Tuesday, 27 November 2007

November 27th - Where is my mouse?

Watching a cat playing can be really entertaining and very insightful. Cats is believed they use play as a way to practice and improve their hunting skills as predators. This is why it is believed that kittens play a lot, through play they learn. But of course play in cats doesn't stop when the cats have grown and have mastered or not their hunting skills. As many cat carers will tell you cats like playing and pretending, well into their adult life and even in their senior years. For cats that they do have the opportunity to actual hunt and catch prey, playing and pretending or even treating a fake toy mouse as a real one, not and quite clearly knowing that it is not a real one and it is not going to move or try to escape, is a behaviour that often has us puzzled. What is the purpose of that behaviour if not for just having fun? If out and about hunting what is the need to pretend chasing a furry toy that it doesn't even look like a real mouse after all or more important smell like one (and not all toys have catnip)?
Sheng Chi, my youngest and very playful cat has a little play 'ritual' which she does on a regular basis and includes hiding her little black mouse toy under the box, which she uses for rolling, skating and sleeping, on purpose and then she pretends that she doesn't know where that toy mouse has gone and she looks around trying to find it. She plays a form of hide and seek with the little toy mouse and she spends some days a lot of time engaging in this activity like she would have done in a real situation with a real mouse (something that my other cat used to do – he passed away last year and he is still very missed – as well although when he was faced with a real mouse he has actually afraid of it). The fact that she hides the mouse, the fact that she knows that it's not a real mouse and the whole engagement in playing seems to show that she is doing it because she wants to entertain her self and have some fun. Another regular play activity for Sheng Chi and Ripley is to pretend that they are being chased by another 'invisible cat' and then to run in the house on their own or even playing hide and seek with an imaginary other cat. This behaviour is more commonly observed on my two female cats who never learned to play and interact with other cats but only with us despite the fact that they were never only cats in our house. Even Choo Choo who was used to interact and play with other cats, now after two year he has finally learned that if he wants to play he can play only on his own, either by chasing himself in the staircase or upstairs or by getting us involved in his playing as the other two do not want to play with him. But for all our cats play is a chosen activity and there is full awareness that this is just that, playing and not real, an activity for having some fun and to entertain themselves, something very similar to human activity, despite the fact that their after all a different species!!

Monday, 19 November 2007

November 19th – Cats and us

Some times it is really difficult, well at least most of the times, to know for certain which is the best way to behave and communicate with your pets. People normally consider their pets as members of the family and in some cases when there are no children in the household become the 'replacement' children. We normally care, pamper and quite often spoil our pets and we are at the same time convinced that they understand us and return, in their own way, the love and care they get from us.
There are many examples from cat/pet owners in which they describe situations when their pets have comfort them when they were unwell, or under stress, unhappy, etc. There are even examples of pets that they have even saved their human carers when their lives were in danger. Our cats seem to know when we are coming home, when we want to play and be entertained and when we just want some company. They never complain or get annoy with us and they are always there when we need them.
But sometimes we are told that we seem to forget one simple fact of life. That our pets are not humans, they are of a different species and that perhaps their behaviour might not be what we think that it actually is. Questions often have being raised (and answered for us) on whether our pets see things the way we do and whether we are just perhaps too 'enthusiastic' and we just put too much 'meaning' on our pets' behaviour. There seems to be a lot of disagreement on whether pets and other animals have similar cognitive capabilities and emotions with us and whether our pets can have a 'theory of mind' or self consciousness. A subject which is really hard to prove or disapprove since animals do not have the capability of language as humans so they can answer our questions about them.
But beliefs of simple 'natural' or innate and just evolutionary behaviour from our pets are just too hard to be easily accepted from most of pet carers since we strongly believe that our pets know and understand us and even in some occasions 'talk' to us as we are too attach to them and we have stopped long ago to just see them as 'stupid animals' and instead we see them as our bets friends, children, companions, etc.
Our domesticated pets have spent far too many years in our social environment to have not being influenced by the human behaviour and way of thinking.
No matter what scientists have found there is no way that they can convince me that when I'm ill and stay in bed and my cat decides to stay next to me all the time, and not even wants to eat till I finally I'm well enough to get up myself, that this is a natural cat behaviour wired to his brain from birth. Cats and of course dogs will often do things because they simply want and not always because there is something for them to gain. My cat knows that the little black mouse that she plays with is a toy and not a real one but still decides that she wants to play with it and have some fun when she feels like. My other cat also knows when my partner is coming downstairs as he can recognise him from the sound his footsteps make on the stairs so he can rush and sit on my partner's chair first. He also knows too well that my partner is the one that he will give in to his begging for food when it isn't dinner time and he will look for him instead of me when he wants a snack.
If all these actions do not show a self consciousness and awareness and a capability of mental representations and symbolic interaction then perhaps we need to redefine all these concepts. And if pets do not use language why cats always use different meows with their humans and not with each other, if this doesn't mean that they are aware that humans use and understand better sounds than body language and therefore we seem to be able to understand the meaning of their different meows? Who is to say that all these meows are not words and that our cats are capable of using a simple form of cat language with no syntax and grammatical rules perhaps that they just use to communicate with us?
The fact is that we don't a lot about our brains and we are in most cases assuming how it it possible might work and how it might affect our behaviour and that we know a lot less about other species brains to even assuming anything.

