Did you know? 9 fascinating facts about cats from a feline expert
By Kim Campbell Thornton
Andrews McMeel Syndication
The 25th annual conference of the Cat Writers Association took place last month, so this seemed like a good time to focus on felines. The keynote speaker at the CWA conference was veterinary behaviorist Debra Horwitz, DVM, who is currently raising two new Devon rex kittens herself. Here’s just a little of what attendees learned about cats from her talk.
1. Friendly interactions between cats include nose touches and a tail-up greeting. You probably knew that. But did you know that domestic cats and lions are the only members of the cat family who use the tail-up body posture to greet? No other felines do that.
2. Cats are adaptable, and they can learn a lot of things. “We have this idea that they’re independent and aloof, but we really don’t ask much of our cats,” Dr. Horwitz says. “You’d be surprised what they can learn when you ask them to do things.” You can’t train a cat with force, but with positive-reinforcement training, they can learn anything you can teach.
3. Cats have social relationships in their own particular way. They aren’t normally group-living animals; Horwitz describes them as not antisocial, but asocial. That means they are happy to live in groups or by themselves. Most often, they live in groups of related females — mothers, daughters, sisters and aunts — all sharing food resources. “So when you’re forming a household of cats, choose two sisters who are littermates,” Horwitz says. That’s what she did when she acquired her kittens.
4. Cats who like each other show it through touch. They sleep together, bodies touching, more frequently than would occur by chance and unrelated to ambient air temperature. Whether you’re observing a feral colony or cats in your home, you may notice that unless it’s extremely cold, only cats who are bonded will be touching each other. “Cats that like each other and live together amicably usually mark each other; they’ll go body to body, and they may even wrap tails,” Horwitz says. “We think part of that is the shared body odor.”
5. The cat’s meow? You may think he’s asking for food, but Horwitz says sometimes cats just want to know what’s going on. Talk back to him!
6. Grooming is a normal feline behavior, but when cats groom themselves — or other animals — excessively or aggressively, that normal behavior is being expressed abnormally. The cat could have a behavior problem, a skin problem or a painful internal problem. For instance, Horwitz says, cats with painful interstitial cystitis often groom their stomachs excessively.
7. Feline personality and temperament are genetically determined, primarily by the father, and fall into three basic categories: sociable, confident and easygoing; timid, shy, nervous and unfriendly; and active or active aggressive. At different times, cats may express variations from their normal temperament, but in general it should stay the same. For instance, if a cat who is normally friendly suddenly becomes aggressive, something is wrong. A change in behavior can mean a cat doesn’t feel well or is uneasy with the current situation.
8. Cats love to explore, but unlike dogs, they are more random in the way that they check out a new place. Dogs usually go into one room, sniff all around, then go into the next room. Cats tend to go back and forth.
9. One of the unique things about domestic cats and small wildcats is that they play a dual role in life: They are not only predators, but also prey. That makes them good at hiding. You may think your cat is lost, but chances are she just has a hiding spot that you know nothing about — and never will.
PHOTO CAPTION: Understanding how cats have social relationships is a key part of living successfully with them.