brought his ocelot to the St. Regis. Tippi Hedren lounged with her lions in her Los Angeles living room. Josephine Baker’s cheetah, collared in diamonds, strolled the Champs-Élysées. In their time, these wild creatures made chic pets,” Marvar wrote.

While Marvar romanticizes wild animal “ownership,” the reality is sadly less glamorous: Instead of Josephine Bakers leading “chic” diamond-collared cheetahs on idyllic walks through Paris, it’s Texans prodding confused and depressed tigers into tiny backyard enclosures at taser-point, insisting that “muh freedoms” guarantee them the right to treat the world’s iconic megafauna like toys.

So why does Renkl hate cats? Because she’s read bunk scientific research that claims cats kill billions of birds and small animals every year:

I was thinking of the first nest the bluebirds built this spring, the one in which not a single baby survived. I was thinking of the gravid broadhead skink who would lie on our stoop every afternoon, warming her egg-swollen body in the sun. She disappeared one day to lay her eggs and guard her nest, I assumed, but now I wasn’t sure. I was thinking of the chipmunk who lives in a tunnel under our stoop and of the little screech owl, its feet holding down some small prey, its eyes glowing in the infrared light of our trail camera.

The more I thought about those vulnerable creatures, already crowded out by construction and starved out by insecticides, the angrier I got at the feral tom. In truth, I would never kill a cat, but I can surely hate one with a murderous rage. A person who has spent a quarter-century trying to create an oasis for wildlife can go a little mad when a cat shows up in the photos on her trail camera.

Note that Renkl didn’t actually see the starving cat kill those birds or squirrels. She simply assumes that a bird who doesn’t return to her glorious backyard oasis has been gobbled up by evil felines. Her rage is prompted by emotion and assumption, not fact.

She doesn’t have a negative word to say about the construction and pesticide industries either, reserving her “murderous rage” for a raggedy cat just trying to survive because she read studies claiming cats are furry little Adolf Hitlers, exterminating birds one bloody feather at a time.

We’ve talked about those cat-blaming studies here on Pain In The Bud: They’re sloppy meta-analyses of earlier studies using plugged-in, arbitrary data and dubious numbers from questionnaires to arrive at the conclusion that cats kill as many as 20 billion small animals in the US alone.

It’s cherry-picking at its worst, beginning with a pretedermined conclusion and inventing, massaging and selecting “data” to support that conclusion rather than doing the hard work of collecting authentic data and honestly interpreting the results.

The researchers who published those studies should be mortified to have their names attached to them. They’re engaging in activism, not science.

We’re not the only ones who have a problem with the aforementioned studies. A team of scientists and ethicists examined the claims and “found them wanting,” blaming the sloppy science of those studies for the claim that “cats are a zombie apocalypse for biodiversity” and the subsequent war on cats in countries like Australia, where some states offer $10 a scalp for people who kill adult cats and $5 a scalp for kittens.

What kind of twisted logic compels people to kill kittens in the name of protecting animals?

Screenshot_2020-08-04 Your Cat Is a Killer And This Study Shows Why You Really Need to Keep It Inside
Bunk research claims are repeated as fact by media outlets. (Source)

The primary and most-cited studies claiming cats kill billions of animals “take specific, local studies and overgeneralize those findings to the world at large,” the critics wrote. The studies ignore “ecological context,” bury contrary evidence and ignore mitigating factors, like the fact that cats often prey on other animals that kill birds.

In other words, they start with a pre-determined conclusion and shape the dubious data to fit, as I wrote above.

And so the claim that cats kill billions of birds and small mammals is repeated as fact by an unskeptical press, and ostensibly serious people, like the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center’s Pete Marra, advocate a “nationwide effort to rid the landscape of cats.” That’s a nice way of saying he wants to kill hundreds of millions of innocent domestic cats because he doesn’t want to see the glaring flaws in studies about the species’ ecological impact. (Marra also compares feral cat advocates to tobacco companies and climate-change deniers, which is an astounding claim from a man whose name is synonymous with manipulating research data to support his views.)

This is absurd stuff, akin to the extermination of cats in the Dark Ages prompted by stories alleging cats were the agents of Satan, witches and heretics, and central figures in devil-worshiping ceremonies. The only difference is the people of the Dark Ages, who didn’t know better, were driven by religious belief. Their modern day counterparts are driven by religion masquerading as science.

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An illuminated text on cats from the Dark Ages, when felines were considered agents of the devil. (Source)

This is what sloppy research has wrought: An army of self-professed animal lovers stalking the dusty plains of Australia and the backyards of the United States, shooting domestic cats with pistols, bows, air rifles and pellet guns.

These people don’t seem keen on thinking about how they justify the callous culling of hundreds of millions of domestic cats — intelligent, sentient animals who have feelings — in an unproven effort to protect birds and rodents.

Renkl ends her column by telling us she got her wish, in a way. A few days later, a neighbor’s kid came to her for help after some wildlife-loving do-gooder poisoned the poor animal. As she watched the tomcat convulse and twitch in an agonizing death, Renkl stopped to take pity…on herself.

“For weeks I have been trying to understand my own tears in the presence of a dying cat I did not love,” she wrote.

To her credit, by the end of the column Renkl does acknowledge her rage is misplaced, generously allowing that a cat trying to survive isn’t evil. But that concession comes after several hundred words painting cats as the driving force behind the destruction of wildlife and presenting flawed studies as credible science.

The damage has already been done.

 

Featured image courtesy of PETA.