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

November 14th - Responsible cat owners or not!

Having recently seen in a local newspaper an article about the rehoming of a cat that was not looked after properly by his owner as he was left for three weeks with a broken leg because the cat owner couldn't afford the vet's fee (we should have a NHS for pets to avoid such situations as vets can be really expensive without necessary providing the required care for the pets) and then after I saw on BBC South news and read on the website also about Sgt Podge, the cat that is being left to roam all night and then he is being picked by the 'proud' owner at the same spot and at the same time every morning after he has wondered for nearly 2 miles away from home, it kinda made me feel very sorry for the apparently very stressed cats and also wondering whether these people should have allowed to have pets in the first place.
Particularly the 'baffled owner' of Sgt Podge (what kind of name is this for any living creature anyway?) who can't seem to be able to figure out why her cat got into this habit.
Maybe because she has allowed it to become a habit (cats can be trained to follow routine and schedule)? Or perhaps because the cat shouldn't be outside at night in the first place or even simply because Sg Podge is not really happy with his current 'owner' and home? Since the lady has already another 5 cats it is quite possible that Sgt Podge doesn't like living under the same roof with so many cats and has found another more suitable home where he doesn't have to compete over territorial and hierarchical issues?
Cats that are being neutered and they are happy with their home environment and particularly cats of that age do not wonder that far away, it isn't a normal behaviour for a domesticated cat (my own ex-stray cat doesn't even bother to look at the door when it is open let alone wanting to venture outside and wander...)...and I speak from experience as I advise on cat behavioural issues.
The lady instead of phoning the BBC to have her story told and filmed she should acted like a responsible pet owner and she should have instead asked an expert for some advice on her cat's behaviour and have tried to keep her cats indoors at night and not allow them to roam at night time, a time when many cats are known to face many dangers in not only in big cities and towns but also rural areas as they are frequently seriously injured or die from traffic accidents animal attacks and human cruelty during the dark hours. Cat owners should be responsible for their pets' actions and behaviour and they should not just behind common beliefs of independent and hard to train or control cats as cats like dogs are domesticated animals who live in our environment whether we like it or not.

