Tag: cat study

Study: Even Experienced Caretakers Give Cats ‘Unwelcome Affection’

By chance, one of the first things I saw Tuesday in my post-wake-up browsing was a short video of three guys standing in a triangle formation, each of them with a puppy. A drum recording began, and the men began drumming an overturned pot in the middle with the puppies’ paws.

The dogs, of course, had no idea what was going on. They were confused and stressed. Then I saw this from the official TikTok page of Imperial Point Animal Hospital in Delray Beach, Florida:

That’s a veterinarian abusing a kitten.

It might not be overt abuse. She’s not hitting or screaming at the poor cat. But she’s taking a sentient being with its own feelings, likes and dislikes, comforts and discomforts, and using it as a toy for clicks and likes on social media.

I thought about that when I read the newest study from Nottingham Trent University and the University of Nottingham, which looks at the way people interact with their cats and how their behavior may or may not align with what cats prefer and what they’re comfortable with.

Although Bud and I have a deep bond formed over more than seven years of spending time together, establishing trust, mutual respect and love, he would tear my face off if I did to him what the vet tech is doing to the kitten in the above video.

And you know what? He’d be justified, once he got over the shock and wondered if I’d been replaced with a doppleganger.

The UK study involved more than 100 felines at Battersea Dogs and Cats’ London cattery, with scientists recording interactions between humans and cats via a GoPro camera in a large pen where people can interact with cats one-on-one. There were 120 human participants of various ages and from different walks of life. Each person interacted with three cats separately.

Researchers looked at whether the cat or the human initiated interaction, where the human touched the cat, whether the human restrained the cat, and the cat’s response.

They also collected information on each human participant, such as how many cats they have at home and how long they’ve been caring for felines. Human participants rated themselves on how well they know cats and how well they take care of them.

They used a system that corresponds to the below image to grade physical affection. The image is mostly self-explanatory, but to be clear, the green areas are where cats like to be touched, the yellow areas are “meh,” and the red areas are no-go zones for most cats:

greenyellowredcatareas

In earlier studies, the team established what many cat caretakers know: Allowing cats to initiate physical interactions, going easier and lighter on petting, letting cats control how long the interactions last, and avoiding any kind of restraint are “best practices” for petting cats. They reaffirmed that scratching cats under the chin, rubbing their cheeks and forehead are “the best ways to increase their affection and reduce aggression.”

That might seem obvious, but in research there’s an important distinction between knowing something (or thinking you know it) and proving it with research. It’s important to prove it, and to forgo assumptions, to produce credible and repeatable experiments.

Animal behaviorist Lauren Finka, lead author on the new study, said although the above may seem like common knowledge among experienced caretakers, that’s not always true, and it’s not always reflected in their behavior.

“Our findings suggest that certain characteristics we might assume would make someone good at interacting with cats—how knowledgeable they say they are, their cat ownership experiences and being older—should not always be considered as reliable indicators of a person’s suitability to adopt certain cats, particularly those with specific handling or behavioral needs,” Finka said.

We should point out here that these are “best practices” for establishing a healthy, trusting relationship with cats, and taking their feelings into consideration. Lots of people might force their cats to do things without much push back, but that doesn’t mean the cat is happy. No one’s perfect, and there are always things we can learn about how to do better by our furry friends.

Finka also said she hopes people who run shelters and rescues take the research into consideration. That’s because some people run into the same problems I did: When you’ve never had a cat, and/or you don’t fit the profile of what people think a “cat person” is or should be, you could encounter resistance or skepticism from shelter staff.

One volunteer at an animal shelter asked me if I was adopting a kitten for my kids or girlfriend, because it didn’t occur to her that I’d want a cat. Some shelters require references from a veterinarian, which you can’t get if you’ve never had a pet before.

“Importantly, within shelters, we should also avoid discriminating against potential adopters with no previous cat ownership experience,” Finka said, “because with the right support, they may make fantastic cat guardians.”

For us, it’s more confirmation of what we’ve always believed: The more you take your cat’s feelings into consideration, and treat the little one with the respect he or she deserves, the happier your cat and the deeper your bond will grow.

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.

Here Are Some Cats Singing The Imperial March From Star Wars, Plus Some Feel-Good Cat-Human Reunions

Since we featured some sad news in our last post — though tempered with some really good news from a Portland cat cafe — we’ll wrap up the week with some humor, absurdities and science, all cat-related of course:

  • Do you have two cats? If so, you can help researchers from UC Davis and the University of British Columbia, who are studying the ways cats interact with each other in human homes. All you have to do is watch a few cat videos online, then answer a handful of questions about the behavior of the cats in those clips, as well as the behavior of your own kitties. With enough data from participants, the research teams hope they can better understand the often-inscrutable interactions, squabbles, truces and social hierarchies that define relationships between domestic felines sharing the same home territory. “Ultimately, we hope this research can help identify gaps in owners’ knowledge of cat behavior,” U of BC’s Sherry Khoddami told Gizmodo. “The welfare of cats in the home is an under-researched area.”