Monday, 12 November 2007

November 12th – Night cat visits

I'm one of the many cat carers who prefers to keep her cats indoors and in particular at night time since domesticated cats are most vulnerable and in danger at night time, independently from whether they live, in towns and cities or countryside. Cats are not safe outside at night time!
People often believe that it is cruel to keep cats indoors as they need to be free to wonder any time they like. No, that is not true. Cats can learn to live to any environment they find themselves into and the fact that they have adapted to all our living conditions all these years is a good example of this statement. Cats that they were born indoors and lived all their lives indoors they don't miss the life outdoors because they don't know what is to live outdoors and they have adapted to an indoor life. For these cats outside noises and smells are overwhelming and extremely stressful. Just imagine a human that had lived all his life in a city and all of the sudden he/she finds him/herself in the middle of a jungle with all the scary noises and wild life to cope with.
My cats do not feel the urge or the need to go outside when the window or patio door is open and if they accidentally put their head outside to sniff the air they get scared and start growling and hissing at the strange smells and noises and go to hiding till the window or the door has being closed. The same behaviour exhibits my ex-stray cat who doesn't show the slight interest to go outside when the door is open. They are all quite happy living indoors as they get all the attention, food and stimulation they need (our house is a cat friendly environment with more cat toys and furniture that human accessories and furniture).
But my cats do get upset when neighbouring cats are visiting our garden in the middle of the night and in particular when the neighbour's un-neutered tom cat visits the garden and sprays everywhere and even scratches at the door outside and hisses at my cats inside. Which behaviour quite understandable upsets my cats. Of course I could easily just pull the curtains and block the outside view to my cats but that would not be fair to them as they enjoy watching the life outside and in particular all the birds or small mammals that they are frequently visiting.
No, I don't think that blocking their view outside is the best solution. I think the ideal solution would have being if the visiting cat(s) was kept indoors at night for his own good and that his carer took responsibility and have him neutered which could make him less aggressive, not keen on roaming far and not wanting to spray all the time and to mark territory.
When cat carers would finally learn that they need to take responsibility for their cats actions like dog carers? They are responsible for the well being of their cats which means neutering them and keeping them indoors at night time to avoid get them injured and even dying from traffic accidents, other pets and wild animals attacks and even human cruelty. Cats are not wild animals, they are domesticated and as such they need to looked after appropriately by humans, they need to spend more time indoors for their own sake and for the wellbeing of the wild life that is visiting our gardens which includes small birds and other animals.

Sunday, 4 November 2007

4th November – Sudden aggressive behaviour

For some people and of course cat owners/carers it is difficult to simply accept the fact that cats like people, can easily get stressed particularly when they are not feeling well themselves and as result to start behaving differently than normally. Although most cat owners seem to understand and accept that some situations such as for example when there have been significant changes in their cat's environment can lead to changes in the normal behaviour of the cat, such as sudden toilet habit changes, spraying, scratching, etc. But when the behaviour suddenly changes and a friendly cat starts behaving aggressively towards the other cats in the household and in some cases towards the human and even their playing behaviour becomes a bit 'rougher' than normal then it is often quite hard to accept and believe that this behaviour can simply be the result of an illness and often the cat is being accused of being 'unreasonable', crazy or vicious.
But this sudden change in the behaviour could simply be the result of something quite understandable and normal, a possible illness such as earache, paw or some other part of the body itchiness or discomfort, or even something more serious...
We seem to forget that when we do not feel well ourselves and some part of our body aches we more than often change to very grumpy and easy irritable persons and we can be quite rude and sometimes aggressive towards other members of the family who might happen to be around. Therefore it is quite understandable when our cats start behaving in the same way when they are not feeling a hundred per cent well. As they don't have the opportunity and knowledge to know or even being able to ask us to give them some form of medication to relieve the pain they will then do what they can themselves to relieve the discomfort they feel which means quite often just trying to find a quiet place to hide till they are feeling better or in some other cases and when they are other cats/pets/humans around by being aggressive towards some other member of the family who is close by, normally at another cat, someone that they can easily pick on without fear of repercussions, a displacement activity. So quite often when two cats who until now they were seemingly OK with each one's presence start having rather rough fights and one seems to chase the other for no apparent reason it is quite easily be that he is either annoyed with somebody else, another cat/pet/human to whom he cant get to direct or also quite possible simply because he is not feeling that well himself. Sudden aggression therefore should be treated not only as a behavioural problem but also as a result of physical discomfort and it should always this factor taken into consideration and the cat if required should be checked by the vet as soon as possible.
Of course on the other hand consideration should also be taken for the other cat, the 'victim' as this form of sudden aggressive behaviour from the other cat can easily end up creating a very uncomfortable and stressful situation for her which could quite possibly might end up to a physical and psychological discomfort situation. The cat who is being chased therefore it is quite possible to begin showing sighs of such a physical and psychological discomfort (for example she might end up start spraying, visiting the litter tray frequently, scratching and overgrooming, etc as well of developing a sudden fear and refusing to come out of the hiding place or even wanting to come downstairs to eat, etc.)
So it is imperative that any forms of such sudden and unexpected aggressive behaviours are not allowed to become a common thing, or a habit and the cats are wherever possible kept away from each other and prevent the fights or chasing from happening by distracting the bullying cat while at the same time a relaxed environment is being provided for both cats and the cause of that sudden aggression is found and treated as soon as possible.