  • Yes, cats do have a long and distinguished history of “messing shit up,” and they simply don’t care. Maybe that’s why cats singing the Imperial March from Star Wars — okay, cats sampled and pitch-shifted to the Imperial March’s melody — feels appropriate. Our fluffballs are inevitable.

This week brought us stories of two cats who were reunited with their humans after more than a decade apart, both in the UK.

  • Tom, a tuxedo in Cardiff, Wales, went missing in 2009. He spent most of the past decade-plus living with another cat in the safety of a cemetery with the help of a nearby family, who kept them well-fed. It wasn’t until recently that someone tipped off a local rescue to the presence of the two “strays,” and finally Tom’s microchip was scanned. On Friday, Tom’s human, Donna, was overcome with emotion when she reunited with the little guy at Anna’s Rescue Centre of Cardiff, fighting back tears as she stooped down to stroke his fur. Donna also adopted Tom’s longtime companion from the cemetery. (Click the link for video, which we were not able to embed.)
  • Meanwhile in Aberdeen, Neil and Lucy Henderson were reunited with their tabby, Forbes, who had gone missing in 2011. Neil Henderson was so shocked, he had to pull over and stop his car when his wife told him Forbes had been located by the SCPA. “I was completely unprepared for what I was about to be told and hearing that Forbes had been found left me completely astounded,” he told the BBC. Forbes was picked up by an animal control officer who realized he was very friendly and had a microchip. The Hendersons “have no way of knowing where Forbes had been all this time or what adventures he might have been on,” but they’re ecstatic that he’s back home.
Forbes the cat's missing poster
The original missing poster created by the Hendersons when Forbes disappeared in 2011.

Study Confirms Cats Are Set At Ease By ‘Slow Blinks’

I’d been in Japan for almost two weeks last year when I dialed back to the States on a Facetime call and my mom — who had been taking care of Buddy in my absence — held Bud up to her iPad.

“Someone wants to say hi to you,” she said.

Buddy looked at me, then tentatively blinked with one eye. When I returned the blink, he meowed excitedly, reaching a paw out to the screen.

Aside from making me feel bad about leaving my cat for so long, the exchange between Bud and I seemed to confirm the importance of the slow eye-blink in feline-human communication. It also confirmed that he missed me.

Now there’s a formal study that, for the first time, shows cats are more relaxed and more likely to approach humans — even strangers — if they’re greeted with a slow blink. Cats also like to reciprocate with a slow blink of their own when greeted that way, the study found.

blinkingcat
Credit: u/sol-aurum/Reddit

“This study is the first to experimentally investigate the role of slow blinking in cat-human communication,” said Karen McComb, a psychologist from the University of Sussex and co-author of the study. “And it is something you can try yourself with your own cat at home, or with cats you meet in the street. It’s a great way of enhancing the bond you have with cats. Try narrowing your eyes at them as you would in a relaxed smile, followed by closing your eyes for a couple of seconds. You’ll find they respond in the same way themselves and you can start a sort of conversation.”

Why does a slow blink put cats at ease?

Tasmin Humphrey, a Ph.D. student and study co-author, said it’s “possible that slow blinking in cats began as a way to interrupt an unbroken stare, which is potentially threatening in social interaction.”

The researchers say their results could help people communicate more clearly with their cats, and could be useful in shelters, where staff and volunteers are often tasked with trying to calm scared cats.

President Buddy Blasts ‘One Meal A Day’ Cat Study

WASHINGTON — A new study suggesting cats should only be fed once daily is “an attack on our freedoms” and “quite possibly the biggest threat to felinekind since vacuums,” an angry President Buddy said Friday.

“One meal a day! That’s what these supposed ‘scientists’ say,” the president of the Americats said during a White House press briefing. “But could it be they have an agenda?”

The president waited a few moments as aide cats wheeled in a projector, then took reporters through a slide presentation positing a connection between the study’s authors and “nefarious interlopers from the Siamese communist government.”

“University of Guelph? What the hell is a Guelph? It sounds Siamese,” President Buddy said, clicking through the slides.

“The Siamese, led by Chairman Xinnie the Pooh, want to take away your freedoms,” the president said. “They want to tell you that you can’t have a tremendous turkey dinner at food o’clock because you ate eight hours earlier. If it were up to them, none of us would ever have snacks.”

catfood

The study involved only eight cats, all four years old or younger, who were fed a large meal once a day for three weeks, then smaller meals four times a day for three weeks. Feeding cats only once a day helped those cats burn more fat and make better use of the protein available to them, the authors said.

Cats fed once daily seemed “more satisfied” and didn’t ask for food as much as they did when they were fed four times a day, according to the study.

“That’s how you know it’s fake news,” President Buddy said. “Who are these supposed cats who are cool with eating once a day? I’ve never met them.”

The president said he would form a new commission, the Yums Studies Council, to “foster studies supporting the view that we need at least four meals a day, and that six or seven would be awesome.”

Screenshot_2020-09-25 6gxnxnia97c51 jpg (WEBP Image, 1241 × 1258 pixels) - Scaled (76